As we wrap up the 44th federal election, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is excited to move ahead on our important work to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Canada and globally. This work is more important than ever as we continue to navigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through this election, we passionately advocated for SRHR issues to party leaders, candidates, and voters. We saw our messages shared and discussed by media, parties, and prospective Members of Parliament – many of whom are now in a position to make good on their campaign commitments. Below, we’ve shared a summary of the various commitments and campaign promises, we heard throughout Election 2021.
Now, it’s up to all of us to hold our government to these commitments and work together to make sure everyone has equal access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health information and services in Canada and around the world. We look forward to working with all members of Parliament and the Government to make this a reality.
Thank you for your support throughout the election campaign. Let’s keep building momentum and make sure SRHR is always on the agenda!
The Parliament we got: a minority Liberal government
As of September 27, the Liberals elected the most MPs of all the parties, 159 MPs out of a total 338 seats, meaning that it can form a minority government. The Conservatives elected 119 MPs, the Bloc Quebecois 33 MPs, the NDP 25 MPs, and the Green Party 2 MPs.The results mark the fifth time in the last seven federal elections that Canada has elected a minority government.
There is lots on the plate of our next elected government, including navigating the fourth wave of the pandemic and spearheading recovery work. Activists, advocates, and those on the frontline of sexual health and rights must continue to hold Parliamentarians accountable to their election promises so our sexual and reproductive rights don’t take a backseat. In times of crises, those needs don’t disappear, if anything, they get more urgent. Upholding human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights must be a central part of the path to recovery.
What they promised and what we need: For a fulsome look at what we found in each platform, survey answers and interviews, click here.
This election, abortion access made it into the limelight again. It is not surprising considering how many people in Canada nervously look on as abortion rights are rolled back in the United States. A CBC poll released during the election period confirms that vast majority of Canadians are pro-choice and, across all major parties, overwhelmingly support the expansion of abortion access across the country.
We certainly count as progress the fact that the conversation wasn’t focused on who would or wouldn’t “re-open the abortion debate” but instead, included more substantive commitments to address barriers to abortion.
Just like during the elections of 2019, the crisis continues in New Brunswick with the provincial Government refusing to pay for abortions outside of hospital settings despite being in violation of the Canada Health Act and the only clinic offering abortion being virtually closed. The conversation about New Brunswick continues to bring attention to the very real problem facing thousands in Canada: a lack of access to abortion.
The Liberal party promised to dedicate resources to counter abortion disinformation and to deny charitable status to organizations actively seeking to limit reproductive rights. They also proposed to look at the Canada Health Act to clarify the need for provinces to ensure abortion is accessible. The NDP promised to strongly enforce the Canada Health Act, which already sets the national standards for health care systems.
The Canada Health Act and federal jurisdiction was a hot topic of conversation. When asked if a Conservative Government would intervene if a province adopted restrictions to abortion services, such as what we see in New Brunswick, party leader Erin O'Toole’s answer mentioned the role of the Federal Government when it comes to the accessibility of services while also communicating his strong inclination for respecting provincial jurisdiction.
Who has jurisdiction over health care in Canada? Lots of people had questions.
The Provincial and Territorial Governments are responsible for the management, organization, and delivery of health care services for their residents. The Federal Government is responsible for: setting and administering national standards for the health care system through the Canada Health Act. One of those standards is accessibility. Abortion is a common and essential medical procedure that one in three people who can get pregnant will access in their lifetime. That said, it is not treated as such and is certainly not accessible equally across the country. This is an area of federal jurisdiction: if provinces restrict access to a medical service, there is grounds for intervention and the Canada Health Act can be enforced. States also have the legal obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, including the right to reproductive health, and to ensure that people can realize their rights without discrimination. Read more on why human rights matter.
While all party leaders declared themselves pro-choice, we secured commitments from three of the five political parties (the Liberal Party, NDP, and Green Party) to act on abortion access. All three party leaders committed to take urgent steps to intervene.
Now is the time to keep the pressure on and make sure all parties commit to their election promises to address persistent barriers to abortion care in ways that secure access to care for all and into the future.
Advancing SRHR globally
Advocating for the advancement of SRHR in Canada’s foreign policy and international assistance, as well as at the UN Human RIghts Council, is one of Action Canada’s priorities.
In our 2021 election briefs, we called on parties and candidates to take global leadership by responding to the devastating impact of COVID-19 on SRHR, including addressing inequitable vaccine distribution, committing to developing a global sexual and reproductive rights policy to ensure coherence and sustainability of Canada’s commitments in this area, and at a bare minimum, meeting the longstanding target of 0.7% of GNI to ODA.
Unfortunately, the conversation about Canada’s role in the world during the election was almost non-existent despite concurrent global crises, including the fall of Afghanistan, COVID-19 and its discriminatory impacts, climate catastrophes, direct attacks on international human rights accountability systems, and retrogression of women’s rights across the world.
The list is long and gets longer each day because each crisis is compounded by the failures to address the root problems of the one before it.
It is disappointing that none of the parties took the opportunity to showcase their vision for Canada’s foreign policy and international assistance despite a majority of Canadians expressing support for international assistance (and particularly in regards to gender inequality and women’s health) and adopting a principled and pragmatic approach to foreign policy that crosses party lines.
Nevertheless, each party’s platform provides insight into their perspective and positioning that is important to consider as the new Parliament begins its work.
The Liberals concentrated on their track record of advancing SRHR, including through the Feminist International Assistance Policy and commitment of $1.4 billion over the next ten years on women’s and children’s health. They also committed to doubling funding to grassroots women’s rights organizations, continuing their investment in SRHR, and increasing ODA every year towards 2030 to realize the SDGs.
The Conservative approach was reminiscent of the foreign policy adopted under the former Conservative Government under Stephen Harper with security, militarization, and economic interest underpinning its approach. During the Conservative leadership race in early 2021, Erin O’Toole supported Harper’s policy of prohibiting international assistance from funding abortions; however, there was no mention of this in the party’s platform and in fact, there was no mention of global health at all. They did commit not to cut the ODA budget but this was undermined by an emphasis on reforming the aid budget, including through expanding engagement with the private sector. The Conservatives also singled out their support for LGBTQ activists abroad; however, these references were in isolation from a broader context in which such support could be provided. Finally, we welcome the Conservatives' pledge to reform the Direction and Control regulations on international assistance, which hinders Canadian organizations from developing equitable partnerships and are keen to continue these discussions.
The NDP focused their international assistance promises on reaching the UN target of 0.7% of GNI dedicated to ODA and stepping up efforts to promote gender equality and women’s rights abroad.
The Green Party used a climate lens to inform their platform on foreign policy, which included a COVID-19 recovery plan that ensured women’s and girls’ autonomy over their sexual and reproductive rights.
Overall, while the public discourse on Canada’s global leadership was minimal, we were pleased to see sexual and reproductive rights and gender equality on most parties’ agendas. Now that the election is over, we will be holding the new Government accountable to its promises and will work with all parties to uphold and advance SRHR globally.
We need a pharmacare plan that is universal, comprehensive, and single-payer—the best way to make coverage available to all people.
For better sexual health for all, we asked parties to ensure access to medications and devices that are key to sexual and reproductive health and wellness—including vaccines to prevent STIs, antiretroviral medication to prevent or treat HIV infections, medication to treat infertility, and contraceptives to control fertility.
The NDP promised a full range of easily accessible prescription contraceptive and reproductive health care options at no cost through Medicare and our national pharmacare program, and to work with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous governments to end period poverty.
The Green Party similarly committed to support SRHR under pharmacare, with a plan to create a contraceptive care stopgap in the interim.
The Liberals committed to continue to develop a universal national pharmacare policy that expands drug coverage and reduces the costs of prescription drugs for all Canadians, including for sexual and reproductive health medications in willing provinces and territories. They also committed to establishing a Canadian Drug Agency to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Canada’s drug plans, as well as developing a national formulary—a comprehensive, evidence-based list of prescription drugs, including contraceptives.
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 with the exception of the Green Party, there was no mention of sex-ed during this election.
The Green Party committed to expand programs in reproductive health, rights, and in sexual and reproductive health education. The Liberal Party recognized the importance and need for comprehensive sexuality education in their response to our questionnaire, but without any clear plans.
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.
In 2019, 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 work 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 and the upcoming launch of a national sexual health survey as well as funding for youth-led organizations. 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
Over five years after sex work was recriminalized with the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), sex workers and their allies are still waiting for action and the repeal of the PCEPA. In the meantime, they continue to experience serious harm, human rights violations, and discrimination as a direct result of the Act.
Sex work did not come up on the campaign trail this time despite the fact that sex workers were particularly impacted by the pandemic and marginalized from financial supports. The Green Party committed to reform the current legislation with a focus on harm reduction by making the industry legal and public. Both the NDP and the Liberals supported the commencement of the five-year Parliamentary review of the former Bill C-36. The Conservatives did not mention the PCEPA but proposed a “law and order” approach, suggesting to amend the Criminal Code by adding procuring offences to the list of designated offences that may be subject to the forfeiture of proceeds of crime; strengthening human trafficking laws, including by removing the requirement to prove that a trafficker exercised fear or intimidation over a victim and; implementing legislation to ensure human traffickers serve consecutive sentences for multiple human trafficking offences.
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.
Advancing SRHR in Canada and globally: the way forward
While Action Canada tracked specific election issues, we paid close attention to the picture of the future each party painted for us.
Action Canada models its work and bases its analysis on the principles of reproductive justice, which is centered on the rights to bodily autonomy and self-determination, and to parent and not to parent in safe and healthy environments. This means moving beyond the concept of individual “choice” to instead, look at the conditions necessary to our rights and freedoms being upheld. We can only really have meaningful choices when we are able to enjoy our right to our own bodies and that is often dictated by the conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age, and then, what resources are available to us. Social determinants of health include access to housing, safe drinking water, effective sanitation systems, access to justice, and freedom from violence, among other factors, and impact the agency that individuals can exercise with respect to their sexual and reproductive health. [Information from the SRI 2019 HRC Statement on International Safe Abortion Day]
The way forward demands that we pay attention to the whole picture, not just the number of abortion clinics in the country.It demands that feminist and human rights organizations and movements are sustainably funded to ensure we continue to build our futures together, empowered, and loud, leading the way to our own liberation. It demands that we uphold the human rights of all people, not just some.