The Liberals laid out a detailed pitch to voters Wednesday, vowing to spend $78 billion in new money over the next five years as they painted themselves as the only party with the numbers to back up their promises.
The 82-page re-election platform lays out expenditures totalling more than three times the direct new revenues expected in that period, including all of the announcements Trudeau has made to date on $10-a-day child care, new mental health transfers to the provinces, climate change and housing.
But it also throws down two political wedges targeting Conservatives _ enshrining abortion services as publicly funded and medically necessary in the Canada Health Act and going further on their existing gun ban.
The platform cost would add $70 billion to the federal debt over the next five years, but the Liberals say the debt-to-GDP ratio would be lower under this platform than was projected in last spring’s budget.
And Trudeau said Canada can afford the ambitious but responsible and concrete platform in an election where voters are facing a choice not just about what the next 18 months will look like, but the next 18 years.
“This is the plan that is going to bring Canadians forward to end this pandemic, to invest in growth, as we fight climate change and create jobs,” he said in Toronto on Wednesday.
“This is the plan that Canada needs to be even more ambitious, to draw all that we’ve learned in fighting this crisis of COVID, to apply it to the crisis of climate change of housing, of health care, of child care.”
The Liberals are the last major party to release their platform but the first to include full costing. Eleven of the items _ major expenditures and revenue generators _ were assessed by the parliamentary budget office, but because of time constraints, the PBO could not cost them all.
“This is a responsible and prudent plan that is fair. It’s also completely transparent,” Trudeau said.
He did not set a timeline for balancing the budget, however, despite being asked several times. He dismissed a Conservative promise to restore balance in a decade without service cuts as “magical thinking.”
In 2020 the Liberals banned the use, sale and importation of more than 1,500 models of what they consider assault-style weapons, with an amnesty until April 30, 2022, to give people time to comply.
Legislation introduced last February would have created a voluntary buyback program. The Liberal platform suggests that bill, which didn’t pass before the election was called, will be amended to make it mandatory for owners of the banned weapons to either sell them back to the government or have them rendered inoperable at federal expense.
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The bill also would have given municipalities the power to ban handguns. The Liberals are now saying they would expand that authority to entire provinces and provide $1 billion to those that move to ban handguns in 2022.
Nathalie Provost, who survived the 1989 massacre at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique, welcomed the prospect of a strengthened gun ban bill. But she said the Liberals have promised tougher gun control in the past and failed to deliver.
“Indeed, two years ago we were in exactly the same situation. We enthusiastically applauded the Liberals for promising to ban assault weapons, including a buyback of all existing ones, only to be brutally disappointed with the end result,” Provost said in a statement through the group PolySeSouvient.
On abortion, the Liberals plan to leave no room for doubt it is a medically necessary procedure under the Canada Health Act, by including it in a regulation, much like they regulated the inclusion of diagnostic tests in 2018.
The latter was to respond to a Saskatchewan policy to allow MRIs in private clinics. The abortion issue directly goes at New Brunswick, which saw its health transfer payments clawed back by about $140,000 this year for charging fees for abortion at a private clinic.
The Liberals also plan to revoke the charitable status of organizations, often known as crisis pregnancy centres, which they say “provide dishonest counselling to women” about abortion rights and options available to them during pregnancy.
“There are many Canadians who have different perspectives on a large range of things,” said Trudeau. “Where we take issue is where there are organizations actively working, not just to promote their own views, but to limit the opportunities of women to make their own choices about their body.”
Some abortion rights advocates said they were cautiously optimistic about the Liberals’ promises on the issue, adding very few of the proposals brought forth by parties in the last federal election came to fruition.
“If the Liberals keep their promises, abortion access would be more strongly protected across Canada (including New Brunswick),” Tasia Alexopoulos, spokesperson for the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada’s New Brunswick chapter, said in an email.
The changes proposed in the platform would protect access to and coverage of abortions, and limit the intentional spread of misinformation and anti-abortion ideology, she said. “We hope to see similar platforms from any party claiming to be pro-choice in this election.”
Meanwhile, the anti-abortion group Campaign Life Coalition suggested the proposal on crisis pregnancy centres shows that Trudeau will cut off federal assistance for those who don’t share his beliefs. Matthew Wojciechowski, the group’s vice-president, also suggested the proposed change to the Canada Health Act would infringe on provincial jurisdiction regarding health care.
The platform also includes a promise to permanently end interest payments on federal student loans, introduce a new stand-alone national financial crimes agency, and add or extend tax credits for teachers, people who work at home and seniors who want to keep working after they turn 65.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh suggested voters should be skeptical of the promises made by the Liberals.
“Why deliver on things when you can just campaign on it anyways? Why get things done when you can just promise it?” Singh said during a stop in Montreal.
O’Toole slammed the platform as containing recycled promises and some tweaks to a two-year budget, and lacking a complete plan for the country’s economic recovery.
“Mr. Trudeau called the election and just recycled some promises he’s already failed to deliver on from the previous election.”
— With files from Allison Jones and Stephanie Taylor