Prepare to be disappointed in party platforms this election season

The NDP, Conservatives and Liberals could be doing much more for LGBTQ2S+ Canadians. Instead, they’re doling out a lot of the same empty promises

Over the past few election cycles, major parties followed the same routine: tease daily announcements until just before the first televised leaders’ debate, then release their full platform documents. Not so this year. Perhaps out of a sense of urgency in the current pandemic situation, when there is expected to be an uptick in mail-in ballots, parties wanted to give people as much time as possible to weigh their options—or fend off accusations that their parties lack substance. Either way, we have a much earlier look than usual into what they are offering LGBTQ2S+ Canadians.

The NDP platform

The NDP released their platform first, several days before Parliament was even dissolved. It features a solitary page on queer and trans issues, but most of it is fairly predictable. For example, there’s a lengthy condemnation that the Liberals didn’t end the deferral period for blood donations from men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans women, describing it as the Liberals’ decision to maintain it. This is of course not exactly true—Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec are arm’s length from the federal government; there is no ability to directly dictate policy to them unless they gave themselves the power to bigfoot the very independence that was a central recommendation of the Krever Report. The point is moot in any case: Canadian Blood Services has already announced that by the end of the year, the policy will be changing, so it wouldn’t matter which party forms government.

The NDP also claims that the Liberals stalled for six years on banning conversion therapy, which is false. The issue was not on the radar federally until 2019, and the Liberals actually moved fairly swiftly in policy terms before the bill was slow-walked in the House of Commons by the Conservatives. It was ultimately killed because Justin Trudeau’s appointed Government Leader in the Senate, Senator Marc Gold, adjourned the Senate too early for some unknown reason, and then refused to recall it without an agreement from the various groups on timelines—a craven and unnecessary demand.

As I predicted, the NDP also has a section on gender-confirming procedures, saying that they will “work with provinces” to ensure equal access across the country. But that is a hugely loaded assumption because the delivery of health care is solely a provincial responsibility, and trying to tie federal health transfers to specific procedures is incredibly difficult. (The entire platform is replete with similarly loaded assumptions that they will work with the provinces to achieve all sorts of things that are in areas of provincial jurisdiction.) The current federal government has been trying to pressure New Brunswick to ensure equal access to abortions in that province, going so far as to withhold more than $100,000 from their health transfers in direct proportion to the fees that Clinic 554 in Fredericton is forced to charge. I’m not sure why Singh feels he would have any better success given that it’s the only lever he would have available to him as prime minister.


There is a section on queer and trans refugees, pledging to establish a clear and permanent path for resettlement by replacing the current “piece-meal approach that only deals with emergency cases when they arise.” I’m not sure that’s entirely fair to the current system, in which the Rainbow Refugee Assistance Partnership was established in 2019 for five years to build capacity within queer and trans communities in order to sponsor more refugees. As it stands, government-sponsored refugees target the most vulnerable, including queer and trans individuals, so simply adding a dedicated queer or trans stream may be a question of prioritizing one vulnerable group over another.

The most substantial promises, however, are the pledge to review and eliminate systemic barriers related to gender in the delivery of federal public services, and funding the creation and expansion of shelters for trans youth. The NDP also pledges to add sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the Employment Equity Act in order to address disadvantages experienced by the LGBTQ2S+ communities in finding work. There was already going to be a review of the act to bring it into better alignment with current understandings of marginalized groups that need protection, so this seems like a pretty fair consideration to add.

The Conservative platform

For the Conservatives, however, commitments to the queer and trans communities didn’t even merit a page—there are a mere two paragraphs on the sole page dedicated to “A Detailed Plan for a Freer Canada.” Like the NDP, the Conservatives also pledge to end the deferral period for blood donations from MSM and trans women, and like the NDP, they too blame the Liberals for failing to do so. The Conservatives also claim that they will ban conversion therapy, but as with the debate over Bill C-6, they say that they will implement a version that “will clarify that the ban does not criminalize non-coercive conversations, giving comfort to parents and other who fear that legitimate conversations might be criminalized.” Because those concerns were never serious or justified, this can only mean that they plan to water down the bill and create more exceptions to what is actually banned.

On the very same page, the Conservatives also promise “conscience protection,” which would protect health care professionals’ “conscience rights” and legally allow them to deny the provision of services, including to members of the queer and trans communities. It also alludes to the possibility that health care providers can refuse to refer patients to someone who can provide the services they require—a common issue in rural areas. Elsewhere in the platform, they pledge to end all government sponsorship of refugees, transitioning the system solely to private or joint sponsorship; this would have a definite effect on queer or trans refugees who can currently receive government sponsorship because local queer and trans groups may not have the capacity or ability to sponsor them directly.

The Liberal platform

While the Liberals have not yet released a full platform, we know that it will closely resemble what was found in this year’s federal budget. The document shows that they are looking at substantive equality issues and have been approaching economic recovery through an inclusive lens that explicitly includes LGBTQ2S+ communities. They have built an LGBTQ2 Secretariat and are using it to create an action plan that will address many of these substantive equality issues once they are identified. Have they been perfect? No—the fact that they made promises they couldn’t keep on the blood donation deferral policy needs some accountability, as do their decisions around how Bill C-6 was handled in the House of Commons (not to mention that Trudeau does bear responsibility for his choice of a Government Leader in the Senate who was too timid to do his job). But they have stepped up during their past six years in office. 

We do have choices before us in this election, and how the parties have viewed the queer and trans communities’ issues matters. I’m sure that there will be those who feel that Erin O’Toole deserves a cookie for even mentioning these issues in his “very detailed plan,” but is the bare minimum enough? It’s 2021, and that’s not even the price of admission. We deserve more than that.

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Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

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