Libby Davies, Canada’s first openly lesbian member of Parliament and a longtime advocate for same-sex marriage and drug users’ and sex workers’ rights, announced Dec 12 that she would not seek reelection in the next federal election.
The popular Vancouver East MP said in a statement that after 40 years of public service, the last 18 of which she has sat in the House of Commons, it is time to call it a day.
“I had to make a decision — am I going to run in the next election?” Davies, 61, tells Xtra. “I think it was time to call it a day. It’s time to pass the torch.” She says the travel and the workload played a role in her decision, but, she adds, “I love being in Parliament. It’s a life’s work.”
Davies hadn’t exactly planned to come out to the House of Commons on Oct 29, 2001. She divulged her same-sex relationship when she rose in the House that day to support fellow gay NDP MP Svend Robinson’s bill on same-sex marriage, a bill that later died on the table, as same-sex marriage was still four years away from being legalized across Canada. The bill didn’t make it, but Davies’s candour made history as she became the first out lesbian and only the third openly gay MP in the House.
“Well, I kind of took a gulp and sat down and thought, Well, I did that,” she later told Xtra. “I had a few nervous moments, but really, overall, it felt absolutely okay. It felt like the right thing to do, and I’m glad I did it.”
Before being elected to Parliament in 1997 for the first of her six federal terms, Davies won a seat on the Vancouver park board in 1980, then sat on city council from 1982 to 1993. She later served as NDP house leader from 2003 to 2011, one of the longest-serving house leaders in Canadian parliamentary history and only the second woman to have held the position.
Much of Davies’s work has centred on issues affecting often-marginalized and ignored populations. She brought attention to the issue of housing and homelessness and has been an advocate for drug policy reform and the need for a public-health and harm-reduction approach to the use of illicit drugs.
“I love being able to stand up for the community and stand up for people who have been marginalized,” she says. “It’s bringing forward the issues and putting them on the national stage and fighting for peoples’ rights, and I feel proud of that.”