Canada will have its second openly gay premier Feb 21, when Wade MacLauchlan is likely to be acclaimed as leader of the Prince Edward Island Liberals and become head of government.
Ontarians elected Canada’s first openly gay premier, Liberal Kathleen Wynne, in June 2014, after she won her party’s provincial leadership contest the previous year.
MacLauchlan, a former president of the University of PEI, is a political neophyte but is running unopposed in a contest sparked by the November resignation of Robert Ghiz.
MacLauchlan, 60, is the son of Harry MacLauchlan, an entrepreneur whose ventures in construction, property development, retail, fuel services, tourism and telecommunications are said to have employed hundreds of Islanders. The younger MacLauchlan holds degrees from UPEI, the University of New Brunswick and Yale and served as president of UPEI from 1999 to2011. His campaign website notes that his partner, Duncan McIntosh, is the founding artistic director of a local theatre company.
Island LGBT activists say MacLauchlan’s upcoming premiership is a sign of changing attitudes in PEI. The tiny province, home to just 140,000 people, was the last in Canada to pass human-rights legislation covering sexual orientation and one of the last provinces to legalize same-sex marriage.
“When I first came here and was fighting for human rights, I was recognized everywhere because I was in the media for that,” says Nola Etkin, one of the founders of Abegweit Rainbow Collective, one of the Island’s early LGBT groups. “It was pretty rare for somebody to be that out. Things have changed a lot, so that’s great.”
In contrast, Etkin says that MacLauchlan’s candidacy hasn’t seemed to cause any homophobic backlash.
“I think because he comes from a very prominent, respected family of PEI . . . that gave him a power and credibility not to face those challenges. It is a question of change, though. I think 15 years ago, the situation would have been different,” she says. “The fact that he’s running unopposed for leadership tells you he’s got the confidence of his party.”
MacLauchlan declined to be interviewed for this story. A spokesperson said an interview would be “premature” as he is “still campaigning for a job.”
But that position isn’t sitting well with some of the people MacLauchlan is seeking to govern. Tyler Murnaghan, chair of Pride PEI, says he has been trying to set up a meeting with MacLauchlan to no avail. He says the community has been surprisingly cool to MacLauchlan’s candidacy.
“You think there’d be a lot of excitement with him being the first openly gay premier, but he hasn’t done a lot of outreach to the LGBT community,” Murnaghan says.
Still, he hopes that a MacLauchlan premiership will see movement on some key issues for the Island’s LGBT community, such as greater support for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools. “Right now there’s [a GSA] in Charlottetown and Summerside. I know there’s one trying to start up in Westisle High School, but it hasn’t gotten the most support from the principal,” Murnaghan says.
PEI lacks laws or regulations requiring schools to have GSAs; only Ontario, Manitoba and New Brunswick have implemented such measures to support students who request GSAs.
PEI is also one of just two provinces that does not fund some combination of sex-reassignment surgeries for trans people under the provincial health plan, but Murnaghan says that the Island’s LGBT community hasn’t been able to push that issue as hard as he’d like.
It’s unclear how long MacLauchlan will remain in office once he becomes premier. Although he would have until this fall to call a general election, there is much speculation that he’ll call an early spring election shortly after taking office.
If MacLauchlan is in office this summer, Murnaghan hopes he’ll become the first premier of PEI to march in the Island’s Pride parade, which takes place annually during the last week of July.
“If he doesn’t, you can be sure he’ll be getting some attention from us,” Murnaghan says.