With four strong women vying for the Vancouver Centre seat in Parliament in the Oct 19 federal election, the contest remains Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry’s to lose.
Fry, 74, made Canadian electoral history in 1993 when she became the first rookie MP to unseat a sitting prime minister. Kim Campbell had held the Vancouver Centre seat for five years.
Now challenging Fry for the seat are: former park board commissioner Constance Barnes, 56, for the NDP; two-time former Bowen Island mayor Lisa Barrett, 55, for the Green Party; and Elaine Allan, a long-time advocate for missing and murdered women on the Downtown Eastside, is running for the Conservatives.
The riding, which includes Vancouver’s traditional gay neighbourhood in the West End, now boasts a diverse electoral demographic and a ring of high-priced condos surrounding the heart of the riding like a donut.
In past elections, Fry has maintained significant leads at the ballot box, besting multiple challengers, including the NDP’s Svend Robinson, Canada’s first openly gay MP, when he tried to return to federal politics in 2006. In the last federal election in 2011, however, Fry beat her closest challenger by a slimmer lead.
Representation has flipped mainly between the Liberals and Conservatives since the riding’s inception in 1914 but the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and its successor, the NDP, have never been far off the pace.
Daily Xtra wanted to ask the four front-runner candidates about their position on five issues of interest to the LGBT community this election.
But despite repeated attempts to reach the Conservatives’ Allan, she did not respond to Daily Xtra’s request for an interview for this article.
On the topic of trans rights — and whether they would support adding protection for gender expression to human rights legislation as attempted by Bill C-279 — all three of the candidates Daily Xtra interviewed said they would support a new bill. (Bill C-279 died in the Senate when the election was called.)
Fry says she would fully support such legislation and also work to ensure that trans people have access to needed medical care.
“We’re the guys who amended the Human Rights Act, brought in same-sex marriage,” Fry says referring to her Liberal Party. “Trans is an issue we would support fully.”
Barnes says she would support it too. “They’re human beings just like everyone else,” she says.
Barnes was one of seven commissioners on the park board who voted unanimously in April 2014 to make Vancouver parks facilities more trans-friendly.
Barrett says it goes without saying that trans rights should be protected. “I do believe it is a Charter issue and a human rights issue,” she says, “and those are the strongest forms of protection.”
Though Allan didn’t reply to Daily Xtra’s request for an interview, then-Conservative riding association president Rob Boyd told Daily Xtra on Aug 7 that Allan would support a bill such as C-279.
“She is on the record as being supportive of C-279 if it comes back before the House of Commons,” Boyd said.
While C-279 did not survive the election call, the so-called anti-terrorism Bill C-51 did pass. The bill has been criticized as an intrusion into the privacy of all Canadians.
The Liberals supported its passage, but Fry says the law is misunderstood.
She says four Liberal amendments were added to the law to protect Canadians. Those include protecting the right to protest, limiting departmental information sharing, limiting CSIS powers of arrest, and limiting no-fly lists, Fry says.
The Liberals have pledged to scrap controversial parts of C-51 if they form government.
“C-51 is a horrific, horrific bill,” Barnes contends. “It does not support the LGBTQ community.”
She thinks it should be repealed.
Barrett says LGBT people are under the same threat as any other Canadian should they be deemed a threat to the government. She says the right to dissent must be protected.
“We’re going down a terrible, slippery slope,” she says. “It’s not a few people who are threatened. It’s all of us.”
On the issue of decriminalizing marijuana, Fry says, “Regulate and tax it and ensure those regulations have very clear age limits and very clear penalties for people who sell to youth.”
“It’s not decriminalizing,” she says.
Barnes supports decriminalization. She says people shouldn’t get a criminal record for smoking a joint.
She says cannabis can be an important drug. “A lot of work needs to be done on how do we regulate it, tax it,” she says.
Barrett says the law currently criminalizes a broad swath of Canadians over something “that has been proven less harmful than some pharmaceuticals.”
She says a lot of money could be saved by not incarcerating people convicted of marijuana crimes.
If marijuana is regulated and taxed, she says, it would provide more government revenue. Even more revenue could come from marijuana exports, she adds.
All three candidates oppose Conservative anti-sex work legislation brought in as a result of the old laws being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2013.
“It continues to marginalize sex workers,” Fry says. “It actually flies in the face of the Supreme Court ruling.”
“For the Conservative government, there are certain people who are throwaway people in Canada,” she continues. “This is absolutely unacceptable.”
Barnes says the sex workers she’s talked to hold a variety of opinions and need to be invited to the table.
“What are we doing to keep these people safe?” she asks.
Barrett says sex workers must be protected.
People who choose to be in the sex trade should be allowed to do so, she says, as long as they are not coerced or forced by circumstances to be there.
“We do need an inquiry in missing and murdered women,” she adds.
Fry, Barnes and Barrett also question the Conservative Party’s policy on marriage as stated in its online policy book — “We support legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”
Fry says she’s not surprised the Conservatives haven’t updated their policy, even though gay marriage has been legal in Canada for a decade.
“One day of the year, they want to flash a rainbow flag and say, ‘we care,’” she says.
Barnes says same-sex marriage is none of the Conservatives’ business. “If people are in love, they’re in love. Let them figure out what they want to do to show that,” she says. “I say, ‘shame.’”
Barrett says the policy has no place in Canada. She says she’s not surprised the policy is still there as it represents the party’s dismissal of an entire demographic that does not conform to its Christian ideology.
What are the most pressing questions for you this election? Tweet your questions to #XtraDebate — and come to Daily Xtra’s candidates debate on Thursday, Sept 10, 2015, at the Odyssey (details below).