It was a combination of single motherhood and the onset of the AIDS crisis that spurred Laura McDiarmid into political activism several decades ago.
“From that moment on, I’ve been a politician. I’ve fought in co-op housing, I’ve fought for my children in their schools, I’ve fought for equality and as a surviving single mother with a child of colour, I was constantly faced with the challenge of racism and difference.”
The Vancouver-Hastings Liberal candidate says she’s proud that her party just announced an increase for persons with disabilities. The earning exemption has now been raised to $500 a month, allowing claimants to work more hours and keep the income, she says.
“I’ve been fighting for that under an NDP government for years and no one ever listened. The BC Liberals listened and they’ve increased it and I am proud of that. I’d say that persons with disabilities have done very well under this government,” she smiles.
McDiarmid is accustomed to listening to people’s issues. “I started working in the Ministry of Human Resources 25 years ago as a social program officer.” She also served six years as a Vancouver Park Board Commissioner, starting in 1996.
“As a gay candidate my strong suit is equality. When I was a park board commissioner I fought vehemently to have the AIDS memorial placed in Sunset Park. I went to numerous debates where we were harassed, yelled at, and the homophobic remarks were intolerable,” she recalls.
Two issues top her list as most important: youth issues “and First Nations issues have to be front and centre as well. There’s First Nations issues in the gay community and First Nations issues for youth,” she notes.
She currently works for an urban aboriginal organization, and is a former social development director for the Musqueam Indian Band. “I’m a very strong advocate for First Nations and First Nations issues,” she says.
McDiarmid is also a strong supporter of youth and says she would support any government initiatives to address bullying, homophobia and drug abuse in schools. “I support initiatives for youth because they are our future,” she says.
And although it’s a federal issue, she says she’s a “strong supporter” of same-sex marriage, too.
“I really like love stories,” she explains. “I was married when I came out and I came out with a woman, who was also married, in the early ’70s. My best friend happened to be my first lover. It was a nice transition because we were both in the same place at the same time and so we learned together in a way that was not oppressive.” Today the 56-year-old is single.
Her Air Force father taught McDiarmid at a young age: “If you build your house on a solid foundation then it isn’t going to fall over in the wind.”
To her, a solid foundation is “fiscal management and good, sound fiscal policies. I’ve never believed that you should be paying for things that you can’t afford.”
She wants to move forward “in a way that we can afford, putting strategic dollars into places that count: education, health care, social services, retraining-putting people in a place where they can benefit from the good fiscal policies that the Liberals have brought in. Our economy is thriving now, so we can start putting our money into places where it’s going to matter for everyone, including the queer community.
“I will be a strong advocate for the queer community,” McDiarmid promises. “I don’t believe that the NDP has cornered the market on social conscience.”