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Conservatives turf by-election candidate

Warner says party didn't like him supporting queers

NOT IN OUR PARTY. Mark Warner says being too queer-friendly cost him the Conservative nomination. Credit: (Jenna Wakani)

A Conservative party candidate says he was stripped of his nomination in a federal Toronto by-election because he was too open to the city’s queer community.

Mark Warner, who had been the Conservative candidate in the riding of Toronto Centre — which includes the queer village — was removed as the candidate at the end of October by the federal party.

Warner says the party was worried his queer-friendly campaign would anger Conservative voters in other ridings.

“They were concerned that my attempts to signal openness to the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans] community could hurt them elsewhere, that there would be a fall-out effect in another riding,” he says.

The Toronto Centre seat has been vacant since longtime Liberal MP Bill Graham retired in June. Prime Minister Stephen Harper must call a by-election by the end of the year. The Liberal candidate is former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae and the NDP candidate is queer immigration lawyer El-Farouk Khaki.

Warner says the party wanted to approve any answers he might give to questionnaires from organizations — especially anything from Egale Canada, a national queer lobby group.

“I said my experience is that anyone running in Toronto Centre would get a questionnaire from Egale,” he says. “They said if I answered that questionnaire I could expect questions about why I didn’t answer questions from Christian organizations.

“I said I didn’t think Christian groups were a major factor in the riding but I would be happy to answer questions from them too.”

Warner says he was later told by an employee working in the prime minister’s office not to answer an Egale questionnaire.

“She said if you say something you might make the prime mini-ster contradict you,” he says.

Warner says the party also wanted him to remove from his biography the fact that he was a delegate at the 2006 International AIDS Conference held in Toronto. Although Conservative health minister Tony Clement also attended the event, Harper came under criticism for skipping the conference.

Warner — a lawyer specializing in international trade — says he has worked on issues around AIDS drugs in the past.

“I do work for pharmaceutical companies in facilitating access to retroviral drugs, especially in developing countries,” he says.

Helen Kennedy, the executive director of Egale, says she is dismayed at the Conservative Party’s attitude. She says Egale is planning to send a questionnaire to the Toronto Centre candidates.

“They will receive a questionnaire from Egale which will ask questions about basic human rights,” she says. “If the government doesn’t agree with basic human rights for all, where do we go? I’m flummoxed. I find that very unsettling and disturbing.”

Kennedy says the Conservative Party’s treatment of Warner does not bode well for the future.

“It’s a pretty clear message: Not open for business. They’re not open to discussing things with us. It doesn’t sound to me like it’s an open-door policy to come and discuss these issues with us.”

Conservative Party president Don Plett says concern about Warner cozying up to queers is not the reason he was stripped of the nomination.

“That is just the furthest thing from the truth,” he says. “I have trouble even dignifying that with a response. That was never brought up. You know very well that there are MPs in all four parties who are gay. I can’t speak to the other parties but we certainly have candidates who are gay.

“Mr Warner was told exactly why he was removed. I’m not allowed to comment on the reasons.”

Warner says the Conservatives have written off Toronto in general and the queer community in particular.

“I stepped up to the fight here to give this party a chance and to do a lot of healing,” he says. “I knew there was a lot of healing to do, especially with the gay community. My efforts didn’t seem to be appreciated on the party’s side.”