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Wynne and Murray get new posts in Ontario cabinet shuffle

Activists hopeful that new faces in key portfolios will advance queer issues

Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray has been sworn in as minister for training, colleges and universities. Credit: Rob Salerno

The new Ontario cabinet was sworn in at a ceremony at Queen’s Park Oct 20 that saw Ontario’s two queer MPPs stay in cabinet but receive new posts.

 
Toronto Centre MPP Glen Murray is being moved from research and innovation to training, colleges and universities. He’ll be responsible for ushering in the 30-percent tuition rebates that the government promised during the fall election campaign.
 
While the ministry doesn’t dictate university curriculums, activists are calling on Murray to implement guidelines on queer-inclusive training and education at the post-secondary level.
 
“For the most part, the curriculums in medical schools, nursing schools and social work schools are grossly inadequate in LGBT issues. There’s an ongoing concern of graduates being unprepared to work with LGBT clients,” says Nick Mulé of Queer Ontario.
 
Don Valley West MPP Kathleen Wynne moves from transportation to municipal affairs and housing, and also absorbs responsibility for aboriginal affairs. One may expect that her position will make Wynne the point person on dealing with the Ford administration in Toronto, particularly given Ford’s stated desire to sell off the city’s social housing. However, Ford has in the past dealt more directly with the premier, and Wynne was sidelined earlier this year when Ford and McGuinty directly negotiated an agreement on transit expansion in the city.
 
“Poverty affects a number of people in the LGBT community, and housing is a major concern,” Mulé says. “[Wynne]’s going to have challenges in the city of Toronto with a mayor that’s trying to privatize housing. She’s also covering aboriginal affairs, and as we know, two-spirited people have their own issues that they face in their own communities.”
 
Other posts of interest to the queer community include John Gerretsen (Kingston and the Islands), who is taking over as attorney general from Chris Bentley. Queers will be looking for Gerretsen to make progress on implementing prosecutorial guidelines for criminal cases involving transmission of HIV, and amending the Ontario Human Rights Code to explicitly protect trans people. Gerretsen will also have to deal with the upcoming Ontario Court of Appeal ruling on the decriminalization of sex work, which is expected in the new year.
 
Gerretsen is a former solicitor and mayor of Kingston and has previously held cabinet posts for community services, the environment and municipal affairs and housing.
 
Susan Gapka, chair of the Trans Lobby Group, worries that Gerretsen “seems conservative” based on her previous encounters with him when she was lobbying on community housing issues.
 
“It seems like there’s going to be a lot of status quo in the attorney general’s office. That’s worrisome when we want to get protection for trans people,” she says.
 
Laurel Broten (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) takes over as minister of education after Leona Dombrowsky lost her seat in the election. She’ll have to follow through on implementing the province’s equity and inclusive education policy in Catholic schools, including the ongoing issue of allowing students in Catholic schools to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs).
 
Queer activists will also be keeping an eye out for Broten to reintroduce the revised physical and health education curriculum that was sent back for review last year following outcry from conservative groups. The curriculum became a source of controversy during the election, when the Progressive Conservatives released advertisements suggesting that the government wanted to teach children to be gay or transsexual.
 
“What we’re curious about as well is how willing she is to communicate with us. Leona Dombrowsky was unwilling to meet with us as a minister,” says Mulé. “Our hope is the minister will be more responsible and talk with us about pressing issues that can’t be ignored.”
 
Broten will also be responsible for women’s issues. She was previously responsible for children and youth services, which has been taken over by Eric Hoskins (St Paul’s).
 
Gapka says that Hoskins has been “a strident supporter” of queer and trans issues and hopes that he will push to have services for trans-identified youth at the Gender Identity Clinic of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health expanded.
 
Deb Matthews (London North Centre) remains the minister of health and long-term care. Queers will be looking for expanded health services for trans people, more inclusive care for queer seniors in long-term care homes, and improvements to health-promotion services in the queer community.
 
“It’s somewhat comforting that it’s the same health minister,” Gapka says. “It takes years of education for new ministers to understand LGBT health, especially trans health issues.”
Gapka says she’d like to see Matthews reinstate a trans health advisory committee for the province.
 
Michael Chan (Markham-Unionville) remains as minister of tourism and culture. Pride Toronto relies on grants from this ministry, and its support may be pivotal as the Ford administration moves to eliminate its municipal funding and as WorldPride approaches in 2014. Similarly, queer arts and cultural groups will be looking for continued provincial support over the government’s mandate.
 
The Liberals were reelected one seat shy of a majority on Oct 6. They’ll have to cooperate with the opposition NDP or PCs in order to advance their agenda.