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Federal Politics

Can Opposition Force Trudeau to Act On Four Key Issues in 2018?

Child care, pharmacare, Chinese influence and climate change should be priorities, say experts.

Jeremy Nuttall 20 Dec

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

The New Year is almost here, the time for opposition parties in Ottawa to shake off their holiday hangovers, stop feeling guilty about the weight gain and get back to pressuring the governing Liberals on issues facing Canadians.

In a matter of weeks Canadians can officially use the phrase “next year’s election” when referring to the 2019 contest. And expect partisan attacks to amp up as we creep toward the next federal vote.

The Tyee asked some academics and advocates what they’d like to see the opposition parties fight for in 2018.

Child care and pharmacare

British Columbia Federation of Labour president Irene Lanzinger said the opposition need to push the Liberals on a number of areas, but from a B.C. perspective child care is a priority.

The NDP government in Victoria has promised $10-a-day child care and Lanzinger said the province can’t do it alone.

“It’s hard for provinces to initiate a big program like this on their own,” she said. “With federal support it would be much easier.”

Lanzinger said a national child care plan would enable such a program across the country. Previous attempts at a national child care plan have fizzled out, but Lanzinger said labour groups are encouraging Ottawa to take on the challenge.

The opposition should also apply pressure on the Liberal government to create a pharmacare program, Lanzinger said. If Canada wants to insist it has a good health-care system it needs to have a plan to ensure everyone can get the drugs they need without going broke, she said.

“People are actually having to make the choice between drugs they need for treatment and groceries,” she said. “And that’s not a good thing in a country that prides itself on its health-care system.”

In September the Parliamentary Budget Officer issued a report that found a universal drug plan would cost $19.3 billion year based on 2015-16 figures, rising to $22.6 billion by 2021.

The NDP made pushing for a pharmacare plan a top priority during its 2016 convention, but on Oct. 5 the Liberal government voted against an NDP motion calling for universal pharmacare.

Chinese government influence

All parties should look past partisanship in 2018 and begin taking the threat to Canadian democracy posed by China seriously, said Charles Burton, a China expert at Brock University in Ontario.

Burton points to growing concerns in Australia and New Zealand about Beijing-backed efforts to influence the country’s government and business, potentially through unlawful means.

Canada needs to address the same issues, he said.

“I think we should be more proactive to investigate whether illegal activities have taken place,” Burton said.

Australia has been in political uproar over concerns politicians were being compromised by Chinese money, leading to the resignation of one senator.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull publicly told China to stay out of the country’s internal affairs and said Australia would “stand up” to such meddling from China.

Australia also introduced legislation aimed at curtailing foreign influence in its government. Beijing rejected the accusations and lobbed threats at the Australians, warning about the damage to relations between the countries.

Similar issues exist in Canada, Burton said, including the intimidation of members of the Canadian Chinese community by Beijing’s agents, the courting of politicians in Canada and lax regulations around selling tech companies to China-based buyers.

“The Chinese state may in fact regard us as weak and amiable to more exploitation the less we respond to the activities that the Chinese state is engaging in Canada, which by any measure should be considered unacceptable,” he said.

Discovering potential infractions by those working on behalf of China will take more than talk and legislation, Burton said. The RCMP will need increased resources to tackle the issue.

Climate action

Canada currently can’t meet its climate change targets under the Paris Agreement and the opposition must push the government for meaningful action to fulfill its commitments, said Jens Wieting of Sierra Club BC.

To meet the challenge opposition parties must pressure Ottawa to speed up the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy, Wieting said.

“We already have many endangered species [and] endangered ecosystems,” he said. “With climate impacts like droughts and other extreme weather events... we have to work even harder to protect ecosystems and reduce pollution.”

The government must be pressured to increase protected areas in Canada’s boreal and rain forests. Forest management practices also must be improved, he said.

Wieting said despite the Liberal government’s big talk on environmental issues and climate change, the reality is the country is lagging.

“Despite all the rhetoric in Paris from the federal government we’re not on course to meet our 2020 and 2030 targets,” he said.

He said a climate test should be applied to future projects expected to contribute to high carbon emissions, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and Petronas LNG terminal.

The projects were approved by Ottawa despite evidence they will cause an increase in carbon emissions. The full carbon footprint of such plans should be considered by Ottawa when weighing a potential project, Wieting said.

He added opposition parties should pressure the federal government to end $3 billion in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, shifting that money to clean energy.  [Tyee]

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