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Smitherman, Wynne back on government benches

Queers among winners & losers in Ontario election

TROUNCED THE OPPOSITION. Liberal Kathleen Wynne soundly prevailed over PC leader John Tory to retain her Don Valley West riding.

After a tumul-tuous campaign that saw most major issues drowned out by disdain for Progressive Conservative leader John Tory’s plan to fund faith-based schools with government money, voters returned Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals to government in a legislature that looks remarkably similar to the one we had before the election.

Liberal candidates scored 42 percent of the vote and 71 seats. The PCs earned 32 percent of the vote and 26 seats and the NDP took 17 percent of the vote and 10 seats. The Green Party took eight percent of the vote in their best showing in any Canadian election so far but failed to win a single seat. Before the election there were 67 Liberal seats, 25 PC seats and 10 NDP seats.

Voter turnout sank to a new low of 52.8 percent.

Queer issues on the agenda during the campaign included relisting sex reassignment surgery (SRS) as an OHIP benefit, health services for queer seniors and the safety of queer youth at public schools. Individual politicians from both the NDP and the Liberals pledged support for queer issues, but neither the Liberal Party nor McGuinty took a firm stance in support of our causes.

Egale Canada executive director Helen Kennedy says she’s nevertheless optimistic that the Liberal government will support queer issues in its second mandate.

“Within the Liberal Party we have to foster open relations and have a positive dialogue on these issues,” she says. “George Smitherman in the last government wasn’t open to funding SRS but maybe he will come around.”

Smitherman, the openly gay health minister and Toronto Centre MPP in the last government, is among the reelected Liberals. Education minister Kathleen Wynne, also openly gay, was up against Tory in Don Valley West. She trounced the PC leader, taking 52 percent of the vote to Tory’s 37 percent.

“It was a very intense election campaign,” Wynne says. “We had hundreds of volunteers. Because we were fighting the election on issues of institutions, publicly funded education and healthcare the stakes were even higher. We worked right to the last minute getting our electorate out and we knew we had to do that.”

McGuinty is expected to announce his new cabinet when the legislature resumes on Tue, Oct 30. Although many expect Wynne and Smitherman to return to high-profile cabinet posts, particularly after Wynne’s victory over Tory, Wynne says she’ll accept whatever job the premier assigns her.

“I will do whatever I’m asked to do,” she says. “What I’m really thrilled about is being able to continue as the MPP in Don Valley West. That work is really critical and it’s a real honour. Whatever else I’m asked to do is a real bonus.”

Not all queer candidates got to celebrate on Oct 10. York South-Weston MPP Paul Ferreira, who won his seat for the NDP in a by-election only eight months earlier, narrowly lost his contest with Liberal candidate Laura Albanese. Five other out NDP candidates also failed to win their seats.

Ferreira blames the lack of debate on key issues for his loss.

“The most unfortunate aspect of this campaign is that the issues were highjacked by one specific issue and that was John Tory’s poorly conceived initiative to fund faith-based schools and that gave the Liberals a free pass,” he says. “It gave them a diversion from their government record in housing and addressing poverty. The government failed for the most part over the past four years but they were able to campaign on the issue of faith-based schools funding.”

Despite the loss Ferreira says he intends to win back his riding in the next election scheduled for 2011.

“Through political victory and defeat I don’t run away and hide,” he says. “I look forward to 2011. I’ve already got it circled it on my calendar.”

Voters also rejected electoral reform by a margin of almost two-to-one. That reform would have provided a more proportional system of representation called mixed-member proportional (MMP) and queer activists predicted it would make it easier for queers and other minorities to get elected.

Supporters of the proposed system criticized the referendum process saying the government planned to torpedo the plan all along by starting the consultation process too late and failing to provide enough money to Elections Ontario to educate the public about the proposal.

“This was set up to fail from day one,” says Ferreira. “The rules McGuinty put in place made it very difficult for this proposal to succeed. They put forward the initiative and they can say Ontarians rejected it. I think the reason they rejected it is the result of not being informed about the system.”

Despite the referendum result, calls for electoral reform are unlikely to stop. Even members of the No MMP Committee admit they want electoral reform, they just didn’t approve of the MMP proposal.

“A lot of us feel that [the current system] is fine but a lot of us also feel that changes would be beneficial to the electoral system,” reads an article on the committee’s website. “But we all feel that this MMP proposal is a step in the wrong direction for Ontario.”

Despite calls for electoral reform Wynne says the government considers the issue closed.

“We’re not considering it as far as I know,” she says. “I think the people have spoken for now.”

“It’s unfortunate she feels that way,” says Kennedy. “I think they need to do a little more study on how they presented it. It needs to stay on the table for discussion.”