At panel discussion, Queen’s experts talk federal election issues

Indigenous issues, the climate crisis, healthcare, and official languages across the parties

Queen’s experts speak on domestic issues critical to federal election.

Leading up to the federal election on Oct. 21, Queen’s School of Policy Studies is hosting a series of roundtable discussions featuring four experts on topics including domestic policy, migration, and foreign policy.

Moderated by Christian Leuprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s, the panel is made up of Kyla Tienhaara, assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies, Stephanie Chouinard, assistant professor in the School of Political Studies, Elisha Corbett, PhD candidate in the School of Political Studies, and Jenna Healey, assistant professor in the Department of History and Hannah Chair of Medicine.

The first roundtable kicked off on Oct. 2 with a discussion about domestic policy.

The climate crisis

Tienhaara opened by calling the climate crisis a defining issue in the 2019 election.

“We really just don’t have any time to lose ground on this issue,” she said, adding that research and polling suggest the majority of Canadians in every riding believe the climate is changing.

“I think the major problem now is connecting that to what is actually needed to be done to address the issue,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of changing light bulbs and converting to electric cars. We need a radical overhaul of our economy.”

Regarding party commitments, Tienhaara pointed to Trudeau’s commitment to have net zero emissions by 2050 and to plant two billion trees. 

“It doesn’t mean zero emissions, it means we will suck out of the atmosphere as much greenhouse gas emission as we put up,” she said.

While Tienhaara called the carbon price a key cornerstone of the Liberals’ platform, she said it wasn’t enough. “Frankly, the price is way too low to actually incentivize the kind of change we need,” she said.

The Conservatives’ central commitment is to repeal the carbon price, but Tienhaara said Scheer’s party seems to be focused on other countries reducing their emissions.

She pointed out Canada has one of the highest per capita emissions statistics in the world, and the burden of climate action shouldn’t be placed on countries in worsened economic states.

If elected, the NDP plan to keep the carbon tax and introduce a Canadian Climate Bank, which would provide $3 billion in funds for low-carbon innovation. May’s Green Party has promised to double Canada’s targets for emission reduction and raise the carbon price.

Indigenous issues

Corbett categorized her input into six broad themes: reconciliation, the state of reserves, environment, social services, economy, and Indigenous and state relations.

“Indigenous issues encompass most, if not all, of the issues that we are discussing here today,” she said. “Things like health care, the environment, and the economy are Indigenous issues.”

Regarding party commitments, Corbett stressed that although the Conservatives have yet to release their platform, what they have released so far doesn’t include any mention of Indigenous issues.

All parties except the People’s Party of Canada have committed to implementing the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On reconciliation, the Liberal, NDP, and Green parties have committed to continuing the path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and implementing each of the 231 calls to justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Corbett added that both the Liberals and the NDP have promised to advocate for First Nations policing on reserves, but only the NDP and Greens have promised to increase on-reserve funding for emergencies.

Health care

Speaking about the pharmacare debate, Healey opened by calling the price of prescription drugs a critical health policy issue for this election.

This past June, Trudeau’s government released a report that delivered recommendations and a timeline for building a national pharmacare program.

“Interestingly, when we actually look at the platforms themselves and what is now currently available from the parties, only the NDPs and the Greens have actually committed to following the recommendations as laid out in that report from 2019,” she said.

The NDP has promised to follow the report’s recommendations, but claim they will have a national pharmacare program in place by the end of 2020, if elected. Currently, the federal advisory council under Trudeau has presented a timeline of 2028 for a pharmacare program.

“I’m not sure how the NDP thinks it will get it all done in a year,” Healey said. “I appreciate the ambition. They definitely have a sense of urgency around the fact that Canadians are having difficulty affording their medication and the health impacts that’s going to have.”

Healey said the Liberals have promised to “keep investigating” in pharmacare and have offered a $6-billion down payment for various health promises, which go beyond pharmacare to improved mental health and increasing the available amount of primary care.

“Six billion dollars is not enough,” Healey said. “I think a lot of people were taken aback.”

She pointed out that a national pharmacare program alone would require a $20-billion commitment.

Although the Conservatives have not released a party platform, Healey said it’s clear that they will not be advocating for a national pharmacare program.

“Instead, they want to work with the provinces to address the existing gaps in coverage,” she said.

Official Languages

Chouinard opened by calling 2019 a special year, because it marks the 50th anniversary of the Official Languages Act.

Chouinard said the Act has not been fully modernized by Canada’s legislators since 1988.

“A lot has changed since 1988, and the Official Languages Act certainly does not correspond to English Canadians’ and French Canadians’ expectations of what the Canadian state should do with official languages,” she said.

Also pointing to the absence of a Conservative platform, Chouinard said she couldn’t speak to Scheer’s exact strategy for addressing the Official Languages Act. However, she said so far, all parties have committed to modernizing the Act.

“But they have not committed to any details as to what they would do with the Official Languages Act,” she said.

She said both the Liberal and NDP parties have discussed Supreme Court bilingualism, but neither of those parties have offered any commitment beyond nominating bilingual justices.

Calling it a newcomer to the topic, Chouinard said Indigenous languages are being included in the Official Languages discussion, even though Bill C-91, recently passed by the Liberals, gives Indigenous languages legal status.


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