At this point, it seems inevitable that a federal election will be called before the summer is out. And as much as I would like for this to signal a new round of pandering to queer and trans communities like corporations do every Pride month, I’ve been covering Canadian politics long enough to know that elections are not about us. They’re about pandering to suburban parents with small children and occasionally seniors. Nevertheless, every party wants our votes and wants to make themselves look like they’re going to be our best friends, so we should scratch beneath the surface of the paragraph about us that we’re going to get in each of their campaign platforms.
As in any election, one of the most important things we need to remember is that this is our chance to hold the government to account for their record. Often the accountability portion is overlooked in the rush to examine what the candidates are promising should they either stay in power or form a new government; but accountability remains one of the most important considerations, particularly in our Westminster parliamentary system. (As much as people think that proportional representation will give them progressive coalition governments in perpetuity, they’re also terrible about being able to hold a government to account when they can simply shuffle their coalition partners around every few years, like what happens in Germany.)
So, what about the Liberals’ record? Given how little legislation actually managed to pass over the last two years that wasn’t an emergency measure related to the pandemic, well, there hasn’t been much to add. Yes, they did pass legislation that protects gender identity and expression in the previous parliament, and yes, they established their LGBTQ2 Secretariat, whose work is now underway. But there hasn’t been much more than that. They failed to get the bill to ban conversion therapy passed, in spite of a valiant effort. In part, it was because of Conservative slow-walking, but ultimately, changes Justin Trudeau made to the Senate meant that he was reliant on a government leader in the Senate who was unprepared to use his powers to ensure the bill was passed either before the summer recess, or to recall the chamber to pass it in the summer.
You can bet that all of the parties are going to make promises about reviving this legislation in the next Parliament. The Liberals will look for a majority share of the seats so that they can more easily get past the procedural shenanigans and slow-walking that hurt the bill’s chances in this session. The NDP will insist that they would have passed it already had the Liberals co-operated with them, never mind their own complicity in the procedural warfare that slowed all bills down. The Conservatives, meanwhile, have also promised to revive the bill, but in a form they claim will be more amenable to the “concerns” they raised—all of them red herrings. This likely means that any of the bill’s meaningful powers will be removed, and they will pretend that their own MPs weren’t promoting conversion therapy as being viable when they spoke out against the bill.
The issue of the blood donation deferral period for men who have sex with men and some trans women also promises to make a comeback yet again. While it largely looks to be a fait accompli—Canadian Blood Services (CBS) has stated that they will unveil a new policy later in the year based on behaviours rather than sexual orientation—you can still expect political jockeying around this. The Liberals will declare victory, citing the money they put toward the research that allowed CBS to reach the policy decision, but they will be conspicuously silent about the fact that, when they made the promise to end the deferral policy, it was one that they couldn’t keep because CBS is at arm’s length from government and they can’t give it direction. Still, the Conservatives and NDP will both claim that the government could have done more.
I will be particularly curious, once the writs are drawn up, about what kinds of commitments both the Conservatives and NDP will be looking to make. In particular, I’m watching the Conservatives: since his election as leader, Erin O’Toole has been trying to reach out to queer and trans communities, insisting that he wants them to “see a Conservative when they look in the mirror.” What will he do to ensure LGBTQ2S+ Canadians feel seen in the Conservative Party?
Beyond that, will parties commit to maintaining the LGBTQ2 Secretariat and the action plan that it is working on? Would they commit to maintaining that action plan as a “living document” to be continually updated so that new concerns are addressed in a manner that works across government, or would they see the issues siloed and tokenized? For that matter, will they maintain the Anti-Racism Secretariat as well? Or will those offices be the victims of budget cuts designed to slay the deficit? Will any party commit to addressing the gaps at federal workplaces found by the Purge Fund Report?
More to the point, who will be making promises that they can’t keep? I can easily imagine that the NDP would propose to try and use the Canada Health Act to make provinces provide more trans-affirming care, for example, even though that’s not how the Act works. The party has demonstrated an affinity for making promises in areas that are solely within provincial jurisdiction and hand waving away the need to negotiate with provinces to make it happen. A good example of this is around pharmacare: where the Liberals had a plan that involved negotiations, the NDP simply promised to make it happen, as though the Constitution doesn’t exist.
In past elections, we watched parties commit to ending the blood ban and failing to do so because there were no actual federal levers that could be deployed. What other dubious promises will we see? Stay tuned, and stay skeptical—because every party panders, and every party’s claims to be our best friend will not be entirely on the level.