On Oct 6, Toronto Centre MPP and out gay man Glen Murray was reelected with a whopping 55 percent of the vote while his party was reduced to a minority. Throughout the campaign, Murray asked the queer community to give him another term to continue working on the rights agenda for queer people. His second solid win in two years indicates that the community has put tremendous faith in him to deliver on that agenda. Xtra chatted with Murray shortly after the results were announced on Oct 6 to ask what the election means for gay people in Ontario.
Xtra: How’s the queer community going to measure whether they’ve put their trust in the right person?
Glen Murray: I think the election’s been about a number of issues that gay, lesbian and transgendered people find really critically important, ones like having a job, having a safe place to live and breathing clean air.
I think gay, lesbian and transgendered people vote on a much larger agenda now because of the gains we’ve made. But going forward there’s some key touchstone issues. One of them will be moving forward on gender identity in the Human Rights Code, which I think will be a really important piece. We’re continuing to work around GSAs. I think the premier’s very public commitment that we ensure that every gay, lesbian and transgender student has the choice of what the gay, lesbian, transgender organization is in their schools, that’s really critical in moving that forward. Those are our fundamental issues.
As well, working on the revitalization of the Village, continuing to advance and protect Pride and ensure that WorldPride is an extraordinarily successful event. Defending and advancing investments in gay and lesbian culture, with the city and the federal government withdrawing their funding. Continuing to advance our agenda on HIV/AIDS with the AIDS bureau, the expansion and rebuilding of Casey House and its full realization as what will become one of the most dynamic and complete HIV/AIDS support and care facilities in the world, that’s important to us. Continuing to work through the planning process with [Toronto Councillor] Kristyn Wong-Tam; she and I have a very close relationship on looking at the future of the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood and making sure that we revitalize it. I think it’s lost some of its lustre and some of its energy as a gay and lesbian community, and we need to reinvest and refocus on that.
Xtra: Can you give us a timeline on any of that? GSAs?
GM: That’ll be interesting. It’ll depend on the composition of the government. Majority government, it’s a lot easier to do those things. I think some of those things will see fierce opposition from the [Progressive] Conservatives, who ran some pretty homophobic material that they seem to have imported from Charles McVety during the campaign, which was pretty toxic and hurt a lot of progressive Liberals who were running in many communities. So we have to confront Mr Hudak on that.
But I think that probably with some of the New Democrats there will be some opportunity for collaboration on more progressive issues. Some members in the house outside the Liberal caucus have had a record of being supportive of our community, but I think we need to be collaborative and nonpartisan and try to leverage that coalition to advance some of these issues.
I’m not a big fan of minority governments. You work with them when you get them, but when you’re going through economically tough times and you want to make some tough principled decisions, it’s kind of tough to do it. But I have a good relationship with a number of my colleagues in the NDP, and I’m hoping we can work and craft some legislation that may create some opportunities in a minority government that may not be possible in other situations.
Xtra: What are some things you could see compromising on or collaborating on with the opposition or in a coalition or in any kind of minority government arrangement?
GM: The Tories are pretty clear. They’re almost never on the side of LGBTQ people. You can almost always count on the Tories not being on your side.
The NDP, Andrea Horwath played some interesting politics. She wouldn’t commit to supporting a Liberal minority or a Conservative minority. She put out these points that didn’t include anything on diversity or minority rights, never mind gay and lesbian rights. So it’s really clear to me that the human rights agenda, at least as far as this parliament, aren’t at the top of the NDP agenda and that’s concerning me. If you think you can broker a deal with the Conservatives and you’re actually seriously prepared to put that on the table for public consideration, that concerns me as well.
We’ll have to see where the meat, if there’s any meat in the NDP. If they do see this as an opportunity to work with some of us on some of these issues, generally for minority rights, because we have a lot more to do for disabled people, transgendered people particularly, HIV-positive people, then there may be some opportunities. But we’re going to have to take the full measure of our partners. If it’s 53 seats, we’re going to need two parties to do that, and that’s going to be some hard work.
Xtra: Do you think that what the NDP is interested in working together on now is the human rights agenda or the economic/taxes agenda?
GM: She has a bizarre platform. The NDP has one of the most economically irrelevant and obsolete economic platforms. They’re proposing ridiculous protectionism, and most of their platform would send us into a major recession. Eighty percent of the ore going through mills and being produced in Ontario is imported. When you say you’re going to have an Ontario-only, buy-Ontario policy for ore, you’re going to destroy the mining industry.
[NOTE: The NDP platform proposed amending the Mining Act to require that all resources mined in Ontario be refined in Ontario.]
Some of the stuff that came out of the NDP agenda on the economy is just ridiculous. As someone who understands that gay, lesbian and transgender people need jobs just as badly as everybody else, I’m not too warmed up to the NDP’s really reactionary ridiculous economic policy, and the fact that they didn’t talk about human rights.
Andrea Horwath is the only party leader who’s never used the word “gay” or “lesbian” in the House since she got elected leader. Nor has there been a lot of discussion [on queer issues]. There are a few people, like Cheri DiNovo, who’ve been good allies on some issues, but the majority of the party, from Paul Miller to Michael Prue, have not been on our side.
Xtra: But there was nothing in the Liberal platform about gay rights.
GM: No, but there was a pretty strong commitment from the premier, who, I don’t know about any premiers in my lifetime who’ve stood up and actually talked about gay, lesbian, transgender issues and said if I’m reelected, gay, lesbian and trans students are the ones, not the principals not the schools boards, who’ll decide whether they have gay, lesbian, trans organizations in their schools.
Xtra: Do you think those flyers hurt the Progressive Conservatives more than they helped?
GM: No, because I think the Conservatives are really good about the politics of what I call sliver prejudice. They know what issues are really toxic in certain communities. So when they go after Maria Van Bommel [in Lambton-Kent-Middlesex] who’s really good to our community, who’s a chicken farmer and an amazing woman, who lost unfortunately tonight, who understands equity and social justice issues and is a devout Catholic, I was really sad. We lost Carol Mitchell [in Huron-Bruce], we lost Maria Van Bommel, we lost Sophia Aggelonitis [in Hamilton Mountain, to the NDP]. We lost a lot of people who’ve generally been replaced by Conservatives who are quite reactionary and not predisposed to our community. It’s going to be a lot harder for me because some of the gay, lesbian, trans-positive colleagues I had lost [their elections] tonight.
Xtra: Do you think it was a mistake for McGuinty to skip out on the northern debate given the Liberals’ poor results in Northern Ontario?
GM: I think there’s an issue of honour and integrity in this. I would’ve loved to have seen a Toronto debate or a debate on urban issues because we often don’t deal with urban issues very well. That would have been a strong thing that we would have put forward. We compromised and agreed on a single debate. If you’re going to compromise on a northern debate, why not a rural and farm debate? Why not a GTA debate? I think that was just cheap politics.
Xtra: Why not more debates? In a province and an economy as complex as Ontario, isn’t it ridiculous that we only get to meet the leaders in a 90-minute debate with five or six questions?
GM: This was the ridiculousness of the Toronto Centre. I went to, what, seven or eight debates. If they were anywhere but Rosedale, the Conservative [Martin Abell] didn’t show up. If they were in any of the affluent neighbourhoods, Bay-Cloverhill, Rosedale, the NDP candidate didn’t show up. She showed up to the Yorkville debate for about five minutes and left.
This is part of the problem. It’s harder being a Liberal in Ontario because we’re trying to represent the whole province. We actually run seriously in the north, we run seriously in the rural communities, we run seriously in the suburban communities, we run in the urban core, and I work in a caucus that is more diverse and multicultural and has more minorities in it and works on the assumption that we’re there to celebrate diversity and not just tolerate it. And it also means that I’ve got to give enough runway for people who are going to be staring down some anti-gay, anti-lesbian activists in their communities, a runway to be able to manage those issues as they do on other issues with my constituency. Neither the Conservatives nor the NDP run seriously with a policy that actually addresses the issues of the larger population of Ontario. It’s very easy to be right in a small group. It’s much harder to create a consensus to advance change.