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.
Martha Hall Findlay
Former Candidate, Newmarket-Aurora (suburban Toronto), 2004.
XtraWest: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Martha Hall Findlay: Absolutely no, we shouldn’t reopen the issue. I was so proud when we finally actually said yes to this issue. There were a number of people who said ‘gee, you know, maybe we should be nervous, only Holland and Belgium have done this, and during the discussion that we had, Spain came on board, shouldn’t we be more nervous?’, and my answer was, ‘that’s what you call leadership.’ So when the vote comes up in the house, of course I’ll vote-if I were in the house-but of course we would vote against reopening it.
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”?
MHF: Disagree with both.
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)?
MHF: The whole concept should not be in there at all… It should be part of the whole age of consent for activity. The fact that anal sex is distinguished should be taken out completely.
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
MHF: I do support legalization of prostitution. Let me make that clear because we use the terminology and sometimes we get caught up in that. I do support the legalisation of those who work in the sex trade… I think we just keep turning a blind eye to this and a lot of people are suffering as a result. We can legalize it and acknowledge that this happens. Like we pretend that it’s going to stop. So let’s acknowledge that it’s there and just provide some social protection, right?
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?
MHF: I think we’re actually doing ourselves harm by going down the detailed label, so no, not because I don’t agree with it, but no because as a lawyer, I would prefer in fact to avoid the detailed labels and say there should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender, period. I think the larger label is in fact more protective.
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?
MHF: Well remember that the Taliban are actually notorious for-oh my gosh, how do you even find a strong enough word-I mean, they’re terrible in terms of women and girls. But the country itself, we do have to be very careful as well… In our efforts to support a government in Afghanistan as against the Taliban that is one thing, but we do also have to be very careful and use the influence that we have in ensuring that the government that is there upholds human rights.
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?
MHF: I actually think that’s it not as divided as you suggest. I think there’s a very strong element in the Liberal Party that recognises the importance of equality, and let’s not reopen it. We made that position, we had the vote, and I’m very proud of that.