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Grits vote to support carbon tax, strengthen rights commission, end gay organ donation ban

Support for the controversial carbon tax, expansion of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and removal of discriminatory organ donation rules were among the most hotly-debated policies adopted by Liberal Party of Canada delegates in Vancouver this morning.

A climate change proposal brought forth by the Quebec-wing of the Liberal party was passed that urges a Liberal government to adopt a carbon tax, cap and trade system or a combination of the two.

“All the experts say we have to put a price, one way or another, on fossil carbon emissions,” said one delegate speaking in favour of the motion.

The carbon tax was a controversial policy for the Liberals some claimed cost the party a substantial number of votes in the last election. Interim Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has signalled he does support the tax.

One delegate asked if the mention of a carbon tax in the motion could be deleted and replaced with a “system of carbon pricing,” but was told this was not possible under the procedure of the policy session.

Concerns regarding the economic impact of targets set out in the resolution were also expressed by a delegate who said he would vote against the motion.

“The idea of reducing 25-40 per cent by 2020 in greenhouse gas emissions is going to cause a major impact to the economy because on the scale required, there aren’t really alternatives.”

Convention delegates also approved a resolution to make the Canadian Human Rights Commission accountable to the House of Commons and expand its reach to include discrimination based on citizenship status and socio-economic class.

“We strongly encourage the Liberals to vote in favour of this resolution, which will give legislative strength to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is in the great Liberal tradition,” said the delegate introducing the motion.

But there was considerable debate over the implications the resolution might have.

“There is an aspect of this resolution that absolutely terrifies me,” said an Ontario delegate.

“We have had over the last few months a demonstration of an abuse of power by the human rights commission. This resolution would actually add to the probability that the human rights commission would continue to abuse its power,” he said.

The vote for the resolution passed 223 in favour to 185 against.

Another controversial topic was a proposal by the Young Liberals of Canada to reverse a Conservative government policy that bans organ donation from gay men.

The resolution asks for the ban to be overturned and recommends Health Canada focus on screening and education efforts based on risky sexual activities, independent from sexuality.

“There are very healthy organs that could be used that are being basically thrown away on the basis of discrimination against people who are homosexual,” said the presenter of the motion. “It’s really an ideological move by the government to ban them in the first place,” he said.

But some delegates said they thought the decision should be left with Health Canada.

“To me this doesn’t seem to be an issue that should be decided here,” said a female delegate. “This depends on what virology testing is available.”

The final point of discussion in favour of the motion received considerable laughter and cheers.

"When you really get down to it the reason I would vote in favour of this is because if I get into a car accident I’d rather have a gay heart than no heart,” said the delegate.

Other resolutions passed this morning included support for reducing child poverty, implementing a national child care plan and declaring water a human right.

A resolution asserting Northern sovereignty, including an expansion of Canada’s military presence, was also approved.

On Aboriginal issues, policy resolutions were passed including calls to implement the Kelowna Accord and increase spending for post-secondary education.

Garrett Zehr reports for The Tyee.

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