The race to find a new leader of the federal Liberal Party has been slowly simmering over the summer in anticipation of delegate selection at the end of this month.
But with such a large field of candidates and media coverage that has tended to focus on foreign policy and environment issues, it can be difficult to know where the candidates stand on social and queer issues.
Since gay marriage played a central part of Liberals’ failed election strategy earlier this year, whoever is elected as the new Liberal leader in December will have to walk a delicate balance of progressive social policy without playing into the Conservatives’ divisive electoral strategy.
“A lot will depend what happens in the House of Commons this fall, and whether or not the government decides to back the issue of same-sex marriage,” interim leader Bill Graham told Xtra West at the Liberal National Caucus last month. The way the Liberal Party would address queer issues in an election “would depend obviously on who our new leader is.”
Xtra West asked each of the Liberal leadership candidates about issues of importance to the queer community.
Former (NDP) Premier of Ontario, 1990-1995
Xtra West: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Bob Rae: I am and have always been a strong advocate for equal rights for gays and lesbians, and that includes gay and lesbian marriage. I think the Supreme Court and Parliament have spoken clearly. I see no need to reopen the issue. I think if the government wants to reopen the issue we can’t stop them, but we’ll do everything to make sure we win the vote.
XW: Where do you stand on the Conservatives’ plan to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 and rename it the “age of protection”?
BR: think I’m going to have to look at the legislation more closely. I think the age of consent should be the same for whatever acts. I do have a sense that when it comes to adult relationships with young people, [raising the age of consent is] a good idea, but when it comes to young peoples’ relationships, we have to make sure that we’re not intruding. I do think in the age of internet activity, it’s important that we bring our law in line with other countries, so that we’re equally protective of our young people.
XW: Where do you stand on equalizing the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual acts (currently, the legal age of consent for anal sex is 18)?
BR: I would be in favour of that.
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
BR: I’m not a big supporter of that without further discussion with police and everyone else. My sense would be that that’s something where we’d like to have a big think. I think we have to look at the relationship between prostitution and how women are exploited. I’m not prepared to go there yet.
XW: Do you support amending the Canada Human Rights Act and the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code to explicitly protect trans-identified people?
BR: Yes, that’s something that I certainly can support.
XW: How do you reconcile the Canadian Forces’ security support role in Afghanistan with that country’s ongoing violations of the human rights of women and queer people?
BR: I think that one of the initial purposes for Canada participating in the international efforts in Afghanistan was to expand to the human rights agenda for the country. One of the constant challenges for our role in any country is that there are lots of countries where there continues to be strong discrimination against women and gays and lesbians. I think we should make very clear what our commitment is to human rights.
XW: The Liberal Party is known to have deep divisions over key queer issues, including gay marriage, the sex trade, and hate crimes. How do you propose to unify the party and prevent anti-gay voices from holding back progressive social policy?
BR: Well, my sense of this issue is that we’ve come along way as a party, and that opinion in the Liberal party has come to reflect the opinion of the country. I think we’ve made great advances in the party even within the last five years. I think the opinion of the Liberal party is moving. I think I would as leader make my views very clear to the party.
XW: During your tenure as NDP Premier of Ontario, your government failed to enact a same-sex relationship rights package in part because your own caucus voted it down. How will you prevent a repeat of that experience as leader of a party that’s even more divided when it comes to progressive social policy?
BR: Well, I think a more accurate rendition of the events in 1994 would reach this conclusion: There were commitments made by members of the opposition that were simply not kept. We went into it with a free vote with a sense that the other side would provide enough votes that we’d pass it… I think the fact that we couldn’t get it through the Ontario Legislature in 1994, has been a source of great personal sadness for me. I’m very proud of my own personal achievements and personal record, and will continue to do that.