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Liberals approve basic income, pharmacare, long-term care standards at convention

Grassroots Liberals have overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution calling on the federal government to develop and implement a universal basic income — despite Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for the idea.

The resolution, co-sponsored by the Liberal caucus, passed by a vote of 491-85 Saturday at the governing party’s virtual convention.

It will automatically become official party policy, along with 10 other top priority resolutions that were fast-tracked at the convention.

Another 26 resolutions were also approved Saturday morning but must still go through another vote later in the day to be narrowed down to 15 and become official party policy.

Among those 26 were resolutions calling for enforceable, national standards for long-term care homes, a 10-per-cent increase in old age security for those 70 and over, and implementation of a national pharmacare program, which the Trudeau government has promised but has taken only incremental steps towards achieving.

Others included calls for a “green new deal” to ensure a just and fair to transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, investments in “transformational projects” to create jobs for workers displaced by that transition and tax incentives for large corporations to invest in renewable resource development.

Still others called for investments in affordable housing, a trans-Canada high-speed rail line, expanded access to high-speed Internet and measures to turn Canada into an “agricultural superpower.”

Participants rejected just five resolutions, including the only one that could have helped the government pay for all the other proposed costly new initiatives endorsed by convention-goers.

That defeated resolution called on the government to impose an inheritance tax on all assets over $2 million and to reduce the capital gains tax exemption by 40 per cent.

Some of the non-binding resolutions mesh with the government’s stated intention to spend up to $100 billion to fuel a green, inclusive economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of the $380-billion-plus deficit already racked up helping Canadians stay afloat.

But Trudeau has already signalled his lack of enthusiasm for the universal basic income idea, suggesting now is not the time to embark on a costly overhaul of the country’s social safety net.

The parliamentary budget officer last week concluded that a universal basic income could almost halve Canada’s poverty rate in just one year but at a steep cost: $85-billion in 2021-22, rising to $93-billion in 2025-26.

Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, one of the champions of the idea within the Liberal caucus, said in an interview that he understands the price tag is daunting. Still, he said he’s hopeful that the convention’s endorsement of the idea will push the government to move gradually in that direction.

At the 2018 convention, Liberals passed a resolution calling for decriminalization of all illicit drug use. Trudeau rejected the idea at the time but Erskine-Smith noted his government has since been moving toward treating drug addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, including with proposed legislation repealing mandatory minimum sentences for minor drug offences.

Trudeau also initially opposed legalization of cannabis despite a party resolution calling for it, only to later change his mind. His government legalized recreational marijuana during its first mandate.

Trudeau will wrap up the three day convention later Saturday with a keynote speech.

The Canadian Press

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