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Queer activists seek Halifax seat

With NDP star out, riding could swing Liberal

Political junkies should keep a close eye on the riding of Halifax, as both front-runners are women with backgrounds in queer activism.
 
It’s almost certain that one of these two women will win the seat most recently held by former NDP leader Alexa McDonough, who is not seeking re-election. McDonough has held the riding since 1997, and prior to that, voters alternated between the Liberals and Conservatives. Liberal Mary Clancy held the seat from 1988 to 1997.

This time around, it’s unclear if the NDP can keep its strong lead without McDonough’s star power. The former NDP leader won 47 percent of the vote in 2008, compared to the Liberals’ 31 percent. But the vote was close in 2004, with McDonough beating her Liberal rival by just over 1,000 votes.

Flash forward to 2008, and Halifax has a slate of new candidates, all chosen by their riding associations in just the past month.

Catherine Meade, the Liberal candidate, is a lawyer, board member of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP) and cofounder of the Gay and Lesbian International Sports Association (GLISA).  She is also the chair of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Section of the Canadian Bar Association’s Nova Scotia branch.

Megan Leslie, the NDP candidate, has been a volunteer for NSRAP and she was a founder of Outlaw — the queer action group at Dalhousie Law School where she teaches. She was also a volunteer with the Transgender Bisexual Lesbian and Gay Alliance at York University (TBLGAY).

The Tories have chosen businessman Ted Larsen. Their first pick, Rosamund Luke, resigned Sep 9 after it was revealed she had a criminal record. The Greens have chosen professor and writer Darryl Whetter.

Xtra.ca interviewed the two front-runners to get their opinions on queer issues and how, if elected, they would help queer voters. The following are excerpts from those conversations.

Catherine Meade, Liberal candidate:

Xtra.ca: I note on your press release that you are going to marry your partner, Rita. Have you set a date yet?

Meade: Yes, Oct 11. We had already set the date before Harper decided to call an election. It is going to be a very busy weekend!

Xtra.ca: Some people have expressed the opinion that now that we have same-sex marriage, we’ve got everything we need. What do you see as the challenges or issues for the queer community?

Meade: We’ve made some fantastic gains in the last few years, and the law has taken the lead and social attitudes have come along, although they still have a ways to go. Of course you need to get a kind of critical mass of public support before legislation can happen, but the law can be a key factor. We need to make sure the Harper government doesn’t try to scale back any of those rights.

Xtra.ca: Why the Liberal party?

Meade: I joined about 10 or 12 years ago. It’s important to be in the party that is able to make change. The Liberal party is the party of the Charter and members of the party have been responsible for many of the positive changes that have happened in Canada.

Xtra.ca: What are your concerns about the Harper government regarding queer issues?

Meade:
Well the best example of the government’s attitude was when they cut the Court Challenges Program. This was the program used by queer men and women to challenge discrimination at the Supreme Court for rights guaranteed by the Charter. Litigation at the Supreme Court level is staggeringly expensive and would not have been possible without this program. Now it is gone.

I do agree with them on one thing. They were right when they removed the word “Progressive” from their name.

Xtra.ca: Why should queer voters vote for you?

Meade: I’ve been actively working advocating for queer rights for about 20 years, starting as an undergrad in the late ’80s. I see my running for Parliament as an extension of what I’ve been doing all along. As a lawyer I advocate on behalf of clients, as an activist I’ve been advocating on behalf of women, sports, queer issues and other human rights, and now I hope to be advocating on behalf of all the people in my riding on the floor of the House of Commons.

Megan Leslie, NDP candidate:

Xtra.ca: I notice on your bio your involvement with queer rights issues. Do you identify as lesbian, straight, bi?

Leslie: I identify as a queer activist, although I do have a male partner.

Xtra.ca: Some people have expressed the opinion that now that we have same-sex marriage, we’ve got everything we need. What do you see as the challenges or issues for the queer community?


Leslie:
Well, there is still a lot of work to be done for transgender equality. And yes things have changed in law with regard to queer issues, and with the legal changes there has been some social change. Formal equality — protection under the law — has made a difference, but informal equality — people’s attitudes — has not changed enough. I still see human rights violations every day and widespread discrimination. For example, if you have two women raising a child, they face discrimination not only as lesbians but also as women — pay equity, kinds of work available to them and social attitudes.

And there is no guarantee that the Conservative government will not try to claw back some of the advances made for queer rights.

Xtra.ca: What attracted you to the NDP?

Leslie: I first got involved when Jack Layton was running for the leadership but I’ve always felt an affinity for the party. The NDP has a diversity committee who work specifically to get members for the NDP from groups which have historically been underrepresented: women, members of the queer community and visible minorities. And the party provides information, training and income support during a campaign for those members who run as candidates.

Xtra.ca: What concerns do you have about the current Harper government with regard to queer issues?

Leslie: I see him eroding human rights with his cuts to funding, and these cuts limit freedom of expression. He cut the Court Challenges Program which financially supported those who wanted to take challenges to the Supreme Court. This is the fund which allowed gays and lesbians, for example, to challenge the discrimination against them at the Supreme Court. That is cut now and is an example of the silencing of criticism his government wants.

Xtra.ca: Why should queer voters support you?

Leslie: It really comes down to the party. Look at the decades of work that the NDP has done on queer rights. We are the only party to have a critic on queer rights. I have been and continue to be a queer activist, and the NDP has always given the rainbow community good solid representation.