It was standing room only at the Roundhouse Community Centre Jan 11 for the Xtra West/Gay and Lesbian Business Association all-candidates debate.
Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry, New Democratic candidate Svend Robinson, Conservative candidate Tony Fogarassy, Green candidate Jared Evans, and Marijuana candidate Heathcliff Dionysus Campbell squared off in what was a remarkably civil discussion.
“Once again a full house for what is probably the most looked forward to debate for the GLBA and Xtra West,” said Fry in her opening remarks. “Each election now, this has become really the most important debate because it’s a very effective forum.”
Although the election in Vancouver Centre appears to be a two-horse race between Fry and Robinson, some of the most original discussion came as a result of the other candidates’ comments.
Campbell, who was a last-minute addition to the lineup, when asked about what specifically he’d do for the queer community said: “Myself, I am transgendered and tri-sexual, so I can only assume the issues that are important to me are also important to you. I’m very disturbed that there are no transgender services in our city at this time. Since Vancouver hospital’s transgender clinic closed down on Broadway a couple of years ago, there has been nothing to replace it.”
Fogarassy, who originally backed out of the event because, he said, he had another commitment, explained his motivation for accepting the invitation in the end. “I’m not expecting a lot of support and I’m not expecting your vote here,” he said in his opening remarks. “I am here to learn more about your concerns, your thoughts and ideas for our community. As you know, I’ve been very clear on my support for same-sex marriage. Anyone who knows me knows where I’ve always stood on this issue.”
A number of the questions and comments from the audience came from a well-organized group who asked the candidates to work against the circumcision of newborn boys.
“I’m strongly in favour of these issues being an individual’s choice,” said Campbell. “I believe that even in the cases of religion. Religion is a choice, it’s a personal choice made by an individual.”
“I do believe that we have to protect religious freedom,” said Robinson. “I know that the Jewish community is concerned about this, but I would certainly seek an opportunity to have the medical evidence brought before the standing committee on health.”
One audience member asked all the candidates about good faith, ethics and integrity in government.
“I think we have not, as politicians, collectively shown that any particular party has demonstrated good faith in the history of this country,” said Fry in a moment of candour.
“If we have had every political party in this country with a history of bad faith, we need to change the system. We need to change institutions. We need to change the rules and we need to make it more difficult for people not to be transparent and accountable,” she continued. Fry went on to highlight balanced budgets and strong economic indicators after years of Liberal government as examples of ethics in her party’s rule.
“It’s hard to say, but a lot of people don’t have faith in government,” said Evans. “That’s why you see a large rate of apathy. The Green Party believes all new MPs elected to Ottawa and their staff should go through mandatory ethics training so they know right from wrong.”
Campbell echoed Evans’ sentiments, and added: “One thing that I would do immediately is remove the threshold limits that candidates of lesser-known parties like myself face. Without the lifeblood money from Ottawa and the ability to get the funding, we have a heck of a time getting the message out and letting people know what we stand for.”
All the candidates, except Fogarassy, agreed that the bawdyhouse laws need to be repealed.
“When we look at the bawdyhouse laws, they have actually created more harm than good,” said Fry. “The people who are most at risk are women on the street who have to work alone in the dark alleys. I think we need to be able to allow them to find a place where they can work and protect each other and be safe. I do think the bawdyhouse laws should be repealed. I don’t think a bathhouse should be considered a bawdyhouse if it’s a private club with consenting adults performing whatever it is they wish to do.”