Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is warning of a “slippery slope” regarding Canada’s medical assistance in dying (MAID) laws, saying it should not be provided to people who have mental illness as their sole condition — his comments coming after people reached out to the Mississauga Food Bank seeking MAID.
“Conservatives believe that we should provide mental health care to people to improve their quality of life, help heal the psychological wounds that are afflicting them rather than giving up,” Poilievre said during a press conference Friday.
“And we’re very worried about the slippery slope that we saw.”
He noted different controversial instances regarding MAID, including where a Veterans Affairs Canada employee discussed it with at least four veterans.
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Poilievre also noted that the CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank had people coming to her facility asking about MAID.
“We have the CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank saying that she has people coming into her facility asking not for food, but for help ending their lives, not because they’re sick, but because they can’t afford to eat,” Poilievre said.
“This has been extended far beyond its original purpose. My belief is that we should try to give people lives that they believe are worth living rather than telling them to give up on life altogether. Life is a precious thing, and the government should work with people to give them a life worth living rather than telling them to give up.”
The Trudeau government announced earlier this month that it plans to renegotiate the March 17, 2023 date for MAID laws that would allow people with mental illness as their only underlying condition to seek a medically assisted death.
“We’re seeking to move that time period back,” federal Minister of Justice David Lametti said on Dec. 15 during a press conference, noting that “concerns” about the expansion have been heard from Canadians and experts.
“Many are concerned about how this will impact them and their loved ones,” he said.
Lametti noted that the legislation could be tabled as soon as the House returns.
“We know we need to get this right,” he said.
Medical assistance in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness.
In March of last year, the Senate passed a bill, known as Bill C-7, to allow more Canadians access to medical assistance in dying, including people suffering from mental illness.
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In an interview with Global News last month, the CEO of the Mississauga Food Bank said we are in the midst of an “emergency” due to the cost of living crisis and soaring food bank usage, which has led to immense psychological pressure on those most affected.
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“People who are living at the bottom income percentile in our community are talking to us now about taking their own lives because it’s too hard to be poor any longer,” Meghan Nicholls said.
In his press conference, Poilievre was also asked about rising political anger whether he is concerned that rage is being normalized.
He answered that while he didn’t like to see rage, Canadians were suffering and again pointed to the cost-of-living crisis as an example.
“I don’t like rage,” he said.
“But I think we have to ask ourselves. Why are people so angry? … And the answer is that they’re hurting. It’s easy for, you know, the political establishment to say, ‘stop all your complaining.’ But when you’re one of the 1.5 million people who went to a food bank in the month of March, it’s not so easy. If you’re one of the people who went to the Mississauga Food Bank and asked for help with medical assistance in dying, not because you’re sick, but because you can’t afford to live, it’s not so easy.”
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In an interview earlier this month, Global News showed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the clip of Nicholls discussing food bank clients seeking MAID.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Trudeau said.
“And it deepens my resolve to do everything I can to be there for people. Inflation is a global phenomenon. It’s linked to the war in Ukraine, linked to the disruption of supply chains (that) happened by the pandemic and it’s hit everyone around the world.”
Trudeau said that while inflation is hitting Canada “slightly less hard” than other places around the world, it isn’t “even a tiny bit of reassurance to any family who’s visioning a food bank for the first time, or losing hope like that. ”
“And that’s why we had to step up and we will continue to step up,” Trudeau said.
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He said the government has implemented targeted supports such as doubling the GST supports for six months, moving forward on cutting child-care fees in half this year, making dental care available for families that otherwise couldn’t afford it and giving a top-up for low-income renters.
Nicholls has also called for more government supports, particularly at the provincial level.
“We’re doing a number of things and we’ll continue to do more but we know that times are really tough for Canadians,” Trudeau said.
“And Canadians, as we saw from all the volunteers at the food banks, are trying to be there for each other and governments are working to try and be there for people and we will make it through this because we’ve been through tough times before.
“But seeing people lose hope like that is absolutely heartbreaking and it just deepens my resolve to continue to be stepping up with direct support for Canadians.”
Poilievre has pointed to high government spending as a major contributor to inflation.
“Right now, the cost of government is increasing the cost of living,” he said.
“The more they spend, the more things cost. We have to cap government spending and cut government waste in order to bring down the inflation, so that the higher interest rates are no longer necessary.”
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Trudeau was asked in the interview whether his government was considering pandemic-style supports for people struggling due to inflation.
“If we were to just pump lots of more money into the economy, the prices of everything would go up and there’d have to be even higher interest rates,” he admitted.
“So we need to make sure we’re targeting those supports…. And getting that balance right is an ongoing challenge for us that we’re going to continue to step up on.”
Trudeau said the next year will be tough with lingering inflation and recession fears, but he said everyone should stick together and the government will “continue to be investing to support people.”
“That’s how we get to the other side where some of the other things we’re doing, like securing jobs and critical minerals and renewable energy and green steel and and ensuring better immigration policies that are going to lead to more jobs,” he said .
“These kinds of things are going to lead us to a better future in the coming year or two.”
— With files from Irelyne Lavery