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.
MP Eglinton-Lawrence (Toronto), 1988-present
Former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration
Xtra West: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Joe Volpe: We’ve already dealt with that. We drafted a legislation that dealt with all rights issues. I don’t think there’s any need to reopen this issue.
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”?
JV: I don’t mind raising the age of consent to 16. What I’m absolutely against is this new language, period. I think raising the age to 16 conforms it to a lot of other legislation that recognises 16 as the age when young men and women take on responsibilities. I don’t have a problem with that.
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)?
JV: Haven’t even thought about it.
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
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?
JV: My interpretation is that the law already protects them like it protects everybody else. If there’s further need to clarify that, I don’t have any problem.
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?
JV: I don’t reconcile any of that. You’re probably aware that I did not vote in favour of Canada’s changing of the mandate in Afghanistan. What I supported was Canada’s participation in any activity that supports the rule of law, human rights, and democratic institutions.
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?
JV: You’re talking about the same Liberal party that brought in anti-hate legislation and a bill that would protect the rights of gay and lesbian Canadians to marry? Do you think that those issues are progressive? So we’re talking about a party that’s progressive.
XW: Given a voting record that includes voting against hate crime legislation to protect gays and lesbians, and voting for the Reform motion to exclude gay marriage, why should gay and lesbian Canadians support you?
JV: I chuckle at some of this because that perception that some people hold, about your previous question, about a variety of opinions, and yet the party is very progressive. Yet, maybe some people in your community will look at the legislation that was brought forward by my party, and say “those guys deserve an ‘A.'” And you know who those guys include? Joe Volpe.