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6 min

Talking LGBT issues with Toronto Centre’s Green Party candidate

Xtra sits down with John Deverell ahead of federal by-election

Green Party candidate John Deverell is focused on two issues: climate change and voting reform. Credit: Andrea Houston

The Green Party’s candidate in the upcoming Toronto Centre federal by-election says he is focused on two key issues: climate change and voter reform.

And John Deverell calls specific LGBT issues “Santa Claus politics.”

“I say LGBT, like every other Canadian, needs an equal and effective vote,” he says. “People write with their little issue all the time, asking to say something on that little issue and they’ll vote for you . . . That’s thinking small. I am asking people not to think small.”

Xtra has been talking with the main party candidates in the lead-up to the by-election on Mon, Nov 25. Read NDP candidate Linda McQuaig's interview here, and Liberal Chrystia Freeland's interview here.

Toronto Centre has been a Liberal stronghold since the late 1980s. It is one of the most diverse ridings in Canada and home to the city’s gay village. The seat was left empty following the departure of former Ontario premier and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

Xtra: What do you see as the key issues in this riding?

John Deverell: With suitable humility, I am not going around thinking the Green Party is winning Toronto Centre. What the Green Party is saying to the voters of Toronto Centre is that the by-election is a unique opportunity to send a message on behalf of Toronto to the whole country, just because of the attention and it’s a media capital. That message is that we are just fed up with the whole game. The voters are really tired of being bamboozled by the system. We want the federal government to take some positive action on fighting climate change. This is a widespread public attitude. Do something without waiting for China and the United States. Take some moral leadership. Not suicidal leadership, but get started. British Columbia got started with a carbon tax. That should happen nationally. It doesn’t have to be a real high carbon tax, but there should be a carbon tax. That’s not happening.

Instead, we have a federal government that has never received more than 39 percent of the vote, which has a phony majority in Parliament and is taking the country backwards. Harper’s policy is to accelerate the production of the oil sands, maximize fossil fuel production, therefore maximize greenhouse gases, and export as much of it as possible. And spend billions of dollars on pipelines if that’s what’s required.

This is the opposite of the kind of leadership a federal government should be providing, especially an unpopular one. The by-election is a chance to say that. We have a Parliament doing exactly the opposite of what the population wants. This is not a democratic system. Why is that? It’s because of the voting system. When you get down to the mechanics of it, half of all Canadians when they mark a ballot are electing nobody. Who represents the people who didn’t vote for the winners, which, generally speaking, is about half the population?

That’s the phony majority in Parliament, because the votes don’t translate. First-past-the-post has got to go. Harper won’t say goodbye to it. And Justin Trudeau is quite content knowing half the population elects nobody. He just wants to replace Harper’s phony majority with his own. We do not need another undeserving dictator. We need a democratic Parliament. That’s what Justin Trudeau should be saying, but he’s not.

Tom Mulcair is in favour of voting reform, except he’s not really promising to do voting reform if he is in a position to do it. He’s promising a referendum. We lived through that. We know what happens with a referendum. It’s like suggesting we put the Charter of Rights up for a vote. No, you don’t do that. If equal representation and equal votes is the fulfillment of the Charter, and they would be, then you don’t put that to a vote. You just do it because it’s a fundamental principle of a liberal democracy.

What do you see as the top LGBT issues?

I have a real aversion to Santa Claus politics and special pleading. As a candidate you get all kinds of it. People write with their little issue all the time, asking to say something on that little issue, and they’ll vote for you. People are asking the politician to play Santa Claus. Maybe it’s that their expectation of politicians has been reduced to that, asking, "What can I get?" That’s thinking small. I am asking people not to think small. I say LGBT, like every other Canadian, needs an equal and effective vote. In fact, the system of proportional representation is exactly what minority groups need to get proper consideration in the political system.

But there are real issues of importance for all citizens who care about human rights.

Yes, that’s true.

I’d like to hear you comment on the gender identity bill, C-279, that is yet to pass.

This is an expansion of the Charter and I support including it. We don’t want discrimination on the basis of ascribed characteristics. That should be prohibited. 

What LGBT Canadians are most influential for you?

[Laughs] Back in the day, the Conservatives would have said Pierre Trudeau. They tried to suggest that was his orientation. That was the politics of the day.

I try not to categorize people that way. The whole identity politics thing strikes me as the wrong place to put priorities. Look, I campaign for equal and effective votes. Women are actually a majority of this population, and if they are a political group, then democratic voting is a sufficient tool to deal with [unequal] state policy. You have a tool to solve your own problem. The problem is, women are not organized as a voting block.

Have you ever marched in a Pride parade or attended any Pride events?

I haven’t marched lately.

Have you ever?

I must have. I am so old I don’t remember.

Have you ever campaigned and toured through Toronto’s gay village?

I feel like I must have. I have been to meetings on voting reform held at The 519 [Church Street Community Centre].

What is your position on HIV criminalization?

I honestly haven’t put my mind close enough to that one to comment.

Where do you stand on harm reduction programs?

Again, the Harper government has been bad on this. The notion that all users are supposed to just quit and that be the end of it is not realistic. It’s much better to get these things under supervision. The program in Vancouver seems to be very successful, and we need more of it.

Last year, the Harper government was found to be funding an anti-gay group working in Uganda: Crossroads Christian Communications listed homosexuality under "sexual sins" deemed to be a "perversion." The funding was through CIDA [Canadian International Development Agency]. What do you think?

This is a proselytizing group. I don’t think the government of Canada should be funding proselytizing religions. Now, is it possible to be a faith-based group and not be proselytizing? I guess you have to go case by case on that to see if they can resist the temptation to proselytize. It’s possible to be a faith-based group and just want to assist people without flogging religious beliefs.

Activists have said that refugee policy reforms under the Harper government have made it more difficult for LGBT refugees to seek asylum in Canada. How can we improve this?

I don’t have an answer to that. But I can tell you that very soon we will have climate refugees in the hundreds of thousands. The choices that are now coming upon us are just getting more difficult. Is anyone advocating an open-door policy for immigration? If the doors are open, there will be a lot of people coming.

We have a political system that is not able to handle these questions. In terms of refugees, that is just one out of many forms of terrible distress coming our way. I wish we had a Parliament that was capable of discussing these matters.

Is Canada doing enough to fight the anti-gay laws in Russia? How do you feel about the NDP petition calling on the government to impose a visa ban on Russian lawmakers?

I like that idea better than punishing the athletes. I don’t think a boycott is the right answer. Some diplomatic sanctions are in order. The [Russian lawmakers'] behaviour is so outrageously unfair. They should experience some sanction.

Read Xtra's interviews with Liberal candidate Chrystia Freeland and NDP candidate Linda McQuaig