Ontario Liberal MPs want to run on economy rather than environment in October

Ontario Liberal MPs would rather focus on Canadians' economic anxieties instead of environmental issues during the fall federal election campaign, according to a caucus document obtained by CBC News.

CBC News has obtained the ranked list of priorities for provincial caucus members ahead of federal vote

Justin Trudeau campaigns in Toronto on August 6, 2015. The Ontario Liberal caucus's platform wish list for October gives a relatively low ranking to environmental issues. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Ontario Liberal MPs would rather spend time talking about Canadians' economic anxieties instead of environmental issues during the fall federal election campaign, according to a caucus document obtained by CBC News.

A ranked list of Ontario Liberal caucus priorities for the 2019 platform places personal financial security issues first, with environmental concerns relegated to seventh place.

The 45-page document sheds light on how the federal Liberals might campaign in one of the toughest electoral battlegrounds in the country.

While it might be surprising to see the environment ranked so low on a Liberal election proposal — given how much time and political capital Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invested in defending his decision to introduce a carbon tax — the issue may not be connecting with Ontario voters.

Premier Doug Ford and his Ontario Progressive Conservative party won a significant majority mandate last June after promising to repeal Ontario's cap and trade program and campaigning generally against a federal carbon tax. 

Pharmacare tops the list

Compiled in December 2018, the list cites a national pharmacare plan as the top priority for Ontario MPs. 

"It was the number one issue that came out of the Liberal convention in 2018," said Liberal MP John Oliver, who represents Oakville in Ontario. He wrote a short summary of the pharmacare platform pitch for the priority list.

"For me, it's pretty simple," he said. "I don't think any Canadian should be denied access to essential medicines ... because you can't afford it."

Housing affordability, income security for seniors, access to affordable child care and the skilled labour shortage follow pharmacare on the ranked list of issues Ontario Liberals want to see in the platform.

"At Ontario caucus there was a general recognition that we needed to give the prime minister ... some sense of what the urgent issues were that we would like to see in the party platform," Oliver added. "Everybody was invited to submit priorities."

Premier Doug Ford at a press conference in Cambridge, Ont., where he vowed to fight the federal carbon tax. (Robin De Angelis/CBC)

Oliver said the middle-ranking given to environmental issues had nothing to do with Premier Ford; the listing process started in April of of last year, two months before Ford's election.

"We took it to the national convention ... which was before Doug Ford came on to the scene in any significant way," he said.

"A lot of investment has been made by the government in addressing climate change, so that may be one of the reasons why it is a bit further down, because there's already really strong initiatives underway."

The Trudeau government has made no secret of the fact that a pharmacare program will be part of its re-election platform.

It created an advisory council under former Ontario Liberal health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins to look at how to implement a national pharmacare program. And in the 2019 budget, the Liberals set aside money to start developing a system.

The document includes a short summary of each issue, outlining ways the 2019 election campaign could offer voters something new.

Some of the proposals — including a plan to get more first-time buyers into the housing market — were incorporated into this year's budget.

A lack of carbon data

The caucus document's environment policy proposal, written by Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield, says the Liberals need to "... connect price on pollution with COP21 goals ..." — a reference to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, during which the Trudeau government committed to reducing carbon emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

"We need to establish preliminary data by province and territory, as well as by industrial sector, emission source, or conservation opportunities," the document summary says.

"Costing and distribution of dividends or cash incentives needs to be clarified and communicated ... Conservatives have no plan. Liberals have a plan but no data, and NDP protest but no plan either."

Another issue that has put pressure on the Trudeau Liberals — global migration and refugees — is ranked 13th on the Ontario caucus priority list.

"It has become clear based on public feedback and opposition rhetoric that immigration and the processing of refuges will be an issue in the 2019 election," reads an issue summary in the caucus document written by Toronto MP Julie Dzerowicz.

"As per feedback provided during meetings of the National Caucus on Immigration and Refugees, immigration is the number one topic that MPs hear from constituents about at the door."

The document does not say what kind of feedback Liberal MPs are getting from constituents on the refugee issue.

"A working group/committee should be struck immediately to begin brainstorming comprehensive policies to improve our immigration system and how to better handle the influx of asylum claiments we are currently experiencing," reads the document.

All federal party leaders are expected to spend a lot of time in Ontario during the fall election campaign.

With 121 federal ridings up for grabs — the most of any province — Ontario is seen by all parties as key to victory.


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