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 York Centre (Toronto), 2004-Present
Former Minister of Social Development
Xtra West: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Ken Dryden: I guess this is going to come up in the fall, and beyond the fact of our fighting it hard, you’re fairly limited in opposition in terms of what you can do. I think the way in which we oppose this is to make it what it is: part of a piece, consistent with a government, a Prime Minister that doesn’t attend the World Outgames, the International AIDS Conference, and a party and a government that hasn’t learned that on Jan 23, they were elected to govertn 100 percent of the people.
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”?
KD: Whatever you name it or rename it, it’s raising the age of consent from 14 to 16 and I would oppose it.
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)?
KD: It’s something that I have never thought of before. My first reaction is that I don’t know why there would be a difference. I don’t know. I can’t answer because it’s not part of my platform.
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
KD: It’s not something that I have thought about, so I don’t know.
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?
KD: It’s not an area that I’ve focused on, so I don’t know what the hate crimes section talks about. I don’t know who is included and who is not, so I don’t know the reasons why some are included and not. What I can’t tell you, is that I don’t know how specifically identifying people works, and I don’t know how else, whether there are other mechanisms that are better suited in terms of doing the same thing. In terms of protecting people who are identified in a hateful way, I would want to find protections, but I can’t tell you whether this way is the best way or not.
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?
KD: You’re looking at a balance of violations, and if you can play a role to limit some, then you’ve got your mission. I’ve got all kinds of other problems with the Afghanistan mission, but in terms of what we have, and in terms of a government doing what you’re talking about, I think I can reconcile it fairly easily.
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?
KD: In the way that we approached same-sex marriage before, we were the government, we had a free vote, and the legislation carried. You make known through force of argument why same-sex marriage is important and it matters, and I think that we have continued to do it the same way.