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Liberal survival gives hope for same-sex marriage bill

Bill C-38 gets new life

With a spring federal election averted May 20 by a single vote, the same-sex marriage bill has been given new life.

Delegates in favour and opposed to same-sex marriage continue to appear before a special committee formed to study Bill C-38. And Conservative Party representative Vic Toews continues to stall discussion, his latest strategy involving attempts to invite a long list of anti-gay marriage activists to Ottawa to speak.

But committee members from other parties rebuffed Toews’ invitations. Their apparent rush gives hope for a fast consultation on the bill in Ottawa, followed by third reading and a referral to the Senate before Parliament breaks for summer.

If the bill makes it to the Senate, it is expected to be fast-tracked. It could be passed by the Senate and receive Royal Assent in autumn if the Martin Liberal minority government lasts that long.

In related news, Ottawa Centre riding is expected to see a vigorous election campaign when the writ is dropped later this year or early next year. Ed Broadbent’s recent announcement he plans to retire after this term due to his wife’s illness has thrown open the race. Richard Mahoney, a well-connected Liberal and close friend of Paul Martin won his party’s nomination May 17. The Conservative choice is Keith Fountain, a former foreign service officer. In the last two decades, Ottawa Centre riding has usually been won by either the Liberals or the NDP both provincially and federally.

Mahoney lost the 2004 race to former NDP leader Broadbent but has kept a high media profile. Mahoney has nurtured connections within the gay community for years. But many local gays and lesbians are watching the NDP nomination race to see if out gay man Jamey Heath, the research and communications director for the caucus under leader Jack Layton, scoops his party’s nomination.

Heath announced his candidacy May 23. The riding’s NDP members, he said in a media release, needs someone able to beat Mahoney. Heath did better than expected when he carried the NDP banner in Ottawa Centre for the 1997 federal election. Up against entrenched Liberal Mac Harb, Heath nevertheless pulled in approximately half the votes of Harb and nearly double the votes for the Tory candidate.

Heath, 32, has a background in community politics. A former writer for Capital Xtra, he has worked on housing, environmental and education issues since 1991.

Lawyer Tammi Murray and Paul Dewar have also declared in the race for the Ottawa Centre NDP nomination.

“The NDP is going through a change,” Heath said in an interview with Capital Xtra. “We’re actually delivering results instead of being a party that stands up and talks about what it would like to see.” He points to the amended Liberal budget, a budget that Jack Layton claims as the first NDP budget in Canadian history.

The federal Liberals are not the pro-gay party people think they are, according to Heath. Though the Chretien government did not invoked the “nothwithstanding clause” of the Constitution to override court decisions, it still made made gays and lesbians go through the court system rather than lead with legislation.

“They’ve been in power 12-years and still there’s not equal marriage despite nine court rulings. The Liberal party talks about how much they value human rights. But if you criticize George Bush on a comedy show you are kicked out [of caucus], but if y ou advocate using the notwithstanding clause on gay marriage, as several have done, you are still welcome. This is not the Liberal party of Pierre Trudeau.”

Broadbent, a widely liked politician with a “people person” personality, did well in Ottawa Centre in 2004 despite efforts by the federal Liberals to draw NDP voters with a strategic-voting message. Gay-rights lobby group Egale joined in with its own call for strategic voting as Stephen Harper appeared close to forming government.

At least two NDP candidates went down to defeat in the last days of the 2004 election as some urban voters appeared swayed by the strategic voting message: Toronto candidate Olivia Chow and Vancouver candidate Kennedy Stewart. Both Chow and Stewart ran in ridings with a large number of gay voters.

Heath says he expects that some gay organizations will again call for strategic voting in the next federal election. But he thinks it hurts the gay community most of all.
“I think it’s self defeating. If you never vote for what you want, you never get it,” says Heath.

Take a look at how Paul Martin is fighting against the rights of gay seniors like longtime activist George Hislop to get survivor benefits, says Heath. “Why would a gay organization reward this?”

Besides, strategic voting in the last election resulted in too few NDP seats to hold the Liberals’ feet to the fire on issues of importance to many Canadians, he says, and tied up the legislature with the current Conservative power-playing.
And, he says, in the last election, “Even as the Liberals were running around saying how bad Stephen Harper would be for human rights, they couldn’t find the courage to put equal marriage in their election platform.”

The Ottawa Centre NDP is expected to hold a nomination meeting around Jun 20.