NDP MP Bill Siksay announced on Dec 16 that he will not run in the next federal election.
“As much as I would like to be a drama queen about it, there really isn’t a dramatic reason,” Siksay says of his decision. “It’s been 25 years. There aren’t many political careers that last 25 years.
“I didn’t want to get to the point where I was burnt out and exhausted, or sick, or cynical,” he adds. “It’s just not my style. I think there is way too much cynicism in the institution now. It really was a simple decision. It’s just time to make the change.”
Siksay began his political career working for former NDP MP Svend Robinson, first on Parliament Hill and later in Robinson’s Burnaby, BC, riding office. Siksay was elected in 2004, replacing Robinson in the Burnaby-Douglas riding and becoming the first openly gay man to be elected to public office. (Earlier openly gay MPs came out after being elected.)
Siksay says he plans to serve out his term and doesn’t want the move to be seen as an abandonment of his private member’s Bill C-389, which would extend explicit rights protections to trans people. The bill, however, will die on the order paper if an election is called in the spring.
“If we have to start it all over, I think we’re starting from a much stronger point,” says Siksay. “No matter what the configuration of the new parliament, we’ve identified more support than we thought was possible.”
Siksay says he believes someone will take up the cause and run with it. He says the bill has such strong support, he thinks a Liberal, or even a Conservative, government might bring it to fruition.
Still, he says, he plans to use every opportunity to move the bill ahead before the next election.
“If it’s a spring election, we may not be able to move it further,” Siksay says. “If it lasts longer, I want to see it get to the Senate. If we get to 2012, we might be able to move it all the way though, so I haven’t given up on that possibility yet.”
When it comes to broader advocacy for gay, lesbian and trans issues in Parliament, Siksay says he is confident that the torch will be passed.
“We’ve got Libby [Davies] in caucus,” he notes. “We’ve also got lots of queer staff folks, some of whom have been around for a long time, too. That institutional memory is very strong. We also have a really active LGBT Committee in the party, with really strong leadership with Matt McLauchlin and Susan Gapka, both of whom are better than I at remembering the history and following the situation in terms of queer politics in Canada and around the world.”
Siksay says the NDP’s long-term commitment to a critical portfolio dedicated to gay and lesbian issues shows the level of their commitment. He also plans to make himself available to his successor.
The Burnaby-Douglas riding association will begin an open nomination process and strike a search committee to find a new candidate.
Siksay’s decision not to run will leave one less gay voice in the House of Commons, in a Parliament that has already lost former Bloc MP Réal Ménard.
“I am worried about it to a certain extent because I know that it’s still hard to get elected as an openly queer person,” says Siksay. “I keep my fingers crossed that there’ll be others who come. I’d really love to see a trans person elected to the House at some point, and that’ll be a big day to celebrate, no matter who it is or what party they come from. But there are still challenges in that. But I think we’ve shown that it’s possible, that it’s not the same challenge that it would have been in the not-too-distant past.”