Liberal Party releases multibillion-dollar election platform for post-pandemic recovery
'Erin O'Toole can't offer the leadership we need,' Trudeau says
The Liberal Party released its election platform today — an ambitious document that offers billions in new spending to address both long-standing policy problems and new ones that have emerged during the past 19 months of the pandemic crisis.
The sprawling, 53-page platform proposes $78 billion in new spending. It differs substantially from the Conservative plan released earlier in this campaign in that it proposes to invest more in Liberal priorities — such as efforts to fight climate change, Indigenous reconciliation and the arts and cultural sector — while promising tighter restrictions on firearms and new money for provinces that ban handguns.
The party is also promising to restore employment to pre-pandemic levels and go "beyond" its previous pledge to create one million jobs by extending the Canada Recovery Hiring Program — which subsidizes businesses that hire new workers — until March 2022. It also accuses the Conservatives of being "opposed to support for workers and businesses."
'(O'Toole) can't even get his own candidates vaccinated' — Trudeau
With just 19 days left in the campaign, the Liberals are arguing that the Conservative Party presents a risk to the country — because it won't deliver on mandatory vaccinations for public servants and the travelling public and plans to roll back a national child care plan the Liberals maintain would dramatically reduce costs for parents.
"What Erin O'Toole is doing is not leadership. Courting special interests – from anti-vaxxers to climate deniers, from the gun lobby to anti-choice organizations — failing to mention racism even once in a platform and ripping up $10-a-day child care agreements across the country, none of that is leadership," Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Wednesday at a Toronto campaign event.
"We can't go backward. We have to keep moving forward and, together, we have to do the hard work to build a better Canada — for everyone."
WATCH: Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau releases his party's platform
A Conservative-led government would undermine Canada's universal public health care system by pushing "two-tier" care, the Liberals claim. To protect the existing health care regime — and stop the proliferation of businesses like for-profit medical imaging facilities in Saskatchewan — a Liberal government would "strengthen federal powers under the Canada Health Act" to "deduct health transfers from the provinces who enable extra billing."
Platform pressures O'Toole on private care
"Erin O'Toole says he wants to bring 'innovation' to this system by allowing those with money to access their own system of for-profit care. A two-tier system would worsen access and health outcomes for us all," the platform reads.
The Liberal platform says a re-elected Liberal government would pump billions of dollars into the health system to help clear pandemic-related surgical backlogs and hire 7,500 new doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners.
While O'Toole has promised to scrap the Liberals' "assault-style" firearms ban, the Liberals are doubling down with new restrictions that would force owners of prohibited weapons to "either sell the firearm back to the government for destruction and compensation" or have it "rendered fully and permanently inoperable" at the government's expense.
The Liberals would also earmark $1 billion in new funding for provinces that implement a ban on handguns — something gun control advocates have long demanded.
The party platform accuses O'Toole of being beholden to the "gun lobby" and says he would allow for the "proliferation of assault-style firearms in Canada," adding that "Liberals believe even stronger action is needed to get weapons designed for mass casualties off our streets and out of our communities."
WATCH: Budget expert discusses how Liberal platform offers sustainability
The party is also promising to invest more in mental health services and housing — issues the pandemic brought to the fore — if voters return the Liberals to government on Sept. 20.
The centrepiece of the Liberals' housing program is a "first home savings account" — a program that would "combine the features of both an RRSP and a TFSA" in that money added to the account would go in tax-free and could be withdrawn without any taxes owing on investment gains.
The program, which would cost the federal treasury some $3.6 billion over the next four years, is meant to make it easier for some first-time homebuyers under 40 years of age to scrape together enough money for a down payment.
The Liberals would also introduce a new dedicated funding stream for mental health services that would send the provinces and territories at least $2 billion more per year for mental health care by 2025-26.
Most experts agree Canada is in the throes of a mental health "crisis" and lacks mental health care supports. One in five people in this country have screened positive for symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder over the last year, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
A 'minimum tax' for the very wealthy
To pay for a host of new measures and chip away at a deficit that has ballooned during the pandemic, says the platform, a government led by Trudeau would hike corporate taxes on large banks and insurance companies while creating a "minimum tax" rule so that the highest income earners can't "artificially pay no tax through excessive use of deductions and credits."
WATCH: Trudeau accuses the Conservative leader of clinging to 'magical thinking' on the economy
A re-elected Liberal government would also "significantly increase the resources of Canada Revenue Agency" in an effort to combat what the party calls "aggressive tax planning and tax avoidance" by the wealthiest Canadians, says the platform document — an investment the party says would produce at least $1.1 billion in new revenue in the 2022-23 fiscal year alone.
O'Toole says Trudeau lacks a plan for economic recovery
O'Toole said the Liberal platform amounts to "recycled promises with some tweaks" and lacks "a complete plan for an economic recovery as a country."
"I think Canadians deserve better than that. Mr. Trudeau called the election and just recycled some promises he's already failed to deliver on from the previous election," O'Toole said. "Canadians are tired of that. We deserve better, we deserve change, we deserve a government with a plan and one that will deliver."
He said Trudeau was "running massive deficits before COVID-19" and is now piling on more costly promises. O'Toole has promised to balance the budget in ten years' time by reining in the growth of public spending "without cuts."
WATCH: O'Toole reacts to the Liberal platform release
"We have to have an approach to help people get back on their feet after COVID-19, get the economy working, and then have a disciplined approach to get spending under control to balance the budget. We're taking a very prudent approach here," O'Toole said.
As for Liberal claims that O'Toole would threaten public health by opposing mandatory vaccinations, create a two-tier health care system, limit abortion access and dismantle firearms laws, the Conservative leader said Trudeau is "trying to divide people in the midst of a pandemic.
"That's not what we need. We need to be working together, respecting one another and getting this country back on its feet."
The Canadian Taxpayers' Federation also panned what it called "reckless Liberal spending" and the platform's lack of a plan to return to a balanced budget.
"All we're hearing from the Liberals is more borrowing, but not a peep about balancing the budget and reining in spending," said Franco Terrazzano, the group's federal director. "The Liberals want to spend more on everything, but there's no plan to repair our national finances and chip away at the $1-trillion federal debt."
An accelerated climate timetable
The Liberal platform argues that climate-minded voters should be wary of the Conservatives because they would "roll back climate action" at a time when UN scientists are warning urgent action is needed now to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The platform says a re-elected Liberal government would push for deeper cuts to oil and gas sector-related emissions, ban thermal coal exports, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies by 2023 — two years earlier than planned — and phase out public financing for the fossil fuel sector, including from Crown corporations.
To deal with anticipated job losses in the oil and gas sector, the platform says, a re-elected Liberal government would establish a $2 billion "futures fund" to help communities cope with the transition to a "net-zero future," among other measures to support fossil fuel sector workers.
As part of the push to phase out gas-powered cars, the Liberals' platform would allocate $1.5 billion more to the "iZev rebate program," which would provide $5,000 to Canadians who want to buy an electric vehicle. The program would be expanded to include a "wider range of vehicle types" — including used vehicles — to help 500,000 Canadians get behind the wheel of a zero-emission car.
The platform also includes money for VIA Rail's "high frequency rail" project, which would transform the Quebec City-Windsor rail corridor and get more cars off the region's highways.
The new promises follow the Liberal government's earlier pledge to bring greenhouse gas emissions down by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — a deeper cut than Canada promised at the Paris climate summit in 2015. If elected, O'Toole has said he would return to the previous national target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
"I hear you when you say that we need to move even faster. I hear you and I agree. Yes we're in a crisis and no half measures won't do and going backward – that isn't even an option," Trudeau said.
New abortion 'regulations' to ease access nationwide
In addition to the $10-a-day child care program announced earlier this year, the platform includes a number of new promises to woo women voters — a key Liberal voting demographic.
"Conservatives want to roll back progress for families. We cannot let Canadian women and children get left behind," the platform says.
The party is promising five paid leave days for federally regulated employees who "experience a miscarriage or a still birth," while also committing to a new labour code provision compelling federal employers to provide free tampons and pads. A $25 million "menstrual equity fund" would provide federal money to women's shelters, not-for-profits, charities and community-based organizations to "make menstrual products available to vulnerable women."
The platform claims the Conservatives "want to roll back abortion access" — O'Toole has repeatedly said he is pro-choice — and "anti-choice organizations are actively working to spread misinformation about abortion."
To ease access to reproductive services, a re-elected Liberal government would establish new "regulations" under the Canada Health Act that would require all provinces to make abortion services available to everyone everywhere in the country.
The Liberals would also strip charity status from some anti-abortion organizations — like so-called crisis pregnancy centres — that provide "dishonest counselling to women about their rights."
To help people who care for elderly relatives, a re-elected Liberal government would make the existing Canada caregiver credit a refundable, tax-free benefit, which means up to $1,250 a year in cash extra for caregivers — many of them women.
Boost for hard-hit arts and culture sector
For the arts and culture sector — among the industries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — a re-elected Liberal government would "match ticket sales for performing arts, live theatres and other cultural venues" to compensate for reduced capacity and extend COVID-related insurance coverage for media productions, says the platform.
While O'Toole has said a government led by him would "review the mandate of CBC English television, CBC News Network and CBC English online" and "assess the viability of refocusing the service on a public interest model like that of PBS in the U.S." to reduce competition for private broadcasters, the Liberal Party is promising to invest $400 million more over four years in the public broadcaster.
The funds would be used to "increase production of national, regional or local news" and help the corporation become "less reliant on private advertising," with a goal of going commercial-free during news and public affairs shows.
Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board, Canada's authors, the Indigenous Screen Office and other arts programming would also get a cash injection under the Liberals.