Over the last few days, some thoughts that surfaced at the convention have percolated. The beans poured into the coffee grinder when Nathan Cullen brought his wife and two adorable toddler twin boys up to the stage at the end of his speech. I forgave him quickly for the photo-op; how can one avoid the temptation to show off twin babies, especially when they’re being so well-behaved and cute?
The beans got ground down a bit when Brian Topp brought his family up too. By the time Mulcair brought his up, I was pouring water into the coffee maker’s reservoir and turning it on. When Singh rhapsodized in his cartoon intro about his wife, who had given up a career using her PhD in Punjabi literature to come to Canada with him, I nearly threw my mental coffee pot across the room. His turbaned son playing a Nova Scotian jig on a fiddle was adorable (and musically very talented) and that boy was one of the few people of colour on the stage during the leader’s speeches, but in this respect he was still part of the same trend to photo-op a heteronormative family.
I find the absence of the women from the family photo-op trend to be as fascinating as it is revealing. Ashton, I believe, could have gone Cullen’s route. I think that baby I saw her with a few times is hers. I have no idea whether Peggy Nash has children or is married, because she didn’t advertise either their presence or absence in her political life. Is this because a man with a family behind him is supported and complete, while a woman with a family behind her is compromised in her time and possibly her values? Certainly Nash was not above using introducers to address perceived weak spots in her candidacy; one need only look at the three university students who got elected last May in the Orange Crush and introduced Nash on Friday to see that. (The absence of Ruth Ellen Brosseau from any of the introductions, or indeed any significant role in the convention as far as I could tell, was also telling. Apparently the beating she took in the media last May actually worked – the party is keeping her profile low.)
There was one other troubling aspect of the family photo-op: it served to highlight the fact that, even in the NDP, the party of social justice and equality, there are no candidates for the leadership who belonged to the LGBTQ community, or at least, none who were willing to photo-op that for Canadians. I was hearing rumblings of discontent from the people around me. I was not the only one who did not see their family represented on that stage. The single woman who moved to Winnipeg because her closest relative, her niece, lives there, pointed out that the emphasis on families was marginalizing to the single and the childless. It was pointed out over and over again that New Democrats had the most female caucus in history – 40 female MPs out of 103. It’s dramatically more than the Conservatives, but still well below true equality – and nobody is advertising the number of LGBTQ people in the caucus.
People of colour were conspicuous in their absence. Martin Singh, who is a Nova Scotian for many generations on both sides of his family, is as WASP as I am, but having converted to Sikhism and married an Indian woman, he represented the immigrant community on that stage. Niki Ashton highlighted the fact that she was the child of Greek immigrants and speaks fluent Greek, but the days are long gone when Greek Canadians are seen as interlopers. Nobody looking at her would have pegged her as not Canadian enough. Again, Nash’s cadre of barely-twenty-year-old MPs included the most visible people of colour with actual election wins under their belts.
I believe the emphasis on families was Jack’s doing, because he was very much a family man himself. (For the record, I respect the deep love each of the candidates has for their families and I’m in no way knocking that. It is what it is.) I also suspect that it was done deliberately to prevent the Right in Canada, as represented by the Conservatives, from usurping the Family Values talking points. Their Republican counterparts down south have definitely pulled off that coup and it’s been one of the bigger disasters for the Democratic party. Nevertheless, Jack was fighting for my rights as an LGBTQ person for thirty years before I knew I needed them. Where was that push at the convention?
If the leadership convention proved anything about the equality agenda, it proved that we aren’t there yet; not in the NDP, and not in Canada.