With the federal New Democratic Party beginning a long process of reflection and rebuilding, the party and its leadership must take a serious look at its approach to LGBT issues and rebuild ties to the community that were frayed under Tom Mulcair.
While much of the discussion during the convention in Edmonton circled around how delegates were disappointed with Mulcair’s centrist stand on taxes and deficits and how strongly the party should oppose oil sands development, it should be remembered that Mulcair was noticeably quieter on LGBT issues than the party’s grassroots urban activists.
Mulcair refused to sanction one of his candidates who spent the last election telling voters that he would work to roll back LGBT rights. He pointedly avoided taking a stand for sex workers’ rights in the face of the Conservatives’ unconstitutional law, C-36, which re-criminalized aspects of sex work. Despite the increasing focus on trans people in the cultural and social sphere, he didn’t even spend much time last year talking about the party’s efforts to improve trans rights in Canada.
True, several NDP MPs made big pushes on LGBT issues in Parliament, and would speak about these issues when campaigning in their own ridings. But it all seemed to give the impression that his MPs cared much more about these issues than he did, no matter how many “Bears for Mulcair” he could get to march with him in Pride parades. Worse, it gave the impression that the party and Mulcair were taking the LGBT vote for granted.
During the campaign, lots of queer NDP voters expressed frustration with these tactics, but rationalized them as necessary to get the party into power.
But the result? The NDP lost in every urban core riding with a heavy LGBT population — save for Montreal’s Laurier-Sainte Marie, which was carried with under 40 percent of the vote. In Toronto Centre, possibly the country’s gayest riding, the party pulled just over a quarter of the vote. In Vancouver Centre, just over one-fifth of voters picked the NDP candidate — barely ahead of the Conservative candidate.
These are the sorts of ridings the party desperately needs to win if it hopes to hold real power in the next Parliament. Moreover, LGBT activists have long been a large and active part of the NDP’s urban volunteer base. Aside from being the right thing to do, appealing to the LGBT community — bluntly, winning this constituency back from the Liberals — is the smart political thing to do.
To rebuild, the next NDP leader should take the lead on pressing LGBT issues in Parliament. They should also serve as the prosecutor-in-chief, holding the Trudeau government to account for LGBT issues. The party cannot simply rely on its queer MPs to wave the flag for LGBT issues — unless, I suppose, Randall Garrison is elected leader himself.
It’s far too early to guess what issues will matter in 2019, but the NDP would be wise to have a champion for the LGBT community at its helm.