Federal Ministers’ Mandate Letters Indicate Government Priorities
After each federal election, the Prime Minister’s office releases Mandate Letters for each of the cabinet ministers. These letters explain the Prime Minister’s expectations for each member of his cabinet and lay out challenges and commitments that come with their role. At the same time, these letters are made publicly available so that Canadians can understand some of the priorities that the federal government will focus on over the next few years.
The ministers’ mandate letters were released on December 16, 2021. The basic template of each letter focuses on recovery from COVID-19, climate change, the rights of Indigenous Peoples, systemic inequity of minority groups within Canada, and general expectations for ministers. Many of the objectives and commitments in the letters are similar to what the government had promised prior to the election, so there are no major surprises. However, specific commitments are worth noting as we keep an eye on how they develop over the coming years.
In line with the Liberals’ election promise regarding charitable status for certain organizations, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance has been tasked with the following: “Introduce amendments to the Income Tax Act to make anti-abortion organizations that provide dishonest counselling to pregnant women about their rights and options ineligible for charitable status.” It’s unclear how exactly the government would remove charitable status from pro-life organizations or how far that would extend. However, the possibility is very concerning, and ultimately the government needs to recognize the value and importance of organizations like pregnancy care centres.
Before the summer break in 2021, the government had introduced both Bill C-10 and Bill C-36, which focused on hate speech and regulating online content. Although those bills died when the election was called, the Liberals are once again focused on regulating and limiting freedom of expression both online and in public. The Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion was given the following task: “As part of a renewed Anti-Racism Strategy, lead work across government to develop a National Action Plan on Combatting Hate, including actions on combatting hate crimes in Canada, training and tools for public safety agencies, and investments to support digital literacy, to prevent radicalization to violence and to protect vulnerable communities.”
In addition, the Minister of Justice will “continue efforts with the Minister of Canadian Heritage to develop and introduce legislation as soon as possible to combat serious forms of harmful online content to protect Canadians and hold social media platforms and other online services accountable for the content they host, including by strengthening the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to more effectively combat online hate and reintroduce measures to strengthen hate speech provisions, including the re-enactment of the former Section 13 provision.” This seems to be a replication of what was previously Bill C-36. However, there is a possibility that this legislation will include positive components around combatting online pornography as well as more negative limits on freedom of expression. ARPA Canada’s analysis of last year’s Bill C-36 can be found here.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage is expected to “reintroduce legislation to reform the Broadcasting Act to ensure foreign web giants contribute to the creation and promotion of Canadian stories and music.” The previous version of this legislation, Bill C-10, also included the possibility of regulating social certain private social media content that was determined to be a ‘broadcast.’ Further information around Bill C-10 can be found here.
We will be keeping watch to see what exactly is included in this type of legislation if and when it is introduced.
The government often speaks of ‘sexual and reproductive health’ to refer to abortion access. The recent mandates encompass that, and also specifically include issues such as in vitro fertilization and surrogacy. The Minister of Health is mandated to: “work to ensure that all Canadians have access to the sexual and reproductive health services they need, no matter where they live, by reinforcing compliance under the Canada Health Act, developing a sexual and reproductive health rights information portal, supporting the establishment of mechanisms to help families cover the costs of in vitro fertilization, and supporting youth-led grassroots organizations that respond to the unique sexual and reproductive health needs of young people.”
The Minister of Finance and the Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth are tasked with “expand[ing] the Medical Expense Tax Credit to include costs reimbursed to surrogate mothers for IVF expenses.”
One issue here is the clear plan to continue pressuring the province of New Brunswick to fund abortions in private clinics, something they are the only province not to do. More on that topic can be found here.
The focus on in vitro fertilization and surrogacy raises questions and concerns about how far these procedures might become commercialized in Canada. For further information on these issues, you can read ARPA Canada’s policy reports on both in vitro fertilization and surrogacy.
Gender and Sexuality
Regarding issues of gender and sexuality, the mandate letters only speak in broad terms, especially since Bill C-4, which banned so-called ‘conversion therapy’ was passed before the mandate letters were released. There is a lot of language around efforts to promote equality and remove discrimination for minority groups both in Canada and around the world.
The Minister of Justice is told to: “Build on the passage of Bill C-4, which criminalized conversion therapy, [and] continue to ensure that Canadian justice policy protects the dignity and equality of LGBTQ2 Canadians.”
The Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth is directed to “launch the Federal LGBTQ2 Action Plan and provide capacity funding to Canadian LGBTQ2 service organizations” and “continue the work of the LGBTQ2 Secretariat in promoting LGBTQ2 equality at home and abroad, protecting LGBTQ2 rights and addressing discrimination against LGBTQ2 communities, building on the passage of Bill C-4, which criminalized conversion therapy.”
It is hard to say what ‘building on the passage of Bill C-4’ looks like exactly because specifics are not provided. However, Bill C-4 is concerning on multiple levels, and building on it will likely follow in a similar vein. Further information on Bill C-4 can be found here.
Child care continues to be an issue the federal government is pushing. The Minister of Families, Children and Social Development is tasked with concluding negotiations with provinces that have not yet signed an agreement with the federal government (Ontario and New Brunswick), and ensuring that $10-a-day child care is available throughout Canada. They also plan to “introduc[e] federal child care legislation to strengthen and protect a high-quality Canada-wide child care system.” You can read more about a Christian perspective on universal child care here.
The Minister of Mental Health and Addictions is tasked with advancing “a comprehensive strategy to address problematic substance use in Canada, supporting efforts to improve public education to reduce stigma, and supporting provinces and territories and working with Indigenous communities to provide access to a full range of evidence-based treatment and harm reduction, as well as to create standards for substance use treatment programs.”
This is not a new issue but there seems to be a new emphasis on it. Bill C-5, a reiteration of Bill C-22 from the previous Parliament, seeks to move increasingly towards treating substance abuse as a health issue instead of a criminal issue.
The issues presented here are priorities of the federal government, and they also raise various questions and concerns about what changes to legislation and regulations on these topics will look like. Stay tuned for further resources and action items as we see how these issues develop over the next few years.