3 min

Graham nabs cabinet spot

Appointments shake queer political landscape

Credit: Xtra files

Federal government cabinet shuffles are usually about as exciting as rearranging the hair care products in your shower caddy.

But last week’s switch-’em-up by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has caused a few ripples through Canada’s homo community.

The promotion of gay-friendly Liberal backbencher Bill Graham (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) to the high profile foreign affairs minister position caused the biggest fuss.

The globetrotter – he was in Mexico when the announcement was made – is a former international law professor and a long-time chair of the House Of Commons foreign affairs committee.

He’s also been a friend of the gay community, located in his downtown Toronto riding. Most recently he successfully lobbied for William Granados – a Venezuelan refugee claimant who was deported because immigration officials didn’t believe he was gay – to be readmitted to Canada. He’s also supported the Women’s Bath House Defence Fund in its fight against the Toronto Police Service, after its officers laid charges at their Pussy Palace sex event in 2000.

In the house, he voted in 2000 against a motion that limited marriage only to people of the opposite sex; the motion passed anyway. In 2001, he voted for a private member bill from openly-gay New Democrat Svend Robinson that would have legalized homo marriage; the bill died.

“He’s never been hesitant to affirm his support for gay and lesbian issues and he has respect within the Liberal caucus,” says John Fisher, executive director of Canada’s homo lobby group, Egale Canada. “It’s good that somebody progressive can advance within the cabinet.”

Fisher says Graham can use his new job to draw attention to gay and lesbian issues internationally.

“Canada needs to be vocal speaking out against human rights abuses in other countries,” Fisher says.

Graham, 62, has been criticized in the past for putting the concerns of his own constituents – crime, poverty and prostitution, for example – on the backburner in favour of more glamorous concerns.

“While we personally congratulate Mr Graham for his promotion, it is the people of Toronto Centre-Rosedale who are once again left holding the bag wondering when their needs will be met by a self-serving and negligent federal Liberal government,” Paul Ferreira, president of the Toronto Centre-Rosedale NDP stated in a news release. “As he’s flying across the globe from hot spot to hot spot, he needs to remember that some of Canada’s neediest citizens are right here in his home riding.”

Elsewhere in the cabinet shuffle, Martin Cauchon takes over from Anne McLellan as justice minister. Though McLellan brought forward bill C-23, which treats same-sex couples pretty much as straight common-law couples, Fisher says her Alberta constituency made her generally cool to hot button issues like homo rights.

Cauchon’s parliamentary voting record is about the same as McLellan’s – he supported the bill defining marriage as heterosexual. But Fisher is optimistic that, being from sexually progressive Quebec, Cauchon will be more brave.

“He’s not been outspoken on gay and lesbians issues in the past,” says Fisher.

Of concern is whether Cauchon will deliver the legislation to include sexual orientation in the definition of hate speech – McLellan promised it after the November 2001 slaying of Aaron Webster in Vancouver.

“There’s always a risk there will be a change in priorities when the minister changes,” says Fisher.

Also last week, longtime Liberal MP Ron Duhamel was appointed to the Senate, leaving Winnipeg’s St Boniface riding free.

That’s the federal riding pundits had speculated that Winnipeg Mayor Glen Murray had his eyes on. The openly-gay politician has long been talked up as a federal wannabe.

First Murray played coy.

“Anything I say at this point is going to start a whole amount of speculation,” he told reporters Jan 15. “I’m likely going to run for mayor but I haven’t come to that decision yet.”

The next morning his office issued a one-sentence press release.

“Mayor Glen Murray would like to make it absolutely clear that he does not intend to present himself as a candidate for the upcoming Liberal nomination in St Boniface,” stated the release.