Thompson, Manitoba , Canada
|| August 19, 1955
Aug 13, 2006 04:33pm
French - Conservative - Socialist - Anti-Gay Marriage - Government Reform - Pro Environment - Married - Straight -
|Info||Bev Desjarlais is a Canadian politician. She represented Churchill in the Canadian House of Commons from 1997 to 2006, initially as a New Democrat and later as an Independent after losing her party's nomination in late 2005. She now works as parliamentary aide to Conservative Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson. |
Desjarlais was born in Regina, Saskatchewan. She graduated from Bert Fox Composite High School in 1973, and held several positions at the General Hospital in Thompson, Manitoba over the next twenty-four years. At the time of her election, she was a ward clerk. Desjarlais has also been a union steward with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and is a member of Canadian Parents for French.
Her political career began in 1992, when she was elected as a trustee for the Mystery Lake School Division. She became chair of the board in 1994, and served until her election to parliament in 1997.
Desjarlais challenged Liberal incumbent Elijah Harper for Churchill in the 1997 federal election. Although Harper had gained national fame in 1990 for blocking passage of the Meech Lake Accord, he was not a prominent Member of Parliament. Desjarlais won by 2,764 votes, and joined twenty other New Democrats on the opposition benches. Her opposition to the Canadian gun registry was likely a contributing factor to her victory, as the registry was unpopular in rural Manitoba.
She held several official responsibilities in the 36th Canadian parliament, including serving as her party's critic for housing and the Treasury Board. In the latter capacity, she was a prominent supporter of pay equity policies to benefit Canadian women. Desjarlais was also chosen as her party's representative on the Commons Transport Committee, and held this position for several years. She defeated Harper again in the 2000 election, and was appointed NDP Industry Critic in the following parliament.
In 2001, she participated in a military training exercise to educate parliamentarians about the Canadian Armed Forces. Desjarlais joined the Canadian Air Force for a week, and took part in a search and rescue exercise in Northern Ontario. She later supported fellow Manitoba MP Bill Blaikie's campaign to become NDP leader in 2002-03. Blaikie finished second against Jack Layton.
Desjarlais was re-elected in the 2004 election over a strong challenge from Liberal candidate Ron Evans. After the election, she was named NDP critic for Transport, Crown Corporations and the Canadian Wheat Board. In early 2005, former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ovide Mercredi announced that he would challenge Desjarlais for the NDP nomination in Churchill. He later withdrew the challenge.
Desjarlais was one of the more socially conservative members of the federal NDP, and when in caucus was by far its most socially conservative member. She was the only New Democrat to vote against Bill C-38, which legalized same-sex marriage in Canada, on its third and final reading in 2005. Her position placed her in conflict with both official NDP policy and party leader Jack Layton, who described same-sex marriage as a human rights issue and ruled that caucus members would not be permitted a free vote on matters of equality.
Desjarlais argued that her position was based on personal religious convictions, and was not grounded in homophobia. She acknowledged as early as 2003 that opposing same-sex marriage was contrary to NDP policy, and accepted that "discipline may take place" as a result. She was relieved of her parliamentary responsibilities after the 2005 vote on C-38.
On other issues, her views were closer to official NDP policy. She is a strong defender of the rights of labour and public health care, and supports the principle of aboriginal self-government.
On October 17, 2005, Desjarlais lost the Churchill NDP nomination to Niki Ashton, daughter of Manitoba cabinet minister Steve Ashton. She resigned from the NDP caucus on the same day, and announced she would run as an Independent in the next federal election. She acknowledged that her position on same-sex marriage was a prominent factor in her defeat.
Desjarlais was endorsed on January 5, 2006 by Vote Marriage Canada, a group which opposes same-sex marriage. She finished third, behind Ashton and winning Liberal candidate (and North of 60 star) Tina Keeper.
After her defeat, Desjarlais took a job in Ottawa as Director of Parliamentary Affairs in the office of Greg Thompson, Minister of Veterans' Affairs in the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The reaction from her former NDP colleagues was mixed. Caucus Chair Judy Wasylycia-Leis described her decision as "mind-boggling and very disappointing", and commented that it was "hard to understand how Bev could have gone from being an active New Democrat to actually supporting and upholding the Stephen Harper agenda". Veterans Affairs critic Peter Stoffer said that Desjarlais had always worked well with MPs of all parties and that she and Thompson would "work well together".
Although working for a Conservative cabinet minister, Desjarlais is not currently a member of any political party.