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How secularism became Quebec’s Achilles heel

By: Jennifer Peers

Now that the dust has settled from the 2019 federal election, it’s time the government challenges Quebec’s controversial Bill 21 as a violation of in the courts. To anyone familiar with Canadian history, a consistent theme has been Quebec versus the rest of Canada. Except this time, Quebec is taking on the role of Goliath rather than David, and the province is fighting marginalized groups in the name of secularism.

Bill 21 was introduced June 16th, 2019 by Quebec’s provincial government. The bill bans public sector employees from wearing religious symbols such as the hijab, turban, and the kippah. The need for federal intervention became evident by a decision made in the Quebec Court of Appeal on December 12th. In a challenge to Bill 21 before the Court of Appeal, all three judges agreed that the bill caused “irreparable harm” to affected public sector employees. Yet, two of the judges said despite their hands were tied due to Quebec’s application of the notwithstanding clause to the bill, meaning even though the bill is discriminatory it remains in force.

The notwithstanding clause allows Quebec’s government to violate certain charter rights of the public sector employees, including section 2(a) freedom of religion. If Canada wants to continue to be known as a model of multiculturalism, the federal government needs to risk animosity with Quebec. Bill 21 violates legislation that was created and entrenched in Canada’s constitution with the Canadian value of multiculturalism in mind. If the federal government will not defend its core values what will it defend?

The Coalition Avenir Quebec believes that Bill 21 is the piece de resistance to preserve secularism. Instead, it gives the perception of a culture intolerant of differences. Cities across Canada have come out against the policy, joined by religious communities and civil liberties organizations. This preoccupation with secularism has cost the province, talented public servants, by forcing them to choose between their faith or a job.

In a show of western paternalism, the provincial government has promoted a narrative around Bill 21 that claims they are returning autonomy to women who are required by their faith to wear hijabs. Bill 21 does not return autonomy it takes away autonomy from groups who are already marginalized in a society that privileges whiteness and being male.

It is not often that legislation violates not one but two charter rights. Bill 21 has the distinction of violating section 2A religious freedom and section 15 freedom from discrimination. These ends do not justify the means.

Minorities’ rights should not be sacrificed for a value that is not reflective of the modern world. Secularism is at odds with a world subjected to the forces of globalization; with growing diasporas bringing their own values, ideas and religions. Quebec cannot continue to resist the

change in culture that occurs when new waves of immigrants settle in their province. Immigrants bring important skills, ideas and economic investment that Quebec would not be as successful without.

As long as Quebec continues to promote intolerant secularism, it will be perceived as xenophobic. If Quebec is going to work effectively with other regions and governments, it will need to recognize that policy approaches like Bill 21 will only alienate the province further from the rest of the country. Other regions in Canada, such as Alberta, have long been resentful of the special status of Quebec. Bill 21 is material for regions like Alberta to point to when arguing that Quebec is given special privileges when it comes to creating laws. Bill 21 not only creates tensions regionally, but it puts the Quebec government up against the Canadian government. In imposing the notwithstanding clause, it is evident the Quebec government expected the bill to be challenged in court.

It is the job of the federal government to protect the rights enshrined in the charter which Bill 21 violates. Bill 21 forces the federal government to decide between maintaining good relations with Quebec or protecting the rights of minority Canadians. In creating this dilemma for the federal government, it encourages divisions between two governments that need to collaborate to serve the people of Quebec.

Quebec’s Bill 21 is evidence of the province’s commitment to secularism. While secularism may be a value important to Quebec, it should not come at the cost of marginalized people’s rights. As Canada continues to welcome immigrants to the country, Quebec will need to learn how to accommodate newcomers while maintaining its culture.

Carbon Tax is Not Enough – the Rich Can (and Will) Keep Polluting

By: Lindsay Mewhiney

To fight climate change, the Canadian Liberal Government has imposed a carbon tax – a tax of $20 per tonne of carbon emitted, that is set to rise to $50 per tonne by 2022. But this measure is not an effective solution. The major polluters in Canada are big corporations – aka, the rich.

Why the carbon tax isn’t effective

If corporations have the financial resources to pay the carbon tax in order to continue polluting, they will. The carbon tax is intended to serve as a deterrent for producing carbon emissions, but the current carbon tax rate simply isn’t high enough to deter large corporations. United Nations economists have suggested that a carbon tax must be set to a rate of at least $135 per tonne to be a meaningful deterrent to corporation pollution.

Another major issue with the carbon tax program is that industries facing intense trade competition, such as steel and chemical industries, are exempt from the carbon tax program. These industries have been placed under an alternate plan known as the Output-Based Pricing System (OBPS). OBPS limits these big polluters to producing only 80-95% of their industry’s standard emissions level, but the only real consequence for exceeding this 80-95% threshold is a fine – a fine many polluters are content to pay rather than investing in the research and development to create more efficient technologies.

What is the better solution?

An alternative that Canada could employ to achieve more successful results in fighting climate change is the cap-and-trade method. Cap-and-trade establishes an overall maximum industry emissions level, and corporations are allocated a specific number of emissions permits. Corporations can sell their unused permits to other corporations looking to purchase them. This ability to sell unused permits is a vital aspect that makes cap-and-trade a superior solution, as it encourages the innovation of more efficient technologies by financial rewarding corporations for reducing their emissions levels to the point of having excess permits.

The technological innovation that cap-and-trade encourages will have continue to have an effect on reducing climate change once these innovative measures are implemented – even if the general public loses interest in the issue of climate change, these technological advances will still be in place and will continue to have a lesser impact on climate change than their predecessors.

Does cap-and-trade really work?

In theory, cap-and-trade sounds great. But in practice, will it really have any more of an impact than carbon tax? The answer is yes.

Australia enacted cap-and-trade in 2012 and saw an almost immediate decrease in carbon emissions across the country. However, after facing significant backlash from industry groups, cap-and-trade was repealed and replaced with a carbon tax program in 2013. This carbon tax program has been in place ever since, and as a result, Australia is now projected to miss its goals for cutting carbon emissions.

Within just one year of implementing cap-and-trade, Australia saw a considerable decrease in the country’s overall carbon emissions, and the evidence clearly shows that once cap-and-trade was revoked and a carbon tax program was reinstated, emissions skyrocketed to a level that is now expected to exceed the country’s emissions goal .

Cap-and-trade places a clearly defined limit on overall carbon emissions, whereas under carbon tax programs, there is virtually no limit on the level of emissions that polluters can produce so long as they are willing to pay the price. Carbon tax has not proven to be an effective measure to combat some of the most significant polluters, who also happen to be some of the richest polluters.

Cap-and-trade does not favour the wealthy in the way that carbon tax does. The regulations of cap-and-trade programs make it very clear that wealth will not serve as an exemption from complying with climate change measures, just as wealth will not provide exemption from the detrimental effects that climate change will have on the earth

It’s time for Universal Pharmacare in Canada

By: Sarah Jefferies

We’re depriving Canadians of their Basic Human Right

Canada is the only developed country with Universal Healthcare without Universal Pharmacare. We don’t pay out of pocket for our hospital and doctor visits, so why should we be paying for prescription medications to manage our chronic illnesses, pain management, and improve our overall quality of life?

It’s time Canada should be providing universal access to prescription medication like we do universal health care. Canadians spent roughly $34 billion on prescription drugs in 2018. Competing pharmaceutical companies in Canada are forcing consumers to pay 20-40% more on medication than any other developed country with universal healthcare.

Universal Pharmacare Coverage

The only way for Canada to truly provide its citizens with the access they deserve is to adopt a public coverage plan. Paving the way to a universal drug plan begins with public coverage of essential medicines. This coverage is based on the World Health Organizations CLEAN Meds list. These are 125 most common medications that are deemed to be essential.

The end goal of Universal Pharmacare is comprehensive coverage in Canada. This is the coverage of a comprehensive formulary of hundreds of medications. Citizens will only pay the copayment, around $2-5. This program has been successful in other countries such as New Zealand, Australia, and United Kingdom.

Benefits to Canadians

There are many benefits to adapting universal coverage. It improves the value for our money.Public drug plans are more cost effective because of a single payer system, supplying generic drugs. This provides a huge incentive to drive down drug prices.

Universal coverage can also provide a better relationship with healthcare professionals and their clients by removing the cost barrier for citizens and prescribing universally covered drugs. According to the 2016 Canadian Community Health Survey, 8% Canadians reported to have skipped or stretched out their medication as a result of cost. Canadian seniors and people on social assistance are impacted the most and has been reported that their health had worsened as a result of skipping medication due to cost.

What could this mean for Canadians?

This is a huge breakthrough for the Canadian government, providing equal access to medication without discrimination. Once implemented, this program can save Canada up to $10 billion yearly and alleviate the cost barrier for many medications. All citizens deserve to have equal treatment and access to the medications they need to have the quality of life that every Canadian deserves.

How do we get there?

The federal government can set provinces and territories up for success by providing the appropriate subsidies to have a successful transition plan.

An 8-year plan can provide realistic guidelines to negotiate new legislation for National Pharmacare by 2027. The Federal government would work with each province/territory to negotiate a funding plan suitable for their needs. Transition support would include subsidies to support IT changes and ensure that national pharmacare standards are uniform across all provinces and territories.

Lastly, the government would provide funding to help adapt and change company business models. This would include changing private insurance coverage to covering copayments and insuring rare or drugs not on the national formulary.

There’s no better time

Canadian government must take action now and provide the universal coverage we deserve to ensure all citizens live a healthy life without the barrier of cost for medication. If our government doesn’t take action, the discrimination will continue, and cost will continue to be an issue for those who rely on medication.

The quality of life of Canadian citizens should be the forefront of the government’s priorities. By adapting a new legislation to adapt a Universal Pharmacare program, we are working in the right direction to equality for all.

With a new minority government in place, it is possible that the Liberal government can push towards universal pharmacare. Trudeau government made a promise to implement a down payment on pharmacare over the next four years. It’s time for our government to come to an agreement, work together, and advocate for a healthier society.