1 min

Who owns Trinity-Spadina?

Identity politics plague NDP nomination

Is it more important that Ward 20, MP Olivia Chow’s old stomping ground, send a Chinese-Canadian or an out lesbian to City Hall in November’s election?

It’s a stupid question, of course. What’s really important in a politician is competency, vision, leadership and diligence — characteristics which transcend gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. But identity must mean something: Councillor Kyle Rae’s high profile internationally has something to do with his being openly gay.

Council certainly is too white. But in a place that purports to be so gay friendly, it seems equally strange that Rae is the only queer standard-bearer.

That’s what makes the NDP nomination for Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), to be held Tue, May 23, so interesting. Both Tam Goossen, who is Chinese-Canadian, and Helen Kennedy, who is an out lesbian, are smart, progressive women. Both are immigrants to Canada (Hong Kong and Ireland, respectively), have strong NDP ties and lengthy social-justice-oriented resumés. Goossen’s a three-time public school trustee; Kennedy has been Chow’s executive assistant for seven years.

Yet this month Now weekly, under the headline “Betrayed In Trinity,” made a big deal out of Chow endorsing Kennedy. They quoted several Chinese-Canadians and cited Goossen’s ability to speak Cantonese. “Because she’s Chinese, [she] would make the lily-white council chamber a little less so.”

Considering that if Kennedy were to succeed, she’d be Toronto’s first lesbian councillor, you have to wonder why we aren’t hearing comparable lesbionic arguments. I have a few theories.

* Queers, though typically left-leaning, don’t necessarily vote as a block, while it is assumed that ethnic groups do

* Queers are not large enough in number to help carry any municipal ward in Canada, with the possible exceptions of Rae’s Toronto Centre-Rosedale and Ville-Marie in Montreal

* Queers care more about a queer-friendly policies (which Goossen certainly supports) than about identity, so our support of a sympathetic person of colour shows how we can compromise

* Queers already heavily influence government behind the scenes so we don’t need any more power. (It’s no oddity that Kennedy was Chow’s executive assistant; the last lesbian who ran for council was Chris Phibbs, Rae’s longtime assistant.)

Either woman would be an excellent alternative to the expected star candidate, CityTV’s Adam Vaughan, who is a bit of a git. I just wish there was more policy and vision talk, less ID checking about Chow’s heir.