As we wrap up the 43rd General Election, our movement has reason to celebrate.
Through this election, we passionately advocated for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues to party leaders, candidates, and voters. We saw our messages shared and discussed by media, parties, and prospective MPs – many of whom are now in a position to make good on their campaign commitments. From abortion access in New Brunswick to the decriminalization of sex work, we got decision-makers on the record committing to action. Below, we’ve shared a summary of the various commitments, campaign promises, and goals we heard throughout Election 2019.
Now, it’s up to all of us to hold our government to these commitments – and work together to make sure everyone has access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health information and services in Canada and around the world.
Thank you for your support throughout the election campaign. We couldn’t have made the strides we did without you.
The Parliament we got: a minority Liberal government
Minority governments can be very exciting! Historically, when a government had to rely on opposition support to stay in power, compromise and cooperation occur – and that leads to policies and laws not seen in majority governments.
A minority government is often good news for opposition MPs, and it means we can push parties to prioritize sexual and reproductive health and rights. With cross-partisan support, we can get sexual rights on this new government’s agenda.
But it’s important that activists, advocates, and those on the frontline of sexual health hold Parliamentarians accountable to election campaign promises by meeting with newly-elected MPs, asking how they’ll take action on SRHR, and monitoring their progress.
What they promised and what we need
Abortion rights was the most debated and discussed feminist issue this election by far.
The discussion began as a distracting back-and-forth about who would or wouldn’t “re-open the abortion debate”, but took a sharp turn with the announced closure of the only free-standing abortion clinic in New Brunswick.
Clinic 554 is closing because the Government of New Brunswick refuses to pay for abortions outside of hospital settings – despite being in violation of the Canada Health Act. Public outry and media attention flared – and suddenly the conversation shifted to the very real problem facing thousands in Canada: a lack of access to abortion.
We secured commitments from three of the five major political parties (the Liberal Party, NDP, and Green Party) to take action on abortion access. All three party leaders committed to take urgent steps to intervene by enforcing the Act in New Brunswick.
This could result in the strongest action on abortion in 30 years – but we need to keep the pressure up. Be sure to sign-up for our #Committoresist campaign to receive the latest news on how we’re taking action to advance abortion access in Canada – with the first step of tackling the crisis in New Brunswick.
Advancing SRHR globally:
Unfortunately, the conversation about Canada’s role in the world was almost non-existent– but parties did make some bold statements.
The Conservative Party announced a commitment to, if elected, cut Canadian development assistance to “upper-income countries or hostile regimes” by 25%, a move that Action Canada Executive Director Sandeep Prasad called “tantamount to balancing the budget on the backs of the world’s poor”. However, the Conservatives did claim that Canada’s recent commitment to global SRHR, including support for abortion care, would remain untouched.
The Liberal Party did not express support for meeting the internationally-agreed-upon 0.7% GNI target for development assistance, but rather supported existing contributions to the aid budget that maintain a rate of 0.26% – the lowest among G7 countries.
In contrast, the NDP committed to re-investing in development assistance to reach the 0.7% target in a decade – and the Green Party committed to reaching the same target, but did not provide a timeline. The Bloc Quebecois affirmed continued support for SRHR globally, but did not outline plans to increase Canada’s aid budget.
While fuzzy on finances, parties agreed that Canada should continue to defend human rights around the world, including the rights of LGBTQI2+ people and women, and work towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Right now, the ‘Feminist International Assistance Policy’, first introduced in 2017, needs a strong framework to ensure that Canadian aid is reaching women’s, youth, and feminist organizations and truly contributing to increased gender equality. Working with Canadian and international partners, we will continue to hold the government accountable to these commitments.
We will step up our efforts to ensure Canada’s commitment of $1.4B per year in development assistance, with $700M earmarked for SRHR, is invested in the most neglected areas of SRHR – including contraceptive care, abortion care, adolescent SRHR, and advocacy for SRHR.
Pharmacare was a big election issue. We worked to get commitment from all parties that a pharmacare plan would be universal, comprehensive, and single-payer—the best way to make coverage available to the most marginalized people. For better sexual health for all, we asked parties to prioritize SRHR medications and devices, including contraception, trans health-supporting medications, and HIV/AIDS medications.
The NDP outlined their plans for full universal coverage by 2020, with immediate inclusion of contraceptive care. The Green Party similarly committed to support SRHR under pharmacare, with a plan to create a contraceptive care stop-gap in the interim. The Liberals have committed to universal pharmacare incrementally with full coverage by 2027, which will include contraceptives and other sexual and reproductive medications and devices. The Bloc Quebecois said that they would pull Quebec – which has its own provincial public coverage option – out of any national pharmacare plan, while the Conservatives did not support universal single-payer pharmacare and made no reference to SRHR needs in this context.
We were disappointed that there was no leadership on sex-ed during this election.
The state of sex-ed is poor across Canada. Most young people receive sub-par, unequal, and/or poorly taught sex-ed, leading to poor health outcomes, discrimination, and a general lack of emotional well-being for young people. Canada needs strong federal leadership. Despite education falling under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government can play a role in improving sex-ed – and we’ve sent them recommendations.
But there’s good news: four of the five parties responded to our election survey on sex-ed. The Greens, Liberals, and NDP all voiced similar levels of support and appreciation for sexuality education, with the NDP committing to working with provinces to improve sex-ed, and the Greens saying explicitly that they would fund community-based sex-ed programs. Both parties also committed to defending sex-ed should provinces try and roll back or attack access in schools. The Liberals recognized education as a provincial issue, but did highlight their efforts to reduce STIs throughout Canada. The Bloc Quebecois said they supported sex-ed, but also said that they oppose federal intervention in provincial matters.
We will continue to demand leadership on sex-ed from federal leaders. Quality, comprehensive sex-ed is the human right of all young people.
Respecting Sex Worker rights:
Almost five years after sex work was recriminalized with the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, sex workers and their allies are still waiting for action – including a repeal. In the meantime, they continue to experience serious harm and discrimination as a direct result of the Act.
While not a main issue, sex work came up on the campaign trail. The Green Party committed to reform the current legislation with a focus on harm reduction by making the industry legal and public. The NDP has criticized the current legislation saying it violates sex workers rights, but only committed to a legal review in consultation with sex workers. The Liberals made no mention of sex work, nor did the Conservatives. The Bloc Quebecois gave a statement saying only that they would be willing to study the issue with all people affected.
Action Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, coordinated a sex workers rights solidarity statement, signed by over 130 organizations from across Canada. It’s time to follow the leadership of sex workers themselves as we work to pressure all federal leaders to put an end to harmful and discriminatory laws that target sex workers.