The federal Liberals outlined their fully-costed plan to steer Canada out of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, promising new and extended support funding, and committing to tackle affordability and equality issues in their newly-released 2021 election platform.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau unveiled the 82-page document at an event in Toronto, at the midway point of the federal campaign. In it, the party appears to be targeting some key demographics including young Canadians, families and first-time home buyers, as well as businesses still getting back on their feet post-lockdowns.
“In this election, you have a choice about what the next 18 months, and the next 18 years look like,” Trudeau said. “We have a plan to move forward for everyone: On health, on housing, on childcare, on climate.”
The Liberals are the last of the three main federal parties to release a platform, but are the first party to have their entire platform costed. It comes one day before the first televised leaders’ debate in French, hosted by TVA.
The NDP presented their platform just prior to the election call, and the Conservatives released their plan on one of the first days of this 36-day campaign. Both parties promised to detail how much their promises would cost later on, with Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole refusing on Wednesday to specify when his promises will be budgeted.
In total, the Liberals’ document includes $13 billion in promised new spending this fiscal year, and a total of more than $78 billion over the next five years, though Liberal estimates show that the debt-to-GDP ration would be lower under this plan than was projected in the 2021 spring budget.
Throughout the document, the Liberals seek to make their case as to why they are best placed to keep governing.
In offering pointed contrasts to positions taken by the other parties, the Liberals are committing to put billions more into the post-pandemic economic and health recovery, spending $350 million over the next few years to increase the number of Afghan refugees they’ll resettle to 40,000, and implementing a series of new gun control commitments.
The platform is divided into six key categories that echo the main messages Trudeau has been focusing on in his daily election announcements: the pandemic, housing, health care, the economy, climate change, and reconciliation.
A key focus in the platform is new and continued health and pandemic-related initiatives, with Trudeau describing keeping Canadians safe as “job one.” This includes the promise to, if re-elected, follow through on the government’s plan to mandate vaccinations for travellers and federal workers.
The document does not go into further detail about how vaccine mandates would be enforced, but it does include a promise to advance legislation to protect businesses and organizations that decide to require vaccinations from legal challenges.
On Wednesday, Trudeau used new language as he continues to sharpen his message towards the anti-vaccination crowd as the party continues to face aggressive protesters at campaign stops.
“Over the last little while, you’ve probably seen the disturbing anger of anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. You might have seen them marching downtown against local businesses that are following public health rules, or yelling at a grocery store clerk or a server at your local diner, or even threatening people at one of our rallies,” Trudeau said. “Let’s be clear: It’s your freedom I’m focused on, the freedom of the responsible majority of us who are fully vaccinated.”
Pointing to their work over the last six years, the Liberals say they are confident in the path the federal government has been on, citing their desire to make the $10 a day childcare deals and vaccine mandates a living reality. They also want to revive stalled-out bills reforming the Broadcasting Act and banning conversion therapy, while pushing ahead on climate change efforts.
The Liberals are promising to spend $2 billion over the next five years on measures to address the legacy of residential schools with “truth, justice, and healing” initiatives.
For students, the Liberals are promising to permanently eliminate interest on federal student loans, a move first taken temporarily during the pandemic.
For young families and prospective home buyers, the Liberals are pointing to their pre-announced suite of plans aimed at tackling the affordability crisis.
And, for business owners or those out of work due to COVID-19, a re-elected Trudeau-led government is promising extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until March 31, 2022.
Taking aim at an idea first pushed by the Conservatives, the Liberals are promising to introduce enhanced employment insurance measures for self-employed and gig workers, while also leaning into well-trodden NDP territory by promising to make sure big banks and corporations pay “their fair share.”
“Our Liberal team has done so much over the past six years. Just think of what we can accomplish if we have even more extraordinary Canadians joining in,” Trudeau said. “Make sure to choose the future you want. Together, we can measure up to the belief you have in this country, in each other… I'm ready, if you are.”
Reacting to the Liberal platform, Conservative spokesperson Mathew Clancy focused in on the state of the economy, saying in a statement that “the last thing Canada needs is more borrowing, more debt.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh focused on the six years the Liberals have had to make good on some of their re-stated commitments, saying that “Canadians just can’t afford his empty words anymore.”
VACCINES, ABORTION, HEALTH TRANSFERS
In a direct shot at O’Toole’s position on “innovation” and private health care, the Liberals say they would move to strengthen federal powers under the Canada Health Act and the Federal-Provincial Fiscal Agreements Act to deduct transfers from provinces that allow billing for publicly-insured services.
Among their other health commitments—funding to reduce hospital wait times, expanding access to virtual care, prioritizing mental health, and facilitating hiring of new health workers—is a new promise to better protect and increase accessibility to abortion services and information.
Specifically on abortion, the Liberals are vowing to:
Establish regulations under the Canada Health Act governing accessibility for sexual and reproductive health services to make clear that no matter where someone lives, they have access to sexual and reproductive health services;
Give Health Canada $10 million to set up a portal for sexual and reproductive health information, including countering misinformation about abortion; and
No longer provide charity status to anti-abortion organizations that offer “dishonest counseling to women about their rights.”
As already announced, a re-elected Liberal government would put $1 billion towards provincial proof of vaccination plans. Pointing to their vaccine procurement efforts that saw the country have enough shots for all who are eligible months earlier than first thought, the Liberals say they’d also make sure enough booster doses are available going forward, noting contracts are already in place.
And, looking to appeal to the nervous parents who have just recently or will soon be sending their kids back into classrooms, the Liberals say they would move ahead with measures to improve ventilation in schools as well as opening up the range of qualifying items and increasing the existing tax credit for teachers’ supplies.
EXTENDING AID, ECONOMIC MEASURES
Continuing with their approach of spending to stimulate economic growth rather than looking to tamp down the ballooning deficit, the Liberal platform includes promises to move ahead with 10 days of paid sick leave for federal workers, as well as reforms to the employment insurance system.
Trudeau also has a target of restoring pre-pandemic employment levels, creating more than one million “well-paying” jobs.
The Liberals are also proposing to offer five days of paid leave for workers in federally regulated sectors who experience a miscarriage or stillbirth, and to enhance provisions in the Canada Labour Code to accommodate women who need temporary reassignment while pregnant or breastfeeding.
And as a revenue-generating measure, the Liberals say they want to create a “minimum tax” rule that would ensure anyone who is in the top income bracket pays at least 15 per cent of their income in taxes annually.
Facing questions about whether the Liberals think it is important to eventually balance the budget, given the plan doesn’t include a roadmap out of deep deficits, Trudeau said “I think it matters to be fiscally responsible,” but “it also matters to be making the right investments so that future generations can prosper even more.”
ADDRESSING HOUSING AND CLIMATE CRISES
The Liberal platform includes updates to elements of their ongoing climate change efforts, including a promise to keep their carbon-pricing plan while adding new measures to see the oil and gas sector reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and have a net-zero emitting electricity system by 2035.
Trudeau is also promising to accelerate Canada’s G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies from 2025 to 2023, to put $1.5 billion into an electric car rebate program, and to follow through on banning single-use plastics.
A clear focus for all parties in this election has been another crisis, the one of housing affordability.
Specifically on housing, the Liberals are promising to:
Build, preserve, or repair 1.4 million new homes over the next four years with the intention of increasing supply, boost the first-time home buyers tax credit;
Create a tax-free ‘First Home Savings Account’ allowing those under the age of 40 to save up to $40,000 and withdraw it tax-free to put towards a home purchase while also putting $1 billion towards rent-to-own projects;
Introduce a ‘Home Buyers’ Bill of Rights’ that would include measures to criminalize blind bidding and impose a ban on new foreign ownership for the next two years.
ADVANCING RECONCILIATION AND DIVERSITY
In addition to the aforementioned $2 billion towards reconciliation efforts, the Liberals have made general pledges to support Indigenous communities that want to conduct burial searches on former residential school grounds and say they will move ahead with appointing a special interlocutor focused on legal reforms to pursue justice related to unmarked graves.
As for other diversity-focused commitments, the Liberals are vowing to pursue efforts to improve diversity in public service; support the hiring of BIPOC journalists and artists, develop a “Black Canadians Justice Strategy” meant to address racism in the criminal justice system; and introduce the pre-promised disability benefit.
For the LGBTQ2S+ community, the Liberals are promising to ensure that the cost of in vitro fertilization becomes an eligible health expenditure under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, and provide adoptive parents an additional 15 weeks of leave.
Not mentioned in this platform is the long-promised end to the blood ban.
When recently asked by CTVNews.ca about this stalled-out commitment, Trudeau defended the incremental progress made, stating that “we are hopefully going to be able to see it end in the coming months,” and that the Liberals were “committed to making sure it gets done.”
REVISITING GUN CONTROL, LAW REFORMS
In the last Parliament, the Liberals left several key bills in limbo, seeing them die when the election was called. The 2021 platform includes promises to revive these initiatives, some of which are leftover unfulfilled commitments from the 2019 election platform.
Among the bills you could expect to see re-tabled, and perhaps re-worked by a re-elected Liberal government are: the online harms legislation aimed at tamping down hate speech online; the Criminal Code changes meant to reform mandatory minimum sentences; and a bill meant to strengthen the Official Languages Act.
Specifically on gun control, the Liberals are vowing to:
Introduce stricter laws on banned assault weapons to make it mandatory for owners to either sell the gun back to the government or have it “rendered permanently inoperable”;
Ban the sale or transfer of high-capacity magazines that can hold more than the legal number of bullets; and
Earmark $1 billion for provinces and territories who move ahead with handgun bans.
The platform also mentions ways the Liberals would reform the RCMP and address military sexual misconduct, as well as vows to continue international work on foreign interference and advocating for China to release detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.