6 min

Toronto Centre by-election: NDP candidate Linda McQuaig

Xtra talks LGBT issues with federal by-election candidates

NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Toronto Centre candidate Linda McQuaig at her Yonge and Davenport campaign office last week. Credit: Andrea Houston
In less than two weeks, the residents of Toronto Centre go to the polls to elect a new MP in what is shaping up to be a neck-and-neck battle between journalists.
According to the latest Forum Research poll, Liberal Chrystia Freeland is sitting at 47 percent, followed by 32 percent for Linda McQuaig of the New Democrats. Conservative Geoff Pollock is at 16 percent.
Xtra recently sat down with each of the front-runners to discuss the future of the riding and talk about the issues they're discussing at the doorsteps as the campaign heads into the final week.
Toronto Centre, a Liberal stronghold since the late 1980s, is one of the most diverse ridings in Canada and home to the city’s gay Village. The seat was been left empty following the departure of former Ontario premier and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.
The Toronto Centre by-election is Mon, Nov 25. The candidates will participate in a debate on Wed, Nov 20 at Jarvis Collegiate. 
Xtra chatted with the candidates about where there they stand on key LGBT issues. First up is the NDP's Linda McQuaig, an author and former journalist for the Toronto Star.
What are the top three issues facing Toronto Centre?
Affordable Housing. We have a serious housing crisis here. There are 165,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing. We used to have a national housing program. It did really serious work housing people. It was killed in the '90s by the Liberals. That’s solely responsible for the housing crisis.
We also have a job crisis. That includes unemployment and youth unemployment, which is double the national average of 13 percent. And there a whole bunch of issues related to under employment, precarious employment, unpaid internships, really severe cutback in EI, so that people who have precarious employment pay into EI but don’t get any benefits. Temporary foreign worker program. Depressing wages of Canadians. Not offering citizenship to people coming here who would like to be [working] immigrants. So there’s a whole series of employment-related issues.
Climate change. There is terrible inaction in Canada, obstructionism by the Harper government on that. At the same time we are seeing the Liberals get on board with the big oil agenda. [Liberal leader] Justin Trudeau went down to Washington a few weeks ago in support of Keysone Pipeline. [The NDP] want development of resources, but it has to be sustainable. 
What do you see as the top three LGBT issues?
The gender identity bill, C-279, which was an NDP piece of legislation. I think it’s incredibly important to get gender identity accepted in the wider community. The bill protects important rights and recognizes gender-based violence as a hate crime.
The Sochi Olympics. I have been involved with Paul Dewar in developing a petition addressing that. We are calling for any Russian legislator involved in developing the anti-gay legislation in Russia, which is obviously draconian, having those legislators banned from getting visas to enter Canada. To me, that seems like a pretty straight forward and reasonable move. We had more than 100 community groups backing that, but for some reason the Liberals took us to task over that, which I found odd. It’s important to protest this. While it’s true that many of those Russian legislators will never want to come to Canada, that may be so, but it’s an important symbolic gesture because it showed the disdain that Canadians feel toward that kind of discriminatory behaviour, and Canadians will stand up to it. 
Sending generic HIV medication to Africa. This is very important. In Africa there’s still horrible problems with HIV, and the NDP did try to address this with legislation last year, but unfortunately it didn't pass.
[Bill C-398, an NDP private member’s bill, would have reformed Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) to make it easier to get Canadian generic medicines to developing countries, was defeated in the House of Commons last year.]
Where do you stand on HIV Criminalization and the need for prosecutorial guidelines?
Yes, I feel strongly that criminalizing people with HIV is the wrong route to go. HIV is a health problem. We want to do everything we can to give people with HIV the help they need. We don’t want to criminalize people, punish people for their sexual activity. People won't come forward to disclose. We need community information and we need to reach out to people with HIV. Obviously we want people to behave responsibly, but treating this problem with a criminal approach is wrong.
What’s your position on harm reduction programs, and would you support developing infrastructure like needle exchanges in the riding?
Without knowing a great deal about it I would say that I think it’s a good idea. We shouldn’t be criminalizing addiction. The point is to get the maximum benefit for the person suffering with addiction.
Recently I toured Seaton House. I think they have really tried to do some of that. They told me they are even doing [harm reduction] methods with alcohol. They have a minimal dose of alcohol that they give people every two hours. That seems like a sensible approach to me.
Many activists believe 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?
LGBT people are discriminated against in about 70 countries around the world, so definitely, those refugees should not face discrimination coming to Canada. People are murdered because they’re gay. When they come to seek refuge here, any impediments to that are just wrong.
What prominent LGBT Canadians do you most admire?
Metropolitan Community Church pastor Brent Hawkes. I love him. I recently went to his church and it was deeply moving. I support everything he stands for. Also, NDP MP Randall Garrison and Svend Robinson, the first Canadian MP to come out as gay.
What questions are you hearing most frequently from people on the doorstep?
The most common thing I hear from people are complaints about housing. You get a lot of complaints about the buildings people are in, street security and safety. I also get a lot of questions about jobs. People are struggling. They can’t afford to live. They aren’t making enough income. I have run into a lot of complaints about unpaid internships and a lack of benefits.
What sets you apart from the other candidates?
The Liberals and the Conservatives whole approach to job creation has been corporate tax cuts. I know that sounds ridiculous, but under the Harper government, they have cut the corporate tax rate in half. Every time it was cut, it’s always justified that it will create jobs, the way the Conservatives love to talk about how good they are on jobs and the economy they justify the cuts, but it hasn’t. We have 1.4 million unemployed. What happened was the corporations have got those big tax breaks and they were supposed to use it to create jobs, but there was no requirement, it was just an open-ended tax cut across the board. 
The NDP argues that the corporate taxes should be raised, and there’s quite a bit of room to raise them and still stay beneath the rates of other countries, like the US and other G7 countries, so the argument that it would destroy our competitiveness is incorrect. If there is going to be any corporate tax relief, it should be directly linked to job creation.
Regarding income disparity and raising corporate taxes, which you have been writing about years, you actually go further in your ideas than NDP leader Tom Mulcair.
Well, okay, yes. As you say I have been writing about this topic for years and I stand by everything I have written. Look, we have a very significant increase in inequality. There’s many ways to address it and one way is through a very progressive tax system.
What’s your position on electoral reform?
I am in favour of proportional representation. All we have to do is look at the fact we have had eight years now of Harper government, with only 38 percent of the vote. This whole system forces us to endure majority governments that simply do not enjoy majority support. Proportional representation would go a long way to correcting that. 
I actually think it would revitalize our democracy. You know, I’ve heard this from so many people, in every riding, they say, ‘what’s the point? I live in a riding that is going to go Liberal or Conservative, so why show up?’ So, yes, proportional representation is very important. Many countries have moved to this and it’s very effective. This is a serious problem with our democracy.
Last year, it was revealed that federal funding was going to Crossroads Christian Communications for its work in Uganda. Crossroads listed homosexuality under "sexual sins" deemed to be a "perversion." The funding was through CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency).
These groups are also anti-women, anti-abortion. That’s the Conservative agenda right there. An NDP government would have totally different priorities. 
We need to get our priorities right. We need to establish that we shouldn’t be funding discrimination. We should not tolerate that in our domestic policies, so we certainly shouldn’t insert that agenda into our international policies either.