WINNIPEG — The man who once called same-sex marriage "a social experiment'' says he's now open to participating in pride celebrations if he is elected Manitoba premier.
Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said he would have to check his schedule when he was asked if he would follow the lead of NDP Premier Greg Selinger.
Selinger was the first Manitoba premier to participate in pride celebrations two years ago.
Pallister's office couldn't say whether he has ever attended the festivities since becoming Opposition leader four years ago.
"I'm not adverse to doing that,'' he said when asked Wednesday at a tourism announcement. "I was advocating in the 1980s for equal benefits for same-sex couples, so I don't need lessons from Premier Selinger in that category at all.''
Minister of LGBTQ issues wouldn't be 'necessary or helpful'
Pallister said he wasn't the only one to call same-sex marriage a "social experiment'' when he was an MP in 2005, so he doesn't feel he has to build bridges with the gay and lesbian community.
"Comments about social experiment were made by gay and lesbian people as well, some recommending the term marriage be used and some not,'' Pallister said. "The debate was a healthy debate. The conclusion of the debate has been arrived at and I'm glad of that.''
The New Democrats say they will appoint a minister responsible for LGBTQ issues — what they are calling a first in Canada — if the party is re-elected April 19.
Pallister said he would not have a similar person around his cabinet table.
"I don't think it's necessary or helpful,'' he said. "The NDP has created a massive upper-level of bureaucracy in our province that everybody below it resents.''
"To have the leader of the provincial government speaking (at pride events) speaks volumes." — Jonathan Niemczak, Pride Winnipeg president
Jonathan Niemczak, president of Pride Winnipeg, said the LGBTQ community would welcome having a minister who could be a point-person for issues of concern. But the position would be meaningless unless those concerns were acted upon, he said.
People will be watching closely to see whether the next premier of Manitoba participates in pride celebrations, he suggested. Most feel politicians should be able to find an hour in their schedule once a year to show their support.
"When you have a community that is used to being subjected to discrimination, indifference and hostility from their government for so many years ... to have the leader of the provincial government speaking (at pride events) speaks volumes,'' Niemczak said.
"If the future premier — whoever that may be — is not there, that's going to send another message, and it's not going to be a good message.''
Pallister 'not supportive': NDP candidate, former Pride chair
NDP candidate Barb Burkowski, former chairwoman of Pride Winnipeg, said the Conservatives — and Pallister specifically — don't have a history of supporting the LGBTQ community.
She said the NDP brought in anti-bullying measures protecting gay-straight alliances in schools against the protests of the Conservatives, made it easier for transgender residents to make changes to government documents and banned discrimination based on gender identity under the human rights code.
Pallister has never attended pride celebrations, she said.
"He's not supportive of this aspect of the people of Manitoba,'' Burkowski said. "If he's not willing to support all the people, all the time, (he) really shouldn't be in power overseeing a province.''
The Manitoba Liberals successfully pushed the government to ban conversion therapy, aimed at converting gays and lesbians to heterosexuality, and have the only openly transgender candidate in the election. The party did not immediately provide anyone to comment on its LGBTQ policy.