Three candidates from two Toronto ridings gathered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Sept 24, 2015, to debate which party would best represent the LGBT community.
Craig Scott, the NDP candidate for Toronto-Danforth, Bill Morneau, the Liberal candidate for Toronto Centre, and Chris Tolley, the Green candidate for Toronto-Danforth, all took part in the debate. Noticeably absent was a candidate from the Conservative party, represented by an empty chair left by the event organizers.
“We do ask candidates to not engage in a kind of Clint Eastwood debate with the chair,” joked event moderator Brenda Cossman at the start of the evening.
The empty chair left a hole in a debate — as all three candidates represented centre and left-of-centre parties, they often agreed on most of the major issues put forward.
“As an organizer of this debate, it’s very disappointing,” said Doug Kerr of the Dignity Initiative. “I mean they’re the current government. We want them to be implementing policies that affect our communities.”
According to Kerr, organizers invited Conservative candidates from every downtown riding to attend, but no one responded to any requests.
Daily Xtra reached out to Julian Di Battista, the openly gay Conservative candidate for Toronto Centre, and were instructed to email his campaign manager, but received no response before deadline.
Scott said he would welcome a chance to debate LGBT issues with a candidate for the Conservative party, pointing to progress in foreign policy under the leadership of former foreign minister John Baird.
“They at least rhetorically were supportive of LGBTQ rights overseas and we can leave it at that. The bottom line is that this is a slap in the face to democratic process,” Scott said.
But as each candidate pointed out at the debate, the Conservatives have shown a pattern of no-shows for debates across the country, both at the national or riding level.
Questions in the debate, from a range of community groups associated with the Dignity Initiative, focused on housing, trans rights, arts and culture funding and more.
Each candidate said his party would reinstate or increase funding to arts and culture, put trans rights into the Canadian Human Rights Code and repeal Canada’s new prostitution law Bill C-36.
When it came to international issues, the Dignity Initiative unveiled its foreign policy report on LGBT issues.
On the topic, Scott and Tolley said they wanted to tie human rights to many of the trade deals the Conservatives have signed in recent years.
Morneau was less specific, saying the Liberals would de-muzzle Canadian diplomats and would want to have a better look at many of the trade deals under negotiation.
Scott and Tolley also agreed to work with LGBT groups abroad before dictating to other countries how to protect queers around the world.
Morneau and Tolley stumbled briefly on a question from the audience about the criminalization of HIV status while Scott — who is also a gay man — seemed more acquainted with the issue.