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Liberal platform long on family, short on gay issues

Revived Court Challenges, volunteerism among highlights

The Liberal Party released its full election platform in Ottawa on April 3 at a town hall event with some 250 party faithful in attendance and another 9,300 watching online.

At the centre of the platform are five key priorities the party calls the “Liberal Family Pack:” the Learning Passport, commitments to early learning and childcare, family home care, stronger public pensions and a permanent Green Renovation Tax Credit.

“We recognize very well that families come in different sizes and shapes and different backgrounds,” says platform co-chair Navdeep Bains, Liberal incumbent for Mississauga-Brampton South, of the focus on family in the platform. “The idea is to appeal to the family and say look, we’re here with you.”

The Liberals have enumerated “planes and prisons” as two of the things it stands against, but there is almost nothing in its platform about how they would address justice issues.

When asked about this at the platform press conference, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff told Xtra he is more interested in the underlying issues.

“You look at the statistics of people inside our jails, and you discover an interesting fact: something like half of them haven’t finished high school,” Ignatieff says.

He added that he doesn’t want to follow California’s example of mandatory minimum sentences and “three strikes” laws.

“I am not going to push Canada into bankruptcy with US-style mega-prisons,” Ignatieff says. “So let’s get serious about crime, crime prevention, education, victim services [and] the cops. You want to break up criminal gangs in Winnipeg? Let’s reinforce the anti-gang teams who do a terrific job.”

When asked if decriminalizing marijuana may be a part of the justice platform, Ignatieff didn’t respond.

One Liberal policy researcher noted the platform is vague on justice issues because it has been so difficult to get details about Conservative crime legislation out of the Harper government.

The Liberal platform is somewhat light on human rights issues – and completely silent on gay issues in particular – but there were a few concrete promises. The Liberals promise to restore the Court Challenges Program at a cost of $5 million per year.

The program, which provides funding for minority groups to take the government to court to challenge rights violations, was cancelled by the Harper Conservatives in 2006. The Liberals also promise to enshrine pay equity as a human right.

As well, the Liberals promise the formation of a new Canada Service Corps to replace the Canadian Volunteer Initiative that was cancelled by the Harper government. The Liberal plan, budgeted at $180 million over four years, would dedicate $20 million to capacity building and promotion of the voluntary sector. The remaining funds would be used to encourage volunteerism in young Canadians by forgiving $1,500 in student loan debt for recent graduates who donate at least 150 hours of service in a year.

So how would gay community volunteer groups like Pride boards and AIDS service organizations benefit from the Canada Service Corps? According to Bains, there would be a transparent application process, and once recognized, a group’s volunteers would get funding.

On immigration matters, Bains says the first priority is to ensure that Immigration and Refugee Board judges are appointed in a timely manner. He says the number of vacant spots the Conservative government has left open is the single largest contributor to the backlog in the system.

The platform also includes a section on Canada’s place in the world, including a promise for more aid to Africa – something the Conservatives have moved away from – while putting an “overarching emphasis” on the untapped potential of women in the developing world.

Reaction to the platform from opposition parties was swift but on the whole not comprehensive. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the plan amounts to $10 billion in promises that will lead to higher taxes.

The NDP held a press conference with Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow and Gatineau candidate Francoise Boivin, who pointed to a record of broken Red Book promises and said that Ignatieff missed 70 percent of votes in the House of Commons in 2010.