POLITICS
04/20/2018 11:37 EDT | Updated 04/20/2018 11:47 EDT

Scott Brison: 'I Was Born A Liberal. I Only Came Out 15 Years Ago'

Treasury Board president touts Liberal leadership on gay rights.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison addresses the crowd at the opening of the federal Liberal national convention in Halifax on April 19, 2018.
Andrew Vaughan/CP
Treasury Board President Scott Brison addresses the crowd at the opening of the federal Liberal national convention in Halifax on April 19, 2018.

"I'm a lifelong Liberal," Treasury Board President Scott Brison told delegates Thursday at the Liberal party's convention in Halifax, sparking laughs.

"Seriously folks, I was born a Liberal. I only came out 15 years ago," Brison added. "My parents took it pretty well."

In 1997, Brison was first elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative in the rural Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants. In 2003, he ran unsuccessfully for that party's leadership.

After then-PC leader Peter MacKay moved to merge the party with Stephen Harper's Canadian Alliance — creating the modern Conservative Party of Canada — Brison found himself without a political home.

Openly gay, Brison suggested at the time that he did not believe all members of the Conservative caucus would treat him with acceptanceand champion socially progressive values.

He later told The Globe and Mail that a conversation with Harper, in which he learned opposition to same-sex marriage would be a core issue for the new party, convinced him to join the Liberals instead.

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In 2004, Brison became Canada's first openly gay cabinet minister. In 2007, he made history again when he tied the knot with his husband Maxime St-Pierre, becoming the first MP to marry his same-sex partner.

"Over the last 11 years, I've tested Max's enthusiasm for same-sex marriage a few times," Brison joked Thursday.

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His speech recounted how Liberal prime ministers have led on advancing gay rights, starting with Pierre Trudeau decriminalizing homosexuality in 1969.

"Imagine, up until then, I spent the first two years of my life destined for criminality," Brison deadpanned.

He also took a subtle dig at the Tories by noting that it wasn't until Justin Trudeau won in 2015 that Canada would see another openly gay cabinet minister. Him, once again.

"But things have improved. We've got Seamus O'Regan now," he said of the veterans affairs minister, who is also openly gay and married.

Brison recounted how, at the first Halifax Pride parade 30 years ago, roughly 70 people showed up. Some of the participants felt the need to wear paper bags over their heads.

Last summer, Brison marched in the city's parade with his husband and their daughters Claire and Rose, alongside the prime minister of Canada. He told the convention he'd never been prouder of a country "where love is love and regardless of who you love, we've got a prime minister who's got your back."

That line might also have been an oblique shot at Conservatives as Liberals begin to look ahead to the 2019 federal election. Tory Leader Andrew Scheer did not participate in Pride parades last summer and has already suggested he won't march this year either.