In a rare show of near all-party unity, the House of Commons has endorsed New Democrat MP Charlie Angus's call for a cross-country strategy on palliative and end-of-life care.
The non-binding motion calls on the government to work with the provinces and territories to ensure access to "high-quality, home-based and hospice palliative care," provide more support to caregivers, and encourage Canadians to "discuss and plan for end-of-life care."
Full text of M-456
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should establish a Pan-Canadian Palliative and End-of-life Care Strategy by working with provinces and territories on a flexible, integrated model of palliative care that: (a) takes into account the geographic, regional, and cultural diversity of urban and rural Canada; (b) respects the cultural, spiritual and familial needs of Canada’s First Nation, Inuit and Métis people; and (c) has the goal of (i) ensuring all Canadians have access to high quality home-based and hospice palliative end-of-life care, (ii) providing more support for caregivers, (iii) improving the quality and consistency of home and hospice palliative end-of-life care in Canada, (iv) encouraging Canadians to discuss and plan for end-of-life care
Angus described his proposal as "the common sense solution staring Canada’s political parties in the face," and it appears he was right.
The motion passed the House with just one dissenting vote: Bloc Québécois MP Jean-Francois Fortin, whose party has historically objected to any proposal that involves a national strategy.
It had already earned the public backing of Conservative MPs Harold Albrecht and Maurice Vellacott, as well as Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, who signed on as co-sponsors.
Motion doesn't address assisted suicide
Vellacott, who spoke in favour of the motion in the House, warned his colleagues "not to go down the dangerous and failed route of assisted suicide or euthanasia tried by other countries."
"Palliative care and emotional support are necessary and appropriate responses to those who suffer from terminal illnesses and are near death," he argued.
Angus also made a point of distancing himself and his motion from what he called the "hot button, black and white" issue of assisted suicide.
"Before we go down the road saying, 'Well, if you're depressed or if you've got an incurable illness, you should be able to die,' let's talk about how to help families actually live out those final years with dignity," he told reporters in March.
Earlier this year, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher introduced two bills that deal directly with physician-assisted suicide.
Owing to his low spot on the private members' business priority list, however, Fletcher is unlikely to get the opportunity to put that question to the House before the next election, scheduled for October 2015.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Angus said the outcome shows that Canadians "are very concerned about end-of-life care."
"I think what the Conservatives heard from their base is that Canadians are adamant that someone take leadership … and if the provinces aren’t taking leadership, they expect the federal government to step up," he said.
"This has been a really positive day in a Parliament that’s been fairly fractious and very negative, that we could all come together almost unanimously and pass this motion."
Conservative MP's bid to rewrite divorce laws fails
Meanwhile, despite his staunch support for Angus's initiative, Vellacott failed to persuade his colleagues to back his bid to revamp Canada's divorce law to focus on "equal parenting" instead of "custody."
The bill was defeated 174-80, with just under half the Conservative caucus voting to send it to committee, but the majority of cabinet, plus most New Democrat and Liberals MPs, voting nay.