The race to find a new leader of the federal Liberal Party has been slowly simmering over the summer in anticipation of delegate selection at the end of this month.
But with such a large field of candidates and media coverage that has tended to focus on foreign policy and environment issues, it can be difficult to know where the candidates stand on social and queer issues.
Since gay marriage played a central part of Liberals’ failed election strategy earlier this year, whoever is elected as the new Liberal leader in December will have to walk a delicate balance of progressive social policy without playing into the Conservatives’ divisive electoral strategy.
“A lot will depend what happens in the House of Commons this fall, and whether or not the government decides to back the issue of same-sex marriage,” interim leader Bill Graham told Xtra West at the Liberal National Caucus last month. The way the Liberal Party would address queer issues in an election “would depend obviously on who our new leader is.”
Xtra West asked each of the Liberal leadership candidates about issues of importance to the queer community.
MP St-Laurent-Cartierville (Montreal), 1996-present
Former Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Environment
Xtra West: How would the Liberals under your leadership respond to an attempt by the Conservative government to reopen the issue of gay marriage?
Stéphane Dion: Both the Supreme Court and Parliament have spoken. I would vote against such a measure. I believe same-sex couples have the same rights to civil unions than other Canadians enjoy.
XW: Where do you stand on the Conservatives’ plan to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 and rename it the “age of protection”?
SD: I support raising the age of consent to 16. I believe young people participating in a sexual activity should be within five years of age of each other. I agree with that as long as you don’t prevent the teenagers from having sex with themselves.
XW: Where do you stand on equalizing the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual acts (currently, the legal age of consent for anal sex is 18)?
SD: Why would we make a difference? It’s the same situation. Once you are decided that you don’t want to discriminate, don’t start to discriminate again.
XW: Will you act on the recommendations of the Parliamentary sub-committee on solicitation laws to legalize prostitution?
SD: I’m not there yet, no. I’m open to review, but I’m not there yet.
XW: Do you support amending the Canada Human Rights Act and the hate propaganda sections of the Criminal Code to explicitly protect trans-identified people?
XW: How do you reconcile the Canadian Forces’ security support role in Afghanistan with that country’s ongoing violations of the human rights of women and queer people?
SD: We need to put pressure on the government to stop this kind of situation. But at the same time, the Prime Minister put us in the position to respect the commitments we made to the international community in this country. And although I believe this has been done in an irresponsible way, I would not want to leave overnight in dishonour and I will try to fulfill the commitment made, but in a way that will respect the Canadian tradition for peacekeeping. We need to push for the respect of democracy and human rights.
XW: The Liberal Party is known to have deep divisions over key queer issues, including gay marriage, the sex trade, and hate crimes. How do you propose to unify the party and prevent anti-gay voices from holding back progressive social policy?
SD: Most of us are definitely supporting progressive social policy, the ones supporting conservative views are not a majority. When it is a vote of conscience, the majority of Liberals will support the progressive view on these issues.
XW: Many Quebeckers believe that their province is more socially progressive than the rest of Canada. What do you say to gay and lesbian Quebeckers who believe their rights would be more protected in an independent Quebec than in a united Canada?
SD: How can they know that? What would prevent a very right wing government to take power in a Republic of Quebec? The only thing that we know for sure is that together we have been able to give to the world one of the most progressive countries in the world. Don’t break up the country because you think the new country will be nirvana.