LGBTQ issues overshadowed by an empty chair.
Where in the world are the Conservative Party of Canada’s candidates?
A chair emblazoned with the CPC logo sat empty on stage Thursday evening at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre for Proud to Vote, the only national LGBTQ issues debate held in Toronto this election. According to debate organizer Doug Kerr, three candidates from the party—Toronto Centre’s Julian Di Battista, Spadina-Fort York’s Sabrina Zuniga and University-Rosedale’s Karim Jivraj—were invited. None were given permission from CPC headquarters to attend.
Kerr says he sent the invites out a month in advance of the event. He first reached out to LGBTory, a social group touting the queer initiatives of the CPC. Members of the group suggested he contact downtown Toronto candidates. He only heard back from Di Battista, who said he was waiting for permission from headquarters.
May Wong, president of Toronto Centre Conservative Association, confirmed Di Battista received the invitation. “Julian definitely would’ve wanted to participate,” she said. “He would’ve prepared if he had the green light from headquarters.”
At the time of publication, several attempts to contact CPC headquarters went unanswered.
The debate touched on policy issues that the CPC has had a hand in creating—including the passing of Bill C-36, a law that many sex workers criticize, and foreign relations with countries who boast less-than-stellar LGBTQ rights. As debate moderator Brenda Cossman put it: “I have to refrain myself from asking questions to the empty chair.”
Candidates of opposing parties who did attend took turns taking jabs at the Conservatives. At the start of the debate, Toronto-Danforth NDP incumbent Craig Scott turned the empty Conservative seat around, facing away from the crowd—a gesture which amused the audience. And in his closing speech, Toronto Centre Liberal Bill Morneau called the absence of the Tories at the debate “distressing to those who care about democracy. . . .You need to see who represents you.”
Also at the debate was Toronto-Danforth Green party candidate Chris Tolley, who took a particularly harsh stance against economic relations with anti-gay countries, suggesting economic sanctions were in order.
That the Tories were unable to defend their platform to the community, Kerr laments, is a shame.
“This is a democracy. And this is national conversation,” he said. “It’s very disappointing that the governing party doesn’t want to talk about LGBTQ politics.”