(Bloomberg) -- Canadian federal elections are typically a three-way race. Listening to Justin Trudeau, you’d hardly know it.
The prime minister’s Liberal Party, historically the centrist option, wrapped up its national convention Saturday in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with grassroots members backing a series of new social policies with a distinctly leftward lean, including expanded health programs and decriminalizing drug possession.
Party policy isn’t necessarily government policy, but the emphatic leftward shift gives insight into how the Liberals are framing next year’s election. Trudeau gave a campaign-style speech that took aim at the rival, right-leaning Conservatives. By shoring up their left flank and casting things as a two-way race ahead of the 2019 election, the Liberals are seeking to marginalize Canada’s New Democrats, typically the most left-wing major party, even as they pick from their play book.
“I am looking forward to the 2019 campaign because I can’t wait to put our plan, our team and our vision of Canada up against theirs,” Trudeau said in an address that made little mention of the NDP. “There are still so many Canadians who are left by the wayside.”
The policy proposals leave Trudeau -- already running modest deficits, with growth forecast to slow and business groups warning about a competitiveness crisis -- under pressure to deliver big-ticket programs. Speaking to reporters in Halifax, Trudeau applauded the policy haggling while also distancing himself from certain proposals, like drug decriminalization.
“I am very happy that we’ve opened discussions on this,” he told reporters Saturday. “It won’t come as any surprise to people that I deeply believe that we are, and should be, a progressive party.”
It’s too soon to say if the Liberal policies backed on the weekend amount to just a wish-list, or if they’ll be pursued by the government and become law. Some 30 policy proposals were whittled down at the convention to a list of 15, which were ranked by vote. The top five are:
- Implementing a universal, single-payer plan to cover pharmaceutical tasks, starting with certain “essential medicines” before bringing in a “comprehensive permanent plan.” (Trudeau’s government is already exploring a pharmacare strategy but doesn’t want to totally upend the current system, where drug costs are shared by insurance companies, governments and individuals. “It is a priority for us,” Trudeau told reporters)
- Expanding coverage of mental health services, including a “systematic universal system”
- Decriminalizing drug use by reclassifying “low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations” in a bid to tackle the opioid crisis. Trudeau’s government is already legalizing marijuana, but almost immediately dismissed this. “It’s not part of our plans,” he said
- Decriminalizing sex work and the purchase of sex work for those over age 18
- Beefing up employee pension rights by prioritizing such plans for funds in bankruptcy cases
Others include implementing a guaranteed minimum income model, creating a seniors’ ministry, ending taxation on menstrual products and creating an Environmental Bill of Rights.
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