Outgoing NDP MP Bill Siksay is busy packing up his office on Parliament Hill while his former colleagues are busy on the hustings.
“Packing up offices, wrapping up your political career is tricky,” Siksay says. “Going through stuff, figuring out what you want to save, what goes to recycling, what might be important to stick in an archive someplace is really tough stuff, and it means reliving all of those moments of the past seven years.”
Siksay was the first MP in Canada to be elected as an out gay man (rather than coming out after being elected). Deciding what to send to either Library and Archives Canada or the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Archives can be difficult business.
“I don’t have a healthy estimation of the historical value of my own career, but there is some stuff that I know people will be interested in, so I’m trying to sort it out and make sure that it’s still around,” he says.
Siksay’s time in politics was marked by important advances for the queer community, from his work on the same-sex marriage debate, to the trans rights bill that died in the Senate before the government fell.
“The fact is we just didn’t have time to get it done,” Siksay says of Bill C-389. “It’s not because anybody was unhelpful or because anybody was obstructionist or anything like that. But I have to say that Senator Cowan, the leader of the opposition in the Senate was very helpful to me in starting that search for a sponsor.”
Siksay has in the past run afoul of party positions when it comes to queer issues, such as the vote on raising the age of consent from 14 to 16.
“It was bad legislation,” Siksay says. He points to a study conducted by researchers from Simon Fraser University, UBC and the McCreary Centre that shows that raising the age of consent did nothing to protect youth.
“I feel very confident that I made the right decision on that one,” Siksay says. “It was tough to do that, to be a lone voice against an issue that seemed to I’m sure a vast majority of Canadians the right thing to do, but I feel vindicated by this report. But also, I think, in the queer community and in the community of folks who work with young people who are sexually active, or who work on issues of relationship or sexual activity, the opinion was almost unanimous that this bill did nothing or made things worse.”
As for his stand, Siksay did face censure.
“I didn’t get to ask a question for three months,” he notes. “Well, I’ve never been high on the question period roster anyway, and there was another aspect to the discipline that was never exercised. The leader was not happy with me, but it could have been worse.”
Taking a stand against the Conservative crime agenda is something Siksay feels should be a bigger priority for parliamentarians.
“I think there’s huge nervousness among politicians about issues of crime,” Siksay says. “I don’t think there needs to be, because the research, the experience, is all on the side of those who say that restorative justice works, that rehabilitation is possible, and that there’s a way other than that which is promoted by the Conservatives, and I wish we’d taken some clear positions on that as a Parliament.”
Instances where the NDP went along with some of those mandatory minimum sentences bills is something that Siksay says the caucus debated thoroughly.
“It was tough because it was such an overwhelming agenda,” Siksay says. “It was relentless and it kept coming in needless waves because a lot of it could have been accomplished through omnibus legislation or lumped into one bill, but for political reasons, the Conservatives always wanted it on the agenda.”
The loss of Siksay could mean one less gay voice in the Commons in the event that no new queer MPs are elected, but Siksay is not too worried about his own caucus.
“I know that Libby will rise to the occasion if she’s the only openly queer New Democrat,” Siksay says. “But I’m also still optimistic that there may be others even in our caucus. But we’ll have to see how that turns out.
“It would be better if there were more MPs. It would be great if there was a trans MP, but we may have to wait for that for a while. But that day is coming.”
Academic study on age of consent: