4 min

Glen Murray hopes to hold on to Toronto Centre

ONTARIO ELECTION / Former Winnipeg mayor ready for a fight

Murray says a vote for the NDP is a vote for Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives.

Once you get Glen Murray talking about his time in government, it’s hard to get him to stop.

Asked how he feels about his 19 months in office, Murray rattles on about his accomplishments at a brisk clip for more than 15 minutes, almost nonstop: every neighbourhood has a framework community-action plan developed along with the local councillors; plans for new green spaces and interpretive centres on the former opera lands on Wellesley St and the old provincial parliament site; waterfront development; new green energy co-ops, including one at the Children’s Dance Theatre on Parliament St; new social housing as part of the Pan Am Games athletes' village; plans for a proposed new Anishinabe aboriginal cultural, health and housing centre. The list goes on.

Then come the economic stats. Anyone who’s seen Murray’s Twitter feed (@Glen4TC) will be familiar with the barrage of numbers and opinions he’s ready to spit out on cue: Ontario’s added 300,000 jobs since the lowest point of the recession; more than 65,000 people work in the new green economy; 60 percent of jobs created in Canada last year were created in Ontario; every dollar of public investment from his Ministry of Research and Innovation nets $12 of private investment.

Murray says a vote for the NDP is a vote for Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives.

The barrage of stats, opinions and details from his CV is one of the tricks Murray picked up in a political career that dates back to his first election, in 1989, to Winnipeg city council. But that fast-talking, argumentative style has also gotten him into trouble in the past.

Last fall, Murray was forced to apologize for retweeting a post that called then-mayoral-candidate Rob Ford, PC Leader Tim Hudak and Stephen Harper the “trifecta of Republican-style, rightwing ignorance and bigotry.” He was then forced to apologize for his first apology, which called on Hudak to “root out” the actual bigots in his party.

It was a rare case of backing down for a politician who’s been involved in some of Canada’s biggest gay-rights battles. Another list: getting sexual orientation added to the Quebec, Manitoba and federal human rights codes; helping establish Winnipeg’s Village Clinic for HIV/AIDS; helping found the Canadian AIDS Society; becoming one of the first gay foster parents in Canada, legally; being among Canada’s first out gay municipal politicians; and becoming, in 1998, the first out gay man elected mayor of a major North American city, Winnipeg. Recently, helping to start Rainbow Railroad, which helps queer refugees escape to Canada.

“I faced brutal, difficult things my whole life,” Murray says. “If I was a straight guy, a lot of what I’ve accomplished in my personal life would not be extraordinary things. They were made extraordinary because as soon as I told people I was gay, being a father or an elected person became difficult.”

But Murray says the fight for queer rights continues and he has the Ministry of Education’s equity policy in his sights. The province’s Catholic school boards have been engaged in a public battle over the policy, ignoring or rewriting chunks of it to specifically ban gay-straight alliances or other gay groups.

“When the premier said that gay, lesbian and trans students will be able to form gay and lesbian organizations in every school in Ontario if they choose to, and it would not be up to principals and school boards – memo to TCDSB – it will be the choice of students, that was a very strong commitment,” Murray says.

Still, Murray isn’t prepared to go to war with the Catholic boards just yet. He’s working with a group that includes Doug Elliott, Brent Hawkes and Halton Catholic school trustee Paul Marai to develop the legal case for queer students’ rights.

“When you go to fight this, you make sure you’re doing it on the strongest ground possible. There’s a lot of work going on quietly behind the scenes to do that,” he says. “It has to be a students’ rights case. I don’t think you win in a province-versus-school-boards case because we’ve lost in the past. You don’t want to lose this negatively, because not only do you not win, but you create a legal precedent that could make your next case more difficult.

“Every student has the right to form a gay-straight alliance and call it a gay-straight alliance, and I am not going to rest until that is in fact the law of the land,” Murray says.

On other issues of concern to the queer community, Murray appears ahead of the curve of most of his party, but he is still reluctant to accelerate the pace of rights advancement.

On including gender identity in the Ontario Human Rights Code: “It’s something I’d like to see happen in the next four years.”

On prosecutorial guidelines for criminal HIV transmission cases: “We’re not rushing to get them in before the election. There are a lot of questions. It’s very complex and there aren’t other guidelines that can be easily translated, [but] I would be very disturbed if you asked me six to 12 months from now and we didn’t have them in place.”

While Murray may be thinking six moves ahead on those battles, until Oct 6 he’s focusing squarely on winning his riding and helping the Liberals win the election.

“People don’t want to go back to a Harris/Hudak government. We lost the Wellesley Hospital. We saw 17,000 community housing spots cut. We saw rising tuition,” he says. “Now they see St Mike’s expanding, affordable housing units going up on King St and the West Don Lands, doubling the size of Ryerson University.”

And he doesn’t have kind words for the NDP, either.

“The NDP is becoming a very reactionary party. They’ve attacked the green energy bill and they want to subsidize fossil fuels,” he says, referring to the party’s platform to reduce the HST on gasoline and home heating oil. “If [voters] want a Conservative government, [voting NDP] is a brilliant way to do it. When Toronto Centre last wasn’t Liberal, it was Conservative.”