Monday, November 25, 2013

Ontario Liberals pick our policies: Transportation, bees and early childhood education

Ahead of the Liberal Party of Canada biennial coming up in February in Montreal, Ontario Liberals gathered in Kingston this weekend to debate over 60 policies and pick the 10 priority resolutions that  our province can send on to be debated by Liberals from across the country at the national conference.

Saturday's LPC(O) policy biennial was the culmination of a process that began months earlier, as riding associations from across the province canvassed their communities and drafted policy resolutions. These resolutions were sent by the ridings to a regional prioritization meeting. Liberals from each region debated and considered these resolutions, and each region sent 10 to this weekend's meeting for consideration.

The first stage of this weekends meeting saw policies debated and then accepted or rejected; the next stage was casting  a preferential ballot cast to rank the policies and arrive at the 10 priority resolutions to move forward.

No resolutions were defeated in this first stage and there wasn't too much debate; only two came close. One was a motion I opposed that sought to encourage youth engagement; I'm in favour of the spirit certainly, but it didn't propose anything concrete beyond open communications (say, use Twitter) so I voted no. The debate was much more heated around a pro-supply management motion which passed, but only by a small margin. I voted no; it's time to consider new approaches that balance the concerns of both farms and food consumers. I was annoyed when rural delegates would say this isn't an urban issue; it's not. It's an everyone issue; everyone eats food.

 There were three policies I felt strongly about:

1. National Transportation Strategy: This was a blended resolution coming out of urban, suburban and rural ridings, as it truly is an issue that impacts every community. We need a national transportation. That could mean transit, or rail, or highways -- the infrastructure needs to move people and goods will vary from community. And the priorities should be set in the community. But we need the federal government at the table as a partner, working with the other level of governments to identify priority projects and, most importantly, provide  a predictable and long-term funding commitment for at least a 10-year period to facilitate planning. The current situation -- Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty saying yes to one project and no to other randomly, out of the blue, seemingly because they went fishing with the Mayor -- is untenable.

2. Death with Dignity: Physician Assisted End to Life: This policy came from the Ontario Young Liberals and Parry Sound - Muskoka. It's a difficult issue. It's a tricky issue. But it's an important issue, and I think it's a debate we need to have. This policy would spark that debate, and state the party's broad support for moving toward physician-assisted end of life, and hopefully spark a national debate.

3. Undoing the Ban and Organ Donations Based on Sexual Orientation: From York-South Weston, this policy would have Health Canada remove the five-year donation ban  for any male who has had sexual contact with another man, and support its replacement with an behaviour-based screening policy for all donors. For me this is an issue of discrimination and human rights. There is absolutely no scientific basis on which to support the existing ban; the science is clear. And all donations are screened anyway. The current policy is discriminatory and borne of historical prejiduce; we need a new policy based in evidence and science.

Unfortunately, my second and third-ranked policies were not prioritized and will not go forward to Montreal; at least not from Ontario. Hopefully one of the other provinces may have chosen to prioritize similar resolutions.

I was pleased to see a National Transportation Strategy was prioritized at No. 1; a strong message from Ontario delegates about how this is an issue that impacts all areas of the province. As it is such a national issue as well, I'm confident it will find success during the policy debate at biennial. The efforts of Jason Cherniak, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, were crucial in seeing this policy prioritized at the top of the list.

Another important issue I was pleased to see prioritized was one regarding first nations, and I was pleased to see it coming out of an urban riding. Amy Robichaud, who is seeking the Liberal nomination in Scarborough-Southwest, made a number of persuasive arguments that helped get this policy from her riding prioritized. many Aboriginals are moving off-reserve to cities, so this is also an urban issue. We need to get back to the spirit of the Kelowna Accord, and work in partnership with First Nations to move beyond the Indian Act.

The policies prioritized by Ontario, in order, are as follows:

1. Nation Transportation Strategy
2. “Bees and Farming” Resolution: Moratorium on Neonicotoids in Canada
3. A National Strategy for a Universal Early Childhood Education…
4. Honouring Our Commitments: The Kelowna Accord, Restructuring of the Indian Act and Aboriginal Renewal
5. Innovation Strategy for Canada
6. Climate Change Action
7 Canada a Knowledge Based Society
8. A National Manufacturing Strategy for Canada
9.  National Housing Action Plan
10. Pensions: Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan

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