Pharmacare, decriminalizing drugs and mental health services top priorities for grassroots Liberals

Strengthening mental health services, creating a universal pharmacare program and decriminalizing drugs as a way to reduce overdose deaths are the top policy priorities for Liberal Party members.

The trio of health-focused resolutions led the list of 15 priorities adopted by Liberal Party members

Liberal Party members chose three health-focused policies as their priorities at a convention in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Strengthening mental health services, creating a universal pharmacare program and decriminalizing drugs as a way to reduce overdose deaths are the top policy priorities for Liberal Party members.

The trio of health-focused resolutions led the list of 15 priority issues adopted by the grassroots Liberals who gathered in Halifax for a biennial convention. The resolutions will become official party policy and are meant to feed into future election platform discussions.

Despite the popularity of the idea —  especially among youth delegates — of decriminalizing small quantities of drugs as a harm reduction strategy in the face of a national opioid crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it's a non-starter today.

"We'll of course reflect on next steps for a broad range of issues they bring up. On that particular issue, as I've said, it's not part of our plans," he said during a news conference.

Trudeau said the government is adopting other harm reduction strategies.

About 6,000 grassroots members took part in the online policy process in the run-up to the convention, narrowing down the priority list of issues to 30 that were up for debate at the convention.

That number was narrowed to 20 through an online voting process, then whittled down to the final 15 on Saturday.

Other resolutions adopted:

  • Decriminalizing the consensual sex trade.
  • Building an underwater link to Newfoundland.
  • Creating a seniors' ministry with a mandate to partner with provinces, territories and municipalities to protect the needs and interests of seniors in areas, such as housing, home care, elder abuse and income security. 
  • Creating an affordable housing plan that includes a funding program to modify existing non-market complexes to meet health, safety and accessibility codes. 
  • Implementing a Canadian environmental bill of rights to ensure all Canadians have access to information and justice in the environmental context. 
  • Establishing an employee pension protection strategy.
  • Ending a tax on tampons and other menstrual products.
  • Implementing a guaranteed minimum income model. 
  • Including mental health services in medicare and the Canada Health Act. 
  • Creating a national three-oceans policy for security, environmental protection and development that includes improved telecommunications capacity to assert Arctic sovereignty. 
  • Reclaiming and sustaining Canada's health-care system. 
  • Establishing a strategy to create stable, quality jobs to build a stronger middle class, including support for companies that compete globally. 

Trudeau said all of the resolutions will be carefully assessed on merit.

"The basis upon which we will make any decisions about what's in our platform and how we move forward as a country is whether or not it's in the best interests of Canadians," he said.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government has no plan to go down the route of decriminalizing drugs, and is focused on legalizing marijuana through a strict regulated regime.

Among the resolutions that dropped off the list earlier was a plan to support innovations for local food production to ensure fresh good supplies in rural and remote communities. A resolution to create new funds for post-secondary education programs that help meet labour market needs and a call for a renewable energy tax credit were also dropped.

Morneau touts economic record

Finance Minister Bill Morneau addressed the convention Saturday, setting the tone for the upcoming election campaign, which positions the Liberal Party as the most trustworthy to handle the economy. He said Liberal policies have fired up the economy and led to the lowest unemployment rate since 1976.

That contrasts with the Conservative record under Stephen Harper, where economic policies led to a stubborn jobless rate and sluggish growth.

"As your finance minister and as an experienced businessperson, I can tell you a return to those policies would be, in my estimation, sheer incompetence," he said, playing on the name of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.