OTTAWA – A quiet day on the federal election campaign saw the Conservatives promise to continue funding an agency devoted to combating cancer while the Liberals and New Democrats talked about repealing Conservative citizenship and terrorism laws.
The Conservatives announced Saturday that the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer would be given a renewed five-year mandate and $50 million a year beginning in 2017 if they form the next government.
The organization was set up by the Conservative government in 2006 to implement a Canadian strategy for cancer control.
Its funding and mandate have been renewed twice already, with the current term and cash set to run out in 2017.
The group focuses on improving access to cancer screening and detection, especially in vulnerable populations like First Nations communities, as well as on improving patient care and on data collection.
Saturday’s pledge is the first foray into health care policy the Conservatives have made since the campaign began in August.
It came as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was spending the weekend out of the public eye, and the low key nature of the pledge perhaps underscores an issue raised by the Canadian Cancer Society ahead of the election – that health care is no longer seen as a top priority on the national agenda.
The society says the Conservative government had taken some positives steps, like the partnership, but there were a lot of missed opportunities.
“What’s left is cheque book federalism: Ottawa takes in and ships out billions of tax dollars for health care but without setting clear national objectives for its investments or effectively measuring their impact,” the society said in a report laying out recommendations for the federal party platforms.
The cancer society welcomed the Conservative announcement, issuing a statement saying cancer is a “national health challenge that demands national solutions.”
The year the partnership will have its funding renewed is the same year as a Conservative government would start using a new formula to determine how much money it will transfer to the provinces for health care, tying the increases to economic and population growth but promising it would never fall below three per cent a year.
The transfers have become a political hot button this campaign.
The Liberals have said their infrastructure program would require taking the country into deficit and the Conservatives’ political rebuttal is to seek to remind people the last Liberal government slashed its a deficit by cutting those health payments.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was the only major party leader on the campaign trail on Saturday, spending his time in the Greater Toronto Area.
Trudeau says a Liberal administration would repeal the Conservative government’s citizenship law so all citizens are treated equally.
Trudeau told an Islamic conference in Mississauga that “Liberals believe in a Canada that is united – strong not in spite of its differences, but precisely because of them.”
NDP leader Tom Mulcair has also promised to repeal the Conservative citizenship legislation, which would allow the government to revoke citizenship for anyone convicted of terrorism, treason or espionage offences inside or outside of Canada. The rules also apply to dual citizens who take up arms against Canada by fighting in a foreign army or joining an international terrorist organization.
The Conservatives have maintained the law is needed to combat terrorism.
Mulcair was also off the campaign trail, but the New Democrats put up two of their Toronto candidates to assail the Conservatives’ anti-terrorism law and attack the Liberals for supporting it.
The New Democrats say if elected they’ll repeal the legislation, which gives intelligence and security agencies greater powers.