2 min

Phil Toone brings activist experience to Parliament

'I believe in empowering people.'

Credit: Dale Smith
Incoming NDP MP Philip Toone is having somewhat of a homecoming. Having grown up in Ottawa before fleeing for Montreal at age 19, and later the Gaspé region of Quebec, Toone returns to Ottawa as an MP.
“My partner and I moved out to the Gaspé roughly 10 years ago, and we decided that we were going to make our lives out there,” Toone says. “He went back to Montreal three years ago to start a master’s in epidemiology, and he just finished it. And as soon as he got back up there to meet me so that we could start living together again, three days later I have to tell him, ‘It looks like I’m going to win an election,’ so there you go.”
Toone describes running a “discreet” campaign over the course of the election.
“We didn’t have much of a budget,” he says. “We just went around and stood in front of shopping centres and grocery stores and said hello to a lot of people. The Gaspé is a great place – the people are very open and inviting.”
Given that Toone doesn’t represent an urban riding, he’s hoping to encourage and develop the queer community in the area. “[Queer] rights in Quebec are not nearly as pressing as they are in perhaps other areas of the country, but nevertheless, we don’t have anything on the ground out in the Gaspé,” he says.
“I want to encourage the beginnings of a group out there. They’ve already met, irrespective of me. They’re very happy that I got elected, and I’m sure we’re going to get along really well. But certainly my partner and I are totally out, and nobody cares.”
Toone is looking to bring to the table a perspective honed during his long history of involvement with movements such as ACT UP.
“I’m a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, and I believe in empowering people,” he says. “We’re nothing if the people behind us aren’t something. We need to make sure that people are empowered. We need to make sure that gays and lesbians are empowered. We need to make sure that workers are empowered. That’s my role. That’s my number-one role.
“I’m going to do my damndest to make sure that people are going to get all of the tools they need to be able to make their voices heard,” Toone says. “I’m going to do that in [the queer caucus]; I’m going to make sure that unions get their place within the party and that we get the place within unions, etcetera. The important thing is that people feel the NDP is their voice in Parliament. I’m there to make sure I can speak for them, and the only way to do that is we empower them.”
In terms of gay issues, Toone’s priorities come largely from what needs he sees in his riding – health services and curriculums.
“On a national level, I think it’s the same, but the fact of our very presence is going to be inspirational enough for some of the areas of the country that might not be as developed as Quebec as far as [queer] rights,” Toone says. “But we have to make sure that this is a country that everybody has the same rights, and we’re going to make sure that everybody has those same rights.”