During the 2003 Ontario election campaign, Dalton McGuinty promised to stop construction on the Oak Ridges Moraine, an ecologically sensitive landform that stretches from the Niagara Escarpment to the Peterborough area.
Voracious property developers had long sought to colonize the fragile ecosystem by building subdivisions on it, and voters who prefer forests and fresh air to smog days and urban sprawl had looked to McGuinty to stand up for their interests.
Instead, the Liberal government broke the promise and caved to construction companies, just weeks after the election.
This month, eight years later, Ontario voters elected the McGuinty Liberals a third time.
Given what was almost the alternative, there is no reason why Ontario’s queer community, among others, should be unhappy with this result.
In its own special way, our community is also a fragile ecosystem, attacked not by construction companies but by rightwing, religious haters. We will most definitely be looking to McGuinty and his Liberals to protect our rights in the face of increasingly vocal conservative homophobia and to keep the promises they made to us.
Globe and Mail pundit Gerald Caplan posited it best: “With Mr McGuinty, you feel that he’d like to do the right thing if circumstances permit, and if they don’t — if he needs to break a promise — he’ll do so only regretfully.”
In light of this, Ontario’s Liberal government can rest assured that when it comes to protecting the rights of the queer community, circumstances do permit, the groundwork has been laid and we will take no more excuses for inaction.
Fears of Stephen Harper’s Conservative “hat trick” certainly helped McGuinty’s Liberal team despite early predictions they were doomed.
Ontario voters expect McGuinty to be the red meat between the federal and municipal conservative buns.
McGuinty could also go the other way and turn a blind eye to homophobia and Conservative knee-jerk, not-backed-by-any-scientific-evidence policies and dribble out watered-down programs to a frustrated and tuned-out electorate.
But before choosing this route, the Liberals should be reminded that Canada’s queers are currently very tuned in. Any apathy that may have surfaced in the last decade has evaporated with recent threats to our community. This includes cuts to programming and funding for everything from arts and culture to HIV, as well as recent unhelpful government intervention into HIV criminalization and same-sex marriage cases before Canadian courts.
Many of Ontario’s queers voted Liberal because they are cognizant the party may need a few more years to deliver on vital pledges and finalize important policy work.
These include finding a way to end discrimination in Catholic schools, where Ontario’s equity policy recommending the implementation of gay-straight alliances is not being applied. Queer students continue to face bullying, and Catholic boards have given the finger to brave students trying to end this discrimination while continuing to pocket public money.
Fifteen-year-old Jamie Hubley took his own life on Oct 14, underscoring the great need for such programs. Hubley was an out gay student who was bullied by fellow students at his Ottawa school.
During a campaign debate in Toronto Centre, Liberal MPP Glen Murray said, “Every gay student in Ontario should have the right to start a gay, lesbian, trans club if they want to.”
Well, Mr Murray, they want to, and your party now has a third chance to make it happen.
Similarly, last year Attorney General Chris Bentley told Xtra he would work with the queer community to establish prosecutorial guidelines so HIV-positive people can be charged only when there is clear intent to transmit the virus.
Bentley seemed to be backtracking recently when his office asked to intervene in a Supreme Court of Canada case that would remove the court’s “significant risk” qualifier, which activists say will only inject more confusion into already divided provincial courts.
You have another chance, Mr Bentley. The community is still very willing to chat with you about this and anything else.
On these and other promises, including the implementation of inclusive sex education, the expansion of sex-reassignment surgery treatment options for trans people, and funding for arts and community organizations (including Pride Toronto), we are watching and waiting for the Liberal government to deliver.
Coincidentally, Ontario held its 40th general election in the same month as Xtra’s 40th anniversary. In the pages of this edition readers will be reminded of many important battles fought by Canada’s queer community over the last 40 years.
In Ontario today, our fight for liberation continues and we have no intention of backing down. The above political promises are not enormous; they are fair, just, reasonable and possible. We will not stand by and let them become another Oak Ridges Moraine.