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.
MP Kings-Hants (Nova Scotia), 1997-Present
Former Minister of Public Works
Xtra West: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Scott Brison: Stephen Harper wants to turn back the clock. He wants to be the first Canadian Prime Minister to rescind a Charter-granted right and that’s fundamentally wrong and inconsistent with Canadian values and Liberal values. So I would fight vigourously against that type of regressive approach.
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”?
SB: My biggest concern is that heterosexual and homosexual relations be treated identically. That’s the most important issue. That and the whole issue of sexual relations between adolescents of approximately the same age, and I understand that part of that has been addressed in the legislation.
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)?
SB: Yes. [I am in favour.]
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
SB: I believe we have an outdated policy on sex trade workers. It’s not working. It in fact exposes sex trade workers and society to undue risk… I don’t think that legalizing prostitution would in any way, shape, or form increase prostitution or the risk to society, and I think we have to have honest discussion [on prostitution].
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?
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?
SB: I think Afghanistan has, in a post-Taliban period, moved forward on rights and we need to continue, first of all, to unite with the Afghan people in fighting the Taliban, which is a destructive force, a force of international terrorism and a force that is regressive socially. But beyond that, we need to continue to work for further advancements in basic rights there.
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?
SB: I think part of it is by leading the party… By choosing me as leader, the party would be making a pretty clear statement on its view on social progress. I think that our party best represents the values of being socially progressive and being economically innovative. Those are my values. I don’t just talk social progress. I live it everyday.
XW: When you ran for the Progressive Conservative leadership in 2003, you campaigned on a platform that included privatization of medicare. How would a private health care system better serve people living with HIV/AIDS?
SB: I support private delivery in a single-payer system. I still believe that private delivery options are in fact a part of our health care system and always have been. So I support a single-payer system, but within a single-payer system, competition on the delivery level.