The race to find a new leader of the federal Liberal Party has been slowly simmering over the summer in anticipation of delegate selection at the end of this month.
But with such a large field of candidates and media coverage that has tended to focus on foreign policy and environment issues, it can be difficult to know where the candidates stand on social and queer issues.
Since gay marriage played a central part of Liberals’ failed election strategy earlier this year, whoever is elected as the new Liberal leader in December will have to walk a delicate balance of progressive social policy without playing into the Conservatives’ divisive electoral strategy.
“A lot will depend what happens in the House of Commons this fall, and whether or not the government decides to back the issue of same-sex marriage,” interim leader Bill Graham told Xtra West at the Liberal National Caucus last month. The way the Liberal Party would address queer issues in an election “would depend obviously on who our new leader is.”
Xtra West asked each of the Liberal leadership candidates about issues of importance to the queer community.
Former Ontario Minister of Education; Ontario MPP 1996-2006
Founder, Daily Bread Food Bank
Xtra West: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Gerard Kennedy: Right now I’m calling them mischievous on it. They don’t have the sincerity of their so-called convictions. They are playing with what is acknowledged as a civil right, and they are doing it now for what? They do everything for their re-election. To try and create mischief, to divide the country. It’s what the neo-con, Republican outlook that they’ve adopted requires. I think they’ll pay a heavy price for it.
XW: Where do you stand on the Conservatives’ plan to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 and rename it the “age of protection”?
GK: Again, I think they are trying to create issues [that] they hope will hurt Liberals or perhaps even New Democrats or anybody in the opposition. They to me are trying to get in the way of what I think are commonly accepted principles in this country. We’re advancing in terms of our appreciation of them and there is no public interest served by these debates.
XW: Where do you stand on equalizing the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual acts (currently, the legal age of consent for anal sex is 18)?
GK: Yes. [I support that.]
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
GK: No. No.
XW: Do you support amending the Canada Human Rights Act and the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code to explicitly protect trans-identified people?
XW: How do you reconcile the Canadian Forces’ security support role in Afghanistan with that country’s ongoing violations of the human rights of women and queer people?
GK: I think that we are trying to get at least a minimum level of rights into that country. I think we’re on a losing strategy right now and we need to call in NATO back to the table and wholesale revise that strategy. Or as a country, I don’t think we should be condoning what is essentially a war without development, without economic stability… The opium trade and even just the basic wellbeing of the people are the two things we should be focusing on, and Canada should be leading a total revision of the mandate to get those things done. And our troops should not be in the war fighting that they are in today.
XW: The Liberal Party is known to have deep divisions over key queer issues, including gay marriage, the sex trade, and hate crimes. How do you propose to unify the party and prevent anti-gay voices from holding back progressive social policy?
GK: Here’s what I would say to people who are in either transgendered or gay, or any minority groups looking for protection: you can trust the Liberal party when it offers protection because it thrashes through. It has a genuine debate. It’s not an ideological must, or a my-way-or-the-highway type of thing, but it’s worked out and people are reconciled to it… There will be a diversity of voices tolerated under my leadership, but there will be a reconciliation of those voices to the rights for minorities…but it has to go through that process and I wouldn’t really want to do it any other way.