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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

2021 Canadian Federal Election: Here’s Where The Parties Stand On LGBTQ Issues

For those still questioning who to vote for, here’s a cheat sheet…plus your chance to ask questions…

By Tristan Coolman

I love the taboo nature of talking about something like politics, which seems to really challenge and shake our core. We take politics very personally as humans – this isn’t even a Canadian thing. Our politics are quite often tied in with our identity. So what did someone like myself do when the election announcement was made? I changed my Grindr profile to stir the pot.

“Vote!!!X👀 ” became my new headline, and my profile text reads “Vote by Sept. 20. Yes voting is très important. Pay attention to the issues. Make an educated vote.” Commence the triggering of people who seemed to feel that politics on Grindr is the new unsolicited D pic.

It soon became a very unscientific study in what the demo on Grindr was feeling. There are many who despise Trudeau: not Liberals, but Trudeau himself. Some exaggerated, claiming the past six years have been crap for everyone, which they have not. If you’re on Grindr, you likely identify within the LGBTQ2 community in some manner, and the policies of the past six years has benefitted you in some way. Whether they have gone far enough is the real question (spoiler alert: no, they have not). Over-the-top exaggerations in politics are a dangerous game – they stretch or completely fabricate the truth in favour of a bias that is grounded by fiction.

Despite the rhetoric from some of our party leaders, elections are no time for the electorate to vote with these absolute and polarizing opinions in mind. I take voting very seriously. I feel it should be mandatory, and when our time comes to vote – whether it’s for a school board trustee or a federal MP – voting is a job that requires responsible thought and research to come to a decision that reflect your values (while, it is to be hoped, being rooted in some fact along the way).

Personally, as of this writing, I am undecided. I was hoping to have things figured out by the time the advance voting weekend came around (Sept. 10–14), but here I am finishing this article on my deadline date of Friday, Sept. 10, and I haven’t got a clue what I am going to do. I’m sure many of you are in the same boat.

The English-language debate of Sept. 9 did folks and folxs like us no favours. Most questions were valid, but others were intended to gaslight these leaders and some, frankly, were unprofessional for a journalist to pose in the way they did. They often posed these questions without warning in the last 15 seconds of the leaders’ time allotment, while they were still speaking and without giving them time to pause and listen. The broadcasting consortium responsible for running this debate failed undecided voters like myself. It is their job, through thoughtful questioning and debate moderation, to help the electorate discover something new about these party leaders. Debates stages are not for journalists to editorialize a question – that’s for after the debate.

What I would like to do here is talk about the election with you. Leave your thoughts in the comments below – this is not to try and garner traffic but because I really want to consider opinions and perspectives I may not have considered.

Where does each party stand?
I’ll get started here by highlighting some of the main LGBTQ2 elections issues, with a focus on the 23 recommendations from the 2019 LGBTQ2 Health in Canada report by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health. In August, ahead of the election call, my Pflag chapter in York Region posed questions on these topics to all four parties. Only the Liberals and Conservatives responded, so a lot of the commentary below will focus on them, whereas the perspective on the Greens and the NDP will be left to what’s on their websites, their platforms or anything they’ve dropped in recent interviews.

None of the federal parties recognizes the LGBTQ2 Health in Canada report in their platform or commits to enacting all of the 23 recommendations. Given the work and the testimony gathered, that is a disappointment. However, work is being done on a number of the recommendations, with conversion therapy and the gbMSM blood ban being the most heavily covered topics.

Party leader Erin O’Toole is trying to rebrand the public perception of Conservative social policy. However, uncertainty remains around whether these are genuine pledges or whether they’re simply a case of a politician trying to gain some seats (circa Harper 2011).

His party has pledged to make a national ban on conversion therapy a priority, and plans on using exploratory language from previous committees to make clearer that non-coercive conversations will not be criminalized. What they did not answer was whether they would expand the national ban to protect Canadians over the age of 18 (the bill in its last form did not).

The Conservatives were quick to highlight the unnecessary continuation of the gbMSM blood ban, blaming the Liberals for not lifting the ban. They note their investment into treating mental health issues as one of the pillars of their platform, committing $1 billion to the matter through increased health transfers to the provinces as well as a dedicated fund of $150 million in grants for charities and non-profits.

One surprising item to arise just before the election call was Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner’s letter to the federal health minister asking that the department study the health impacts of amyl nitrates, or poppers. The topic of chemsex was explored by the 2019 committee and though its recommendations do not directly call out poppers, several of the recommendations do ask the government to include questions on substance use in their survey to collect more data on its usage. The letter from Rempel Garner opens the door to a lot of discussions around substance use and even a safe drug supply – discussion the Liberals have shied away from.

With 60 per cent of male respondents sharing they have used poppers at least once within a six-month period, in addition to the ongoing drug poisoning and overdose crisis, it has never been more important for the topic of a safe drug supply to be in a political party’s regular political vocabulary.

The Conservatives may appear to be a party that is transforming before our eyes; however, there are many causes for concern for LGBTQ2 voters and our allies. While Derek Sloan was still a Conservative MP under O’Toole (he has since been thrown out of the party), he sponsored a parliamentary petition seeking a stop to administering hormones and blockers to any trans, non-binary or gender-fluid individuals under the age of 16. O’Toole did not intervene.

In attending one of the 2019 health committee meetings, I witnessed uninterested Conservative MPs present for a committee they had clearly been told to attend. Not every Conservative MP exhibited this behaviour, but it was an attitude I did not witness from other parties. The latest example involved the third reading of the conversion therapy bill, which half the Conservative caucus voted against. Yes, it was a flawed bill, but MPs – in particular Conservative MP for Markham-Unionville (and now candidate) Bob Saroya – have not responded to Pflag York Region’s invitation to discuss their No votes.

We are also still waiting for O’Toole to tell us exactly what he means by “Take Canada Back”: an early slogan of his leadership campaign and the theme of his first few months at the helm of his party.

The Liberals are at the mercy of their record. They have had six years in power, but what do they have to show for it? They are the only party in our history to solicit so much direct feedback from the LGBTQ2 community through the 2019 health study and recently through their LGBTQ2 Action Plan Survey specifically on our lived experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have committed, if re-elected, to unveiling the next step of this survey process with preliminary findings within their first 100 days.

They have also began acting on quite a few of the 23 recommendations from the 2019 committee. They’ve stated that they are awaiting a request from the Canadian Blood Services to regulators at Health Canada to end the gbMSM blood ban, and expect it by the end of 2021. There was recent controversy on the matter as to the direct relationship between Health Canada and the government via the health minister, with some back and forth taking place earlier this spring and Health Canada implying that the directives could easily come directly from the government.

The gbMSM blood ban has decreased under the Liberals’ watch from five years to one year, then to three months. When they made their last announcement about the three-month wait period, they called it a “big win” for the community. I remember trying to reconcile how being reminded of this discriminatory practice was a “big win.” Talk about being out of touch!

Funding streams have been set up specifically for LGBTQ2 non-profits and charities as per the 2019 recommendations, and we hope these were not just limited to assistance during the pandemic. During a question period in the spring, the Liberals (through Newmarket MP Tony Van Bynen) seemed to understand the great importance of funding non-profits and charities in general as he shared a hypothetical: if all such organizations were recognized as a single collective, their GDP would be the size of the province of Manitoba.

At-home HIV test kits are now available in Canada and were approved earlier this year. This was something that should have happened much sooner, especially as Canada lagged behind other developed countries on the matter and as the pandemic shifted public health resources away from HIV and STBBI testing clinics and treatment services. Nevertheless, they are now approved and Canadians now have better access to getting testing and being informed of their status.

We have yet to see any plans executed around communicating sexual health and LGBTQ2 education, or implementing consistent coverage and improved access of gender-affirming procedures across the country.

After arguing (through the 2019 health committee) that decriminalization of conversion therapy is a provincial issue, the Liberals performed an about-face. Knowing they were going to call an election this summer, they brought forward a bill banning conversion therapy, but it was flawed with issues that should have been easy to fix. When it did not pass with the unanimous support of the House, blame was swiftly directed to the Conservatives for choking up time.

But if the Liberals were truly committed to its passage, then why did they not bring it up earlier? Did they use the bill – knowing it would die in the Senate or on the House floor – as an intentional wedge issue ahead of their election call? Did they manufacture a failure of the bill to use as a weapon for their own political gain?

The Liberals have committed, if re-elected, to reintroducing the conversion therapy bill within their first 100 days, include language to make clearer that non-coercive conversations would not be criminalized, and expand protections for all Canadians regardless of age.

One of the most poignant items, in my opinion, is their reference in a letter to Pflag York Region about their record of “advancing the rights of LGBTQ2 individuals.” In the letter, they called out their decriminalization of homosexuality in 1969, clearly without the knowledge that our own organization has hosted two events from “Anti-69” co-founder and York University historian Tom Hooper. His network has consistently lobbied and testified in front of the government outlining the ineffectiveness of that 1969 decriminalization, clearly showing the problematic nature of celebrating its 50th anniversary in such positive terms.

There have certainly been major improvements under Liberal leadership, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are forever indebted to them when they continue to miss the mark. On LGBTQ2 issues, they always seem to get onto base but always fail to hit a home run…even when we’re just playing tee-ball.

The NDP website quotes party leader Jagmeet Singh several times on the matter of conversion therapy. It positions the NDP as a willing partner that could have expedited the process with the Liberals, and implies that the Liberals’ excuse of the legislation’s failure because of opposition from the Conservative party is invalid. This begs the questions of whether the NDP were satisfied with the bill in that version, without expanded protections for Canadians over the age of 18 and without addressing any of the Conservative concerns in protecting non-coercive language that could have led to unanimous passage of the bill. So are the NDP taking credit for wanting to pass a somewhat flawed conversion therapy bill, and were they indeed satisfied with the bill? Their platform as it stands points to no improvements on the bill.

According to their website, the NDP will “immediately end the discriminatory blood ban and put in place policies based in public health evidence to secure the blood supply” – but what those measure are exactly, are absent. They commit to working with the provinces to ensure gender-affirming surgeries are available in every province, and that the necessary surgeries and medications are covered by public health plans. They commit to assisting LGBTQ2 refugees and remodelling their refugee application process, and to adding gender identity and expression and sexual orientation as protected grounds under the Employment Equity Act to end discriminatory hiring practices.

Where the NDP run into trouble is people’s perception of them. They’re the party with all the “nice to haves,” but Canadians fail to pull the trigger because they feel the NDP don’t have a fiscally responsible plan to pay for all of it. This year, the NDP are calling for higher taxes on the “ultra-rich” – something that could pay for many of their promises. Some who believe governments can take on the burden of spending and providing for their citizens so that individuals do not need to take on debt themselves point to Japan, which has spent decades spending and digging into deficits while drastically improving the quality of life for its citizens. Maybe there’s an argument to be made there about not worrying so much about the books of a country and just worrying about your own personal finances.

The Green Party’s position on LGBTQ2 rights and policy is vague in costing but very direct in intention. On conversion therapy, their website states that “The Liberal’s bill to limit conversion therapy does not go far enough.” This is one of four short paragraphs on the matter on their website, with no details given on how they would change the bill. They do, however, have a pre-written letter ready for you to submit directly to the Attorney General of Canada (all you have to do is add your contact information).

In interviews, party leader Annamie Paul has advocated for an approach to bring LGBTQ2 folks to the table to speak directly about their lived experience, listen to their policy recommendations and work across party lines to implement those recommendations. Clearly, this work has already started with the 2019 committee report, but during the English-language debate, Paul repeatedly stressed the importance of inter-party co-operation on the climate crisis as well. Her approach to social issues appears to be one of collaboration, to try and solicit as many ideas as possible and refine them as best as possible.

Paul has, however, placed herself in a very challenging position for this election, running for election to the House of Commons in an area of the country where the Greens have never polled well. The riding of Toronto Centre includes the Church-Wellesley Village. A by-election last October had Paul finishing second, less than 2000 votes behind Liberal candidate and television personality Marci Ien. The voter turnout was abysmal, at just over 30 per cent.

A win here would put Paul on the map as a tenacious personality in politics who won’t back down from a fight. There’s a message here that it isn’t about taking the easy path, it’s about earning your way in. The fight, though, has her focusing on her own campaign and not of her 200+ candidates campaigning across the country.

Paul’s debate performance, however, was outstanding. She was patient and even-keeled with Bloc Québécois leaderYves-François Blanchet during his defence of Quebec laws that, in their eyes, promote secularism in positions of government but that also have an impact on religious minorities whose symbols and clothing are more visible than of other faiths. While standing right beside Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, she named the women the Liberals had removed from their caucus and called them inspirational for someone like her. She was more prepared than the other leaders to defend her party’s platform. Maybe the residents of Toronto Centre – and the Church-Wellesley Village specifically – should send an incredibly strong message to Ottawa by sending Annamie Paul as their Member of Parliament rather than voting with the status quo.

Are you out of breath yet?
I know I am, and this is just on the queer issues involved in this year’s campaign. Research all the issues thoroughly, and be sure you cast your ballot to vote. Advance voting is open Sept. 10–14. If you want a mail-in ballot, the last date to register for that is Sept. 14, and all ballots must be received by Elections Canada by Sept. 20 (so be sure to mail yours in much earlier than that). You can also visit your riding’s Returning Office to vote ahead of the big day on Sept. 20. Our community is as diverse politically as any other community in the country. The best vote is the one that reflects your identity and values as accurately as possible. No party will be perfect, but voting is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a politically competent citizen.

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