Better Than We Were Before

This is about the place I grew up. This is about BC.

I was born in 1984, in North Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a pretty normal place run by a pretty normal government (let’s be generous) run by the… pretty normal guy named Bill Bennett. I had the privilege of attending his funeral this year. Anyway.

This isn’t about me, today. This is about the present. This is about the current government, and how they treat people now. But to understand what that means, we must start in 1991.

In 1991, the BCNDP were elected, for the first time in a generation. And that was a remarkable triumph, and good for them. And elsewhere, and I don’t know how, but it occurred, some other people decided something else was better. And good for them. And these people were known as Judy Tyabji and Gordon Wilson.

And they created a thing, and that thing was called the BC Liberal Party, and that was history. But it rapidly grew out of their control, as these things do, and who can blame them? And then it was this entirely other thing, run by Gordon Campbell and Christy Clark, and it made an Olympics, and it was terrible, and meaningless, and yet it was, and that’s okay.

All that brings us to not quite the present. Let’s start in 2013. Some bad things begin to happen, for some reason, right around then. I get dragged into a war on the DTES. The Tyabjis suddenly resume their dormant political activities, in service of Ms. Clark. We fight our own fights, side by side. We do what we need to do to survive. Me in Vancouver, them in the Okanagan. Whatever it takes, right?

And after all that it seems like the issue is resolved. We’re exonerated, they have a book deal, it’s all good, right? What could possibly go wrong. But then like hell on wheels, a giant package of drugs magically materializes on Judy’s son’s doorstep and just like that, poof, it’s all over.

It is agony to say this, but I must.

I see you, RCMP.

I am the son of the first woman chief judge of the provincial court of British Columbia and I see you. I grew up with you. We’ve had a long and lovely time together, and I have generally put up with it, but this time, you went too far.

I can’t stand for this. You have done wrong. This isn’t right. You have crossed the line, over, and over, and over again. And this time, I know why.

And I will hold you to account.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Ellan

 

 

Thoughts On The NDP Leadership Debates To Come

What’s next for the NDP?

It’s a question that I hope many of us are already asking. For me, after Mulcair, there are many obvious lessons the party needs to learn. As usual, I’d like to move past policy questions (whether the party needs to be more left-wing, neoliberal “drift”, socialism in the constitution, etcetera). I will leave these questions to the general membership, and move on to the issues that I believe leadership candidates need to engage.

First is that the party’s organizing capacity has dwindled over the last five years, instead of grown. The party’s first experience forming the Official Opposition resulted in an overemphasis on performance in the House of Commons and an erosion of its development on the ground. We need to seriously consider how, despite record volunteers and donations, this didn’t translate into the momentum necessary to retain the party’s seats, let alone expand the party’s presence (especially in Quebec). The organizational structure of the party, at the riding level in particular, lacks the strategies and tools necessary to achieve this.

Second, which follows from the first, is what is the overarching strategy of the party? Is it, as Layton imagined, a vehicle for “social change” primarily and electoral success second, or is its role to win elections by appealing to the existing social preferences of Liberal and Conservative voters? And more importantly: are these two goals incompatible? I would argue they are not, and that the Orange Crush of 2011 (and the Red Tide of 2015) prove that they are not: that large groups of new, disaffected, and “somewhat likely” voters can be engaged by appeals outside of the existing political discourse. But it is incontrovertible to say that 2015 saw a pullback from Layton’s vision of pushing the envelope on social values, back to placing well-established policy initiatives at the forefront.

Third, and I hope this ties the above two together: how will the party renew itself, in vision and structure, to appeal to the millions of first-time voters who cast their first ballots for the Liberals specifically to stop Stephen Harper? In 2019, those voters will be considering a second foray into federal politics, and the vast majority of them will vote again. I believe the future of the NDP hinges on this point. If we do not have a concrete strategy to engage these new voters, the party is doomed. This means digital: the party’s existing social media and mobility outreach strategies are in the former case inadequate and in the latter, nonexistent. This needs to change, and I would expect to see ideas on how this will change from all participants.

If the 2017 leadership campaign is just a policy debate, instead of a critical look at the party-form itself, the NDP should get used to its old role as the conscience of Parliament. Or as I like to describe it, a thinktank for the other parties to steal their platform material from. If we seek to be a party outside of the House, a movement and a party, then we need to go deeper.

I have some ideas of my own here, but first I’d like to challenge others to do the same. What can we do to overcome these three issues I’ve identified? What others have I missed?

Sometimes Things Change, And That’s Okay Too

The other day I sat down and had a conversation with one of my closest friends, about our lives, what we’d become, what we expected, what happened, who we loved and who we’d lost. It was a long conversation, about things that mattered. I think it was a three hour phone call.

We covered a lot of bases but I think the most important thing we talked about, and what I’d like to share with you, was that she was laughing off the fact that even after everything we’d been through and all the things she had accomplished in her life, she was being tormented by an in-law as an “armchair psychologist,” despite being a registered clinical counsellor. And I said to her, I understand completely. I know what it’s like to be diminished by someone who claims to be your peer.

I told her that I was prepared for a lot of stressful things to happen to me when I decided to become “an activist,” but the one thing I wasn’t prepared for – not ready for the sheer scope and stupidity of – was that the more you change the system of the world in which we live, the more people will tell you to sit down and shut up.

And I went to public school, so I should have learned this at a young age, but I really was not prepared for the complete, profound stupidity of it all.

Even now, at the tender age of 31 and change, almost every day someone comes up to me and tells me that “You don’t know everything, you know.” “You have some growing up to do.” “Get some life experience,” or, that blessed unicorn, “a real job.” And what can I do, but stare at them, blankly?

These people keep coming to me, wondering why I do what I do, or why I am who I am, or why I won’t stop saying the things that I believe to be true. I can’t explain myself, but I can introduce them to some of my friends. I try to share their experiences.

Like my friend who is also the first Chinese-Canadian woman to be elected to all three levels of government, or my friend who is the first Korean-Canadian to be elected to the legislature of British Columbia. Or my friend who is the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to public office in Alberta, at the age of twenty-one? (Well, one of two. Elected simultaneously. That’s a good bingo.)

No, no, meet my friend who is the Minister of the Status of Women, of the provincial government of Alberta, the first person to have a child while in office in the recorded (read also: written, colonial) history of the province. In the year two thousand fucking sixteen. Better yet: meet her son Patrick.

One of my friends likes to tell the story of being elected to the provincial legislature and then wondering what the boarded-up part of the women’s washroom was in the provincial legislature. She didn’t realize that when we built the thing, they didn’t design for women’s washrooms, so eventually they had to retrofit.

So I ask you, friends: do you think we need further retrofitting? Or do you believe the renovations are complete?

Change is coming, Canada. Change is here. It’s change for the better. And the change will continue.

But don’t worry, be happy. The future is friendly. People are good. And they are only going to get better. One practical step at a time.

Everything is going to be alright. True change comes from within. Etc.

Or as another friend of mine liked to say, “On continue.”

The BCNDP Needs To Find Itself

For lack of anything else to do, I found myself at BCNDP Forward 2.0 this weekend, where I had the opportunity to catch up with old friends, new comrades, and the usual frenemies. So on Sunday morning I was aimlessly wandering the grounds of Thompson Rivers University, drinking coffee and catching up with people. I crossed paths with my friend Joshua, who asked where I was headed. I said nowhere in particular; he recommended the morning workshop on persuasion canvassing, facilitated by Luis Avila. I thanked him and went there.

I was delighted to discover it was, in fact, my wheelhouse. As a bit of background, since the federal election I have been working for a direct-to-consumer marketing firm that modelled its sales tactics directly on the Obama campaign’s persuasion canvassing methods. It is a significantly different approach than the highly scripted technique of talking points that the BCNDP typically uses, and it was fascinating to watch the attendees struggle with the method.

The group followed along with the presentation well enough, till it came to the “close” of the persuasion discussion: where the canvasser must contrast the status quo (under the BC Liberals in this case) and the proposed policies of the BCNDP, in a way which makes tangible the difference between the two in a way which affects the voter’s everyday life. Easy enough, right? Apparently not.

As Luis took suggestions from the crowd, it became increasingly clear nobody could manage the task. Everyone raised droning policy comparisons; generalized pledges to re-fund education, healthcare, etc.; attacks on the credibility and ethics of the current provincial government and the premier in particular. Mr. Avila just kept asking the same question: “But what does that mean?” What does that mean to the person at the door, who in this case was worried about accessing healthcare when their kids needed it? The BCNDP knew why they (believed they were) a superior choice at the *macro* level, but they couldn’t connect it to the man at the door. They kept offering historical explanations, instead of connecting with the voter.

So I helped them along.

When I was canvassing in Calgary on the provincial election day, May 5th, 2015, I was in the riding of Calgary – Mackay – Nose Hill. I was doorknocking some rowhouses in the late afternoon, finding people who had yet to vote. I ran into a young mother whose kids had just gotten home from school. She wasn’t planning on voting, but she did want to talk. I asked her a couple questions and she began to tell me a story and I just listened. She told me about the time her daughter had a cycling accident and split her scalp open, and she rushed her to the emergency room. She told me that she was made to wait with her, despite her excessive bleeding, without seeing a nurse. She told me about the horror of holding her daughter and trying to stop the bleeding herself and trying to get help. And she told me that when a nurse finally came, the nurse was equally horrified; and afterwards, the nurse told her that if she’d waited another 30 minutes, her daughter would be dead.

And as she told me the story, she connected all the dots herself, and she realized that the Progressive Conservative government was responsible for this, and she agreed now was the time she should cast her vote. And she pledged to vote for the NDP.

I didn’t even *do* anything, other than listen to her story, and allow it to affect me. I will never forget that story.

This is the nature of persuasion canvassing. Listening. Finding out what matters to them. And knowing why you’re there in the first place.

So in the case of Luis’ hypothetical voter, a parent who cares about access to healthcare I suggested the following questions:

“When was the last time you took one of your kids to the hospital?”
“How long did you have to wait?”
“How did that make you feel?”
“Do you know why that happened?”

And then listen.

It’s that easy. The voter will explain to *you* why they want a new provincial government. You don’t have to tell them a thing. But the dedicated canvassers at BCNDP forward did an awful lot of telling, and not much listening. And they told, at length, why Christy Clark had to go, but when it came to answering the obvious questions: what would the BCNDP do differently? And above all, *why* would they do things differently and *how* would that matter to me? …when faced with these questions, the obvious questions, most people were stumped.

This is the problem our canvassers encounter: at the door, in the vast majority of cases, it is not about policy. Voters elect a government with the expectation that the government will identify and enact the policies that are necessary to achieve their promises (or at least some of them); they don’t need, or want, to hear the nitty-gritty of how that implementation will be achieved. They want to learn about your principles and how they will guide your government to those goals, and that process will affect them directly.

So here I am, after the weekend, and the question of “why” still lingers. I know who John Horgan is; I know who the BCNDP are; but the question remains. Why does John Horgan want to be the next Premier of British Columbia? And following from that question, what will he do if he is elected? What will change for me?

I don’t know. I mean, I know a couple of their planned piecemeal reforms, but I don’t know the guiding principles from which those reforms follow. And I don’t know if he knows, either.

And if we don’t know, who does?

What The Orlando Shooting Means To Me

content warning: I have a terrible habit of sympathizing with monsters

I spent last Thanksgiving at a colleague’s house. It was a week before the election, so I couldn’t leave Kelowna to be with family. It was good: I had the opportunity to meet their extended family and friends for the first time. And there, I met a young man, 14, who was someone’s son – or was it nephew – who attended briefly, said nothing, and then left.

There are red flags, and then there are black holes, and this guy was dragging around the latter. He didn’t have to say anything, because I knew instantly that he was some form of queer and profoundly depressed. It turns out his family was there for a perfunctory hello, and then was gone, so I had the opportunity to ask about him.

It turned out his mother was concerned he had a “marijuana addiction,” and was worried about “all the fentanyl in the weed these days” that she had learned about from reading local newspapers in the Cariboo (of course). I nodded, and asked about his family life. “Where’s his dad?” “Absent. He’s a grade A asshole.” “Abusive?” “Probably, but I don’t know for sure. He drinks.”

But of course it’s the marijuana, right?

Only days after meeting him that Thanksgiving, I was informed that this young man had become violent at school and injured several of his classmates, and was threatened with either expulsion or participation in a treatment program. His mother elected to enrol him in a marijuana rehabilitation program operated by a local Evangelical church. That was the last I heard of him.

Why do I tell this story? Because there is no difference in kind between this young man and the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen. There is only a difference of degree. Bear with me.

* * *

When I was in my 20s my mom would always nag me to bring a boyfriend home for Sunday dinner (a family tradition, for a time). One day I finally got so sick of blowing her off that I sat her down and explained exactly why this was not going to happen. Most of my partners over the years have been closeted and bisexual, you see: by penalty of their position in the social order, they do not have the luxury of (or usually the inclination towards) participation in the usual rituals by which we affirm our relationship status. I’d argue there are no rituals to which we have access, because our relationship status is not one that finds itself with any positive representation in the popular discourse. The closeted male is always a antihero: when his presence becomes known it is always an eruption into, and disruption of, social order.

But more frequently it is not an eruption of identity but a quiet erasure. The hardest part of growing older in this arrangement, it turns out, has been watching partners die.

The reality is that the vast majority of bisexual men remain in the closet, even today. Masculinity, with its many costs and many privileges, demands it as part of the deal. In exchange for the promise of status, wealth, power, but mostly status, we agree to not be ourselves. The consequences, in my experience, are numerous: the typical man I know who sleeps with men but maintains a heterosexual identity has a substance abuse problem (or several); engages in domestic violence; has a poor relationship with their children, when they have them; and finds themselves in erratic, codependent relationships. It is all too common to hear from my partners like these only when things had gone wrong in their “normal” life and they needed to feel safe and secure in the other one. The one with me in it.

For the rare individual a balance can be struck. For most, again in my limited experience, it cannot. In the mid-to-late 20s, the social and familial pressures to fall in line and “settle down,” to establish one’s household and career in its proper place in our good old patrilineal hierarchy grows overwhelming. A crisis point is reached. The individual realizes they cannot have both – it’s too risky. One mistake and they lose it all. So they believe they must choose – and in many cases it’s true, they must choose – to take one half of their life and throw away the other.

For some they can settle with one half or the other. For others, half a life is not worth living. And this is when a bunch of them decide to commit suicide instead.

And the saddest part is, you can’t even go to the funerals. The family is too engaged in erasing those parts of their identity by which you were ever connected to them. Even your silent presence would ruin the project.

We are all witness to the spectacle of Omar Mateen’s father: his kneejerk response was, of course, to insist his son was disgusted by men kissing and that’s probably why he did it. This isn’t unusual.

Sure, dad. Whatever you say.

* * *

So bear with me when I say that I understand what drove Omar Mateen to do what he did, because I have met a hundred people just like him. People who have found no place for themselves in our society, because no place has been made for them. To be themselves they face expulsion from their family, erasure from their traditional culture, and possible abandonment from their heterosexual partner(s). They find themselves teetering on the cliff of existence, and usually, they just give up and walk right off.

The difference here, the difference of degree, is that this man had access to heavy weaponry and had the training to use it, and he gave in to that most terrible of monsters: jealousy. Faced with the impending reality that a life which he loved was foreclosing itself to him, he decided that if he couldn’t have it, nobody should get to. The violence turned outward, instead of inward.

It wasn’t self-hatred that drove him to that point, it was despondency, combined with simple jealous rage. And over a hundred innocent bystanders to his personal tragedy suffered as a result. And that was inexcusable, but not incomprehensible.

Orlando was a tragedy, but not a senseless one. Let it also be a wake up call: that our project of queer emancipation is not even close to complete. That we are here, alive still, and free to speak… well, that is a blessing, but one we earned through struggle. Yet many more of our friends, our loved ones, and millions upon millions of strangers, they remain silenced, and afraid to be themselves.

We have more work to do.

On Fearlessness

On one of the last days of a friend’s time at work, just last week, he asked us what our greatest fears were. He said his was failing to leave a legacy, be it a company, a family – he wanted to leave his mark on the world. A second coworker said he was afraid to lose a loved one. I nodded out of understanding, but I claimed to them, foolishly, that I used to have many fears, but most of them had come to pass, and I survived them, and I had none left.
 
Upon reflection over the past week – new environments are always a great time to reflect – I realized I was not being honest with myself. I had one last fear, the fear every loving parent has. I was afraid that again, as in the past, I would fail the people who were depending on me, looking up to me. That I would take on too much responsibility, and then crack at a critical moment. And above all, I feared that as a result, we would not succeed.
 
This morning I was thinking about all the political interventions I have made, all the friends I have met, all the things we have worked together to change, and all the things I have learned. I realized that just as much as this work was benevolent it was also selfish, because my primary motivation was to extinguish that fear. To convince myself that I was wrong about me, that I had changed, that I wouldn’t make that critical mistake again. Even after all these successes I realized I was still afraid. I wondered why.
 
No reason. Old habits die hard. I realized the fear was unfounded and all that lingered was a lack of faith in myself. I was using it as a crutch to motivate myself, as I had in the past.
 
You know what I have learned in my time in life and in politics so far? Many times, most times, possibly all the time, it is the fear of failure creates the failure we fear. To succeed, be it in love, in our career, or in politics, we must be fearless. This is the true value of Jack Layton’s lesson. It’s a lesson we almost forgot.
 
Last March I attended a funeral, the funeral of a friend named Mika Kuda, a man who lived and loved fearlessly. At that funeral his son gave a eulogy, and he spoke with true love for his father, full of happiness. There was not a shred of a sense of sadness or loss. And this was his legacy. This was a life fully lived. That was the moment I decided to speak out without fear, to go to Edmonton in April, and to make the case for new leadership to my fellow delegates.
 
Right now, I see many of my friends in the NDP speak from a place of fear. They are afraid the party will never recover from the loss of previous leaders; they are afraid we lost a once-in-a-lifetime chance to form government and change the country for the better. They are afraid nobody will want to lead the party again, or they are afraid the party will pick the wrong leader. They are afraid we cannot recover. They are afraid the Liberals will rule forever. They are consumed by it, this fear of failure.
 
Now today, I may be many things. I am just one person. I may be crazy, I may be stupid, I may be a fool. We all make mistakes; nobody’s perfect. But I have seen what people are capable of, when they live and love fearlessly. I have seen them change the world for the better, leave their mark on others, and die a happy death. You’ve seen it too.
 
So today, for perhaps the first time in my life, I am not afraid.

All You Need To Do Is Ask For Help

The other night I was at the gas station down the street in Kelowna, talking to the attendant, about why the bathrooms were closed. The other day a person had nearly died in one, of a drug overdose, and the attendant didn’t want to repeat the experience. We talked about it. He was 70, a Vietnam war vet, who spent over a decade in jail. His name was Bob.

The day before that I was at the coffee shop, and the person in front of me in line started talking about the fentanyl crisis and the need to do something, like implement a safe injection site. I agreed that the situation was untenable.

The day before that I was at the liquor store, and the clerk asked me “Nick! When are we getting a safe shooting site in Kelowna? We need one ASAP.” I agreed and I promised to let them know.

The other day I was having lunch with our NDP candidate in the 2015 federal election, Norah Bowman, and she told me she decided to dedicate herself to working with the municipal council, to deliver that safe injection site, and to ensure harm reduction initiatives are understood and implemented across Kelowna.

The other day I was at a funeral. The other day I buried a friend. There have been a few too many of those days.

* * *

On January 3rd, 2015, I was having a very bad day. So I emailed my local Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Jenny Kwan. I told her who I was: the son of the former Chief Judge of British Columbia, who prior to her appointment to that position in 2000 was the administrator of the Main Street courthouse on the Downtown Eastside. I told my MLA that I was disgusted with the hit job the media had attempted on her and the Portland Hotel Society – the notorious spending scandal in which she was implicated – and that despite all that her work was not finished. The work that had begun twenty years ago, to normalize and legitimize harm reduction, the work that was under siege by the Conservative federal government, this work had to be saved. Because the work was saving lives.

And I needed her help to save it. In exchange I helped save her, and so, by the slimmest of margins, we saved each other.

And she wasn’t the only one I asked for help, either. You all know who you are.

And so I helped, too. On March 21, 2015, I buried another friend. I took the day off. On March 22, 2015, Jenny Kwan was nominated as the NDP candidate for Vancouver East. On October 19, she was elected.

On November 5, 2015 – Guy Fawkes Day – I reunited with the former board of the PHS to decompress, and we talked about the federal election and its remarkable outcome. And the end of the Conservative project. “It wasn’t perfect, but you know what, Liz? It’s going to be okay. We are going to be okay.” My voice cracked on the second “okay.” And then I left and cried in an alley on the way home from Strathcona. I realized we were going to be okay, but I saw, also, how close we came to disaster. The slimmest of margins.

And then on April 9th, 2016, I was in Edmonton, and I watched as the elected member of Parliament for Vancouver East, Jenny Kwan, moved a motion to accept those harm reduction practices as the official policy of the federal New Democrats. And I watched as the president of the union that includes the employees of the Portland Hotel Society, CUPE 1004, spoke in favour. I had the privilege of voting in favour as a delegate from Kelowna – Lake Country. The motion passed unanimously.

And then yesterday I was walking home and it all hit me like a freight train and there I was again crying in the street, just like last November, because what if I hadn’t asked? What if I had stayed quiet? What if, what if, what if?

But I did.

Because we can’t do it ourselves. I admitted that to myself, finally, after 30 years. And I kept walking, and I went to the beach instead of home, and as I got there friends called out to me, and I found myself surrounded. Surrounded by new friends and kind strangers. And then I went to the going away party for another friend, Jack Barker, who had also had the courage to ask. To ask Norah Bowman to run for the NDP, that same candidate who had promised me to deliver that safe injection site, that same person who I had decided to work for, that same person who I had moved here for. And here I am. What luck.

And one day in January I was knocking on doors for my day job, and I met a couple of card-carrying Conservatives in West Kelowna, and I sold them our product. And we talked about the outgoing Conservative MP for Kelowna – Lake Country, Ron Cannan. And politics, and partisanship.

And they told me: “You know, it’s a shame we have to argue, because fundamentally, we all agree. We all want to make the world a better place.” They were right.

And all we have to do, to get there, is ask for help.

We Come To Light: Why Conservatives Accepting Marriage Equality Matters

I remember the exact moment I realized I was gay. I was in Grade 7 and headed home from school; it was a sunny and warm day in the late spring. I remember walking up the hill outside my elementary school, and I remember why it hit me: I had feelings for a recent graduate who had come back to visit. And I remember my internal response. Anger.

I was angry at the world for making me this way; I was angry I had one more thing that labelled me as different, as an outsider. I was angry I had found one more reason I’d never fit in. The anger consumed me, and left me despondent.

When I started high school shortly after, there was a teacher at my new school, Handsworth, that was a visibly “butch” female; I thought nothing of it at the time, but friends a grade above me really enjoyed her classes in English and Social Studies. And then one day, two students snuck onto the campus at night and burned the words “[NAME] IS A DYKE” into the field with herbicide.

The administration did their best to cover it up as soon as it was discovered in the morning, but everyone knew what had happened. The teacher immediately stopped teaching, and was transferred to another school. The students responsible were identified, and one was expelled and the other suspended, if memory serves me correctly. The event was never spoken about or addressed publicly; it was erased from the history of the school for the sake of its reputation. But it had its effect on me.

Between grades 9 and 10, I joined some friends at a summer camp run by the United Church, where they had volunteered the year previously. Camp Fircom. It was a transformative experience in many respects, but the critical event was probably a girl attempting to hook up with me and being so completely rebuffed she assumed I was gay, and then a friend’s boyfriend discovering this and then attempting to hook up with me because he assumed I was gay – and he flat-out confronted me on it. I froze like a deer in the headlights but then I admitted that this was true. And I actually declined his advances for the sake of my friend but we had some quality cuddle time.

When I went back to school at the beginning of Grade 10, I made a snap decision that I would return as an out and proud homosexual. Not to make some kind of political statement, but recognizing how happy coming out to my peers had made me; I realized I had nothing to lose and everything to gain and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. So I went all out and dyed my hair all the colours of the rainbow and threw on a bunch of glitter for day one of the school term and – guess what? – nobody fucked with me at school. Ever. Again.

And as the years went on, people came up to me. They came out to me. They told me about their secret lives, and then they came out into the open as well. At the end of my years at high school, the stigma that had been literally burned into the field for all to see, was gone. I didn’t attend graduation, but there, I am told, a teacher brought his same-sex partner and introduced him, and acknowledged the role he had in his life.

And then I spent my entire adult life living under a federal government which thought my decisions were sinful and wrong and that I should be a second-class citizen as a result of them. Until that government was thrown out of office last October, of course. By us.

When the Conservatives decided to accept marriage equality on May 28, 2016 and recognize the right to marriage as a fundamental human right, the response from some critics, including our Prime Minister, was ridicule. They thought that the Tories were late to the party; that they had caught up with a consensus; that the decision was fundamentally meaningless. They were wrong.

The rights that those of us who live outside of the heteronormative institutions that constitute much of present society were not bestowed upon us by an outgoing Liberal government’s Senate majority in the year 2005. They were not granted by God or a court or the legislature. They are inherent and transcendental rights that we exercised daily because we had to, to survive; and we struggled, daily, for our recognition in the public sphere, and we fought, and we loved, and we fought. And many of us died fighting. Many of us.

But we brought our country – not any one party, but our whole country – to a new understanding. And we are going to continue to. My response to this is not ridicule. My response is to share in the joy of members of Parliament and Conservative Party activists who fought for this: members like Michelle Rempel and Natalie Pon and Maxime Bernier and all my friends on the other side of the aisle. I recognize the enormous value of their contribution. Only now, seventeen years after I came out of the closet, have we as a society truly, collectively, with one united voice, denounced homophobia as politically unacceptable.

When I was 12 I couldn’t imagine a world where I would be accepted.

Now I can see it. It is within our grasp. And everyone who worked for it deserves our gratitude.

Thank you.

I Stand With Ruth Ellen Brosseau

“It was an accident.” “He didn’t mean it.” “You weren’t hurt.” “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.”

I know a thing or two about assault. And a thing or two about trauma. Allow me to be specific.

One time, I was at a festival in Squamish and I was dogpiled by a half-dozen security guards until one of my arms snapped in half. I calmly explained to them that they had broken my arm and needed to get off me and contact paramedics. They did. The RCMP came as well, and threatened to charge *me* with assault. I laughed at them until they left. The fentanyl administered by the medics helped.

Another time, I was going home from a concert on Granville Street and I was cold-cocked by some idiots while waiting for a street light. When I came to, two men had me pinned down, and were urging a third to take his turn punching me in the face. I laughed, and smiled at him, and spat in his, and told him to get on with it. He did. I was knocked out again, and when I came to it was because a VPD officer had been directed to my location and shaken me awake. Later that morning I had my head stapled together. It was Canada Day. I still had my scheduled barbeque despite having one eye swollen shut.

These events are physically traumatic, by any measure. But to be honest? They don’t bother me. Other things have been far more hurtful. Let me be specific.

One time, I came home from a funeral, to my parents’ house, where I was staying. It was the day before a nomination. I hadn’t eaten all day, I was kind of drunk from the funeral (which I had organized, for a dear friend, who had taken his own life), and there was no food in the house. My sister ordered take out. When it came, I tried to take a slice of pizza. She demanded $10 to let me eat, because she thought I was “freeloading” off the parents. I told her I had a funeral today, and a nomination day tomorrow, and I was tired and had no cash and just wanted to eat one slice of pizza before I went to bed. She said no, and she grabbed the pizza out of my hands. I sighed, and I left the house, and went to stay with a friend.

That was traumatic.

Another time, another friend had died. An old ex reached out, someone I hadn’t heard from for years; he wanted to have dinner, and catch up. I said sure – but I told him exactly what I was going through, and exactly what was *not* going to happen, which was hooking up, because of the space I was in. But that I would enjoy his company and appreciated that someone reached out and wanted to talk. So we went for dinner, and talked, and caught up, and it was good. And then, after he drove me home, as I was getting out of the car, he groped me without my consent. Doing the exact thing I had told him I was completely emotionally unprepared for at the current moment. That. Was. Traumatic.

So. When people dismiss the gravity of being elbowed by the Prime Minister in one’s workspace…. I have no time for it. Sometimes a boxing match is meaningless and the slightest touch is everything. Anyone who has suffered trauma knows this. This debate isn’t fooling anyone.

I stand with Ruth Ellen Brosseau.

What’s In A Date? The Liberal Phobia of June 6th

By June 6, 2016, the Liberal government must pass assisted dying legislation to meet a Supreme Court deadline. If they miss the deadline, assisted dying will become legal, and without federal regulation the Supreme Court ruling and guidelines from physician’s colleges and medical associations will be the only guidance doctors receive in making the determination to assist with the end of a patient’s life. For better or worse.

The looming date has driven the Trudeau-led government into a panic, resulting in the last few weeks of Parliamentary chaos, culminating in Trudeau’s physical altercation – AKA #elbowgate – with the Conservative whip Gord Brown and NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau. And after that began the total derailment of the Liberals’ legislative agenda. And the Liberals’ proposed “Motion 6,” which would have dramatically curtailed opposition powers in Parliament in an unprecedented consolidation of control into ministerial hands, quietly died in the aftermath.

But why the outsized panic from the Liberal leadership? What’s the big deal? To the casual observer, an arbitrary June 6 deadline holds no special significance. But for the Liberal dynasty, it is a date that haunts them.

Exactly sixty years ago, Parliament was also in chaos. Like today, pipelines were also the subject of national debate. Back then, it was whether the proposed TransCanada Pipeline, which would bring Alberta gas to the eastern provinces, would be 100% Canadian or routed through the United States and built by American labour. (Not to be confused by the proposed TransCanada Energy East pipeline in present day 2016.) The Conservatives and CCF were opposed, but the Liberal majority, led by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, were convinced they could ram the necessary parliamentary approval through to meet a deadline to secure financing to being construction on July 1st. The deadline? June 6, 1956.

To achieve this goal, the Liberals used every trick in the book, then as now: closure, time allocation, everything they could to end debates and force votes. Then as now, the opposition parties used every tool at their disposal, like blocking the aisles to prevent members from taking their seats, to delay votes and the Liberal agenda. And then, as now, Canadians were flabbergasted by all this misbehaviour in Parliament. Because then, as now, as most Canadians were not invested in the subject of the disagreement.

The difference was that then, as the acrimony dragged on, Prime Minister St. Laurent sat calmly in his seat, often seen reading a book. He did not intervene. Then.

The result? The passage of the necessary legislation was not completed in time, and total chaos erupted on June 6th. The Speaker attempted to strike the events of the previous day from the record to resume debate on the final legislation, and the opposition parties went wild. The CCF leader, Major Coldwell, stormed the Speaker’s dais. Liberal MP Lorne Macdougall died of stress. Three more MPs were hospitalized. But the legislation was passed, the pipeline financing was obtained, and the project would have gone forward on Canada Day as promised… but the factories in the United States that were to build the pipe went on strike and the deadline turned out to be meaningless after all that.

The Liberal government went down in flames, and in 1957 their 21-year dynasty came to an end.

Whether due to a sharp historical awareness or some unspeakable psychic hangover, it’s impossible to understand the behaviour of the Liberal leadership in the present without understanding the results of the behaviour of the Liberal leadership in the past. “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” as they say. And this set of Liberals is determined to break from tradition. Or so they say.

Was Trudeau acting impetuously on the floor of Parliament on Wednesday, May 18th, when he leapt from his seat and charged across the aisle? Or was he consciously attempting to shake the passivity which culminated in tragedy and the collapse of St. Laurent’s government? Are Liberal strategists truly so arrogant and disorganized as to not be able to maintain a legislative schedule despite a huge majority… or are they paralysed by their knowledge of history, and their fear of repeating it?

Does it matter?

Only time will tell. Fingers crossed for June 6th!