When Parliament does resume sometime this fall, the make-up of party power will remain relatively unchanged.
After an election that sent a direct message to the government to get back to work, there are plenty of ways the upcoming 44th Canadian Parliament can become historic:
1. Commit to more aggressive emissions targets
A grim report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released this summer noted human influence has warmed the climate by two degrees Celsius, a rate unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years.
“Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades,” the report reads.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party successfully campaigned on a greenhouse gas plan that would see carbon emissions reach net-zero by 2050. When Canada signed the Paris Accord agreement in 2015, the country committed to cutting emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. A more ambitious plan from Jagmeet Singh’s New Democrats would see Canada cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
With increased heat waves, drought, wildfires and more extreme weather events, Canada is warming at twice the global rate. Five-year targets on our way to a net-zero 2050 aren’t cutting it — and as overnight temperatures hit records in addition to days above 20 degrees Celsius — Canadians don’t have time for deliberating anymore; we need leadership on climate action.
2. Implement Universal Pharmacare with dental care
Newfoundland dentist Brandon Doucet has been advocating for universal dental care for Canadians. He wrote last year that four in ten low-income Canadians avoid going to the dentist due to the high cost of services.
Doucet argues the costs of this avoidance rings in at nearly $150 million per year. Fewer Canadians have access to dental care as the gig economy emerges and health benefits become all the more rare.
The NDP campaigned on a universal pharmacare platform in the last two elections in an effort to save families $550 per year in health expenses.
In the recent campaign, Singh committed to a universal dental care program for uninsured families earning less than $90,000 per year. The program would benefit 6.5 million Canadians while saving the average family $1,200 every year in dental fees.
As Doucet writes, “Poor oral health is intimately related to the cycle of poverty.” The federal government should take urgency in expanding dental care to as many Canadians as possible.
3. Enhance resources and supports for nurses
A startling statistic came out weeks ago — 60 per cent of nurses are planning to leave their career within the next year. What would normally be considered a crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Nurses are working up to 24-hour shifts, facing staffing shortages and expanding client to nurse ratios.
Misinformation about the pandemic has not only resulted in strained health care environments, but also an unprecedented level of vitriol and violence against and other healthcare practitioners in the workplace.
Long-term care facilities are in crisis across the country, documented in the Canadian Medical Association’s study from March titled Pandemic Perspectives on Long-Term Care: Insights from Canadians in Light of COVID-19.
The study details shocking findings from the COVID-19 pandemic, concluding there were 74 times more deaths among older Canadians living in long-term care and retirement homes than among community-dwelling older Canadians. Additionally, the study found that 81 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths during its first wave occurred in long-term care and other congregate settings.
If the federal government wants Canadian seniors and their loved ones to trust they can rely on long-term care facilities, an overhaul in light of the pandemic’s failures is urgently needed.
4. Extend COVID-19 financial supports
Nearly 9 million unique applicants applied for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit between March 15 and Oct. 3, 2020, providing more than $81 billion in financial support for individuals facing a reduction of income because of public health guidelines to prevent the spread and exposure of COVID-19.
Last fall, the CERB transitioned into three separate — and smaller — grants to help those who’ve lost a significant portion of income due to the pandemic, those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and caregivers for a loved one who has COVID-19. As of Sept. 26, over 2 million unique applicants applied for the benefit, with more than $26 billion provided to Canadians in need.
These three COVID-19 financial benefits end on October 23, meaning individuals who contract COVID-19 after this date will no longer be eligible for financial support — despite the country battling a fourth wave, with some provinces and territories experiencing their worst outbreaks of the pandemic.
If the federal government wants its pandemic benefits to bridge the gap throughout the pandemic, the benefits should remain until the fourth wave flattens. Otherwise, Trudeau risks extending the pandemic.
5. End the blood ban
Trudeau hasn’t done this already? Nope. After six years of promising to end the discriminatory ban on the donation of LGBTQ+ individuals’ blood, it’s still illegal for people like me to donate blood. Even as Canadian Blood Services pleads for additional donations as pandemic-led closures dwindled the walk-in donor supply, men who have sex with men are ineligible to give blood.
The ban forces men who have sex with men that would like to donate blood to abstain from sexual intercourse for a period of three months. While that’s shorter than the one-year ban that existed until Health Canada revised rules in 2019, the discriminatory practice persists.
“Canadian Blood Services’ goal is to remove the current waiting period for men who have sex with men and use sexual behaviour-based screening for all donors instead,” their website reads. “To this end, we intend to make a submission recommending this change to Health Canada, our regulator, by the end of 2021.”
Rather than make the change himself, Trudeau has dragged the legislation before the federal court, arguing it’s not within his powers to unilaterally change policies — despite promising in June 2020 an announcement regarding the ban would be coming “very soon.”