Liberal convention to focus on improving lot of indigenous peoples

Almost 20 per cent of some 80 resolutions involve aboriginal issues

OTTAWA – Rank and file Liberals are urging the federal government to ensure that every third governor general appointed in Canada is an indigenous person and that aboriginal languages are granted official language status.

Those two measures are among a raft of policy resolutions to be debated at the ruling party’s first policy convention since winning power last October.

Almost 20 per cent of some 80 resolutions involve aboriginal issues, reflecting an apparent effort by grassroots Liberals to put meat on the bones of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vow to create a new relationship with indigenous peoples.

Among them, are resolutions to:

  • Rotate the appointment of the governor general between anglophones, francophones and aboriginals.
  • Grant official language status to aboriginal languages and provide necessary funding for language preservation.
  • Pay for First Nations and Inuit peoples’ dental, optical, prescription drug and other health-care costs not covered under universal medicare.
  • Require all Liberal MPs, candidates and nomination contestants to receive training regarding indigenous policy, history and culture before receiving a green light to run by the party.

Resolutions approved at conventions are not binding on the party or the leader. But in the past they have presaged some major official policy shifts for the Liberals, including legalization of same sex marriage and marijuana.

There are no similarly bold resolutions on offer at the convention to be held later this month in Winnipeg, no doubt a reflection of the fact that the ruling party has only just begun to deliver on more than 150 ambitious promises made during last fall’s campaign.

The biggest item on the agenda involves not policy but the internal operations of the Liberal party: a proposal to overhaul its constitution to, among other things, do away with the concept of membership, giving anyone willing to register as a Liberal the opportunity to vote in leadership and nomination contests, attend conventions and take part in policy development.

Still, there are some resolutions that would push the government to go further than the campaign platform, calling for such things as:

  • A guaranteed minimum income.
  • Expansion of universal health care to include pharmacare, home care and palliative care.
  • Turning the federal portion of student loans into grants for low-income families in 2017 and for middle-income families in 2018.
  • Lower the voting age to 16.
  • Repeal the previous Conservative government’s anti-terrorism legislation, whereas the platform promised only to repeal or amend some provisions.

There’s also no shortage of lofty proposals, such as the Liberal women’s commission’s resolution calling for the creation of a department of peace and non-violence, with a mandate to create a civilian service of professionally trained people working to prevent war and resolve conflict in Canada and around the globe.

The women’s commission also wants the government to create a panel to recommend ways to improve prevention, reporting and prosecution of sexual assault, considering changes including the creation of specialized sexual assault courts and requiring both the accused and victim to testify.

The Ontario wing of the party is proposing to strike a task force aimed at elimination of “all forms of Islamophobia.”

The party’s youth commission wants the government to introduce legislation establishing the right to an “ecologically balanced environment” as a human right and to offer safe haven to “climate refugees” displaced by climate change.

It also wants the government to establish a department of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered equity and to give refuge to LGBTQ refugees fleeing persecution.

There are no resolutions specifically on the thorny question of pipelines which bedevilled the recent NDP convention. But in contrast to the Leap Manifesto, which New Democrats agreed to consider and which was widely seen as anti-pipeline and anti-oil industry, the Alberta wing of the Liberal party has a resolution that recognizes the sector as “a significant employer” and calls for retraining for workers whose jobs are lost in the transition away from fossil fuels.

However, another resolution, from the Nova Scotia wing, calls for a creation of national standards for carbon pricing and a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies over the next five years.

Not all the resolutions will actually be put to a vote at the convention. Most will wind up being discussed only in a series of five policy workshops, each of which will choose two resolutions to send to the plenary session, along with 13 priority resolutions that will automatically go to the plenary.

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