With at least 18 openly gay and lesbian candidates seeking election on May 2 under the national party banners, election 2011 may see more queers on the ballot than any before. But aside from the four incumbents, the one with the best odds of serving in the 41st Parliament is Esquimalt Councillor Randall Garrison, seeking election in the Victoria-area riding of Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.
The volatile electorate in the riding has swung in favour of all three parties in the past. Though Liberal Keith Martin has held it since being elected under the Reform banner in 1993, he’s faced tight races in the last three elections. With Martin’s retirement this year, the riding is considered an open three-way race.
“Keith had a strong personal following. [The riding] probably goes back to its traditional NDP vs Conservative roots this election,” Garrison says.
Garrison finished second to Martin in 2004 and 2006, closing the gap to 2,000 votes in 2006, but he faces a tough match against Conservative Troy DeSouza, who finished second in 2008, less than 100 votes shy of Martin.
Since 2008, Garrison has served on Esquimalt city council, which has given him a higher profile in the riding. But Garrison says his work as a councillor inspired him to seek higher office.
“There are a lot of issues that came across my desk that I just couldn’t solve at the municipal level. Things like poor seniors, housing and a lot of things to do with the [lesbian, gay, bi and trans] community that we can’t address at the municipal level,” he says.
Garrison says that if elected he’d sponsor two NDP bills that have stalled because of the election call: Bill C-389, which would include gender identity and expression as protected statuses under hate crimes and human rights legislations, and Bill C-393, which would improve access to cheaper generic AIDS drugs for developing countries.
As a political science professor at Camosun College in Victoria, Garrison has been active in international human rights work, often under dangerous circumstances. In 1999, he co-chaired the international observer mission overseeing the East Timorese vote of secession from Indonesia, which was followed by what he calls “a bloodbath of violence.” In May 2010, he was an observer for the Filipino election in the country’s autonomous region of Mindanao.
“Three people were killed in the polling station where I was working,” Garrison says. “The existence of observers helps reduce violence.”
He’s also carried out humanitarian work for Amnesty International in Afghanistan and peace-building work with the Catholic Church in Indonesia. He says that when he works overseas, he serves as an openly gay man.
“It’s important for people to see people from our community doing this work openly,” he says.
Garrison lives in the riding with his husband, whom he met while working in Indonesia. He jokes of the immigration process that “we were treated just as badly as everyone else.” They’re coming up on their 10th anniversary shortly after the election.
So far, being gay hasn’t been an issue on the campaign trail for Garrison. He says the gay community is Esquimalt’s largest minority group.
“The mayor and all the councillors marched in the Pride parade with me when I got elected,” he says.