The Liberals have delayed expanding medical assistance in dying for mental illness until after the next election. But if Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre wins, he says he will scrap the plan altogether.
“We will revoke (an expansion) entirely,” Poilievre said at a news conference Thursday in Vancouver after the Trudeau government punted the move until 2027.
The Conservatives have repeatedly pledged to reverse an expansion, calling it “reckless” and saying it blurs the line “between suicide prevention and suicide assistance.”
“Justin Trudeau has once again pursued a radical agenda that is totally out of step with the values of Canadians,” Poilievre told reporters.
Last week, Health Minister Mark Holland and Justice Minister Arif Virani postponed the expansion for another three years, after the provinces and territories warned the federal government they’re not prepared.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must call an election by October 2025, meaning if Conservatives win then they could be in power by the 2027 deadline.
Recent Ipsos polling done exclusively for Global News found the Conservatives are still ahead, but their double-digit lead has narrowed to a single-digit one as the Liberals regain some support.
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If the party remains in power after the next election, it insists it will go ahead with the controversial expansion.
“The dispute here is not whether or not there is equivalency between physical suffering and mental suffering,” Holland said after announcing the delay. “The question is whether or not the system is ready.”
Under a Conservative government, Poilievre said MAID will continue to be available to Canadians who have “irremediable physical health conditions as it is now” but it will not be offered to people whose only condition is a mental disorder.
But cancelling the proposed changes could lead to legal challenges, since supporters of MAID say the courts have already upheld the planned expansion.
“All Canadians, regardless of where they live, who they love, what illness they have, have the same rights. And this goes for people with a mental disorder,” Nova Scotia Sen. Stan Kutcher said last Thursday, shortly before the delay was announced.
Kutcher was on a special parliamentary committee studying the issue. The majority recommended a pause, but the senator was one of the dissenting voices.
“To discriminate against a group of people in terms of their wish to be assessed for MAiD just does not follow the Charter,” he said.
The committee heard from some of Canada’s leading psychiatrists, including the chief of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s psychiatry department and University of Toronto professor Sonu Gaind.
He warned there are not enough protections in place to widen eligibility.
“There remain no meaningful safeguards to prevent vulnerable and marginalized individuals, who could get better, from getting MAiD during periods of despair and suicidality fueled by mental illness,” Gaind wrote in a briefing submitted to the committee last November.
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