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Lewis to fight Liberal plan to axe charity status for anti-abortion pregnancy centres

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OTTAWA — Leslyn Lewis, in one of her first acts as an MP on Parliament Hill, says she plans on inviting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a pregnancy centre that risks losing its charity status over opposing abortion.

The newly elected Ontario representative revealed her plans to a recent crowd of demonstrators who gathered in Ottawa to rally against the Liberal government’s promise to remove charity status for anti-abortion organizations.

During the election campaign, Trudeau ran on a platform pledge to no longer provide this status for organizations that provide “dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

It listed crisis pregnancy centres as an example, which proponents of access to abortion services say offer incorrect information about the procedure.

“We know that regardless of the fact that they may distribute some diapers, they have impacts on people’s access to health care, and they have public health impacts in terms of delayed access to care,” said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said of crisis pregnancy centres.

In a statement, Lewis, a former Conservative leadership contender who was heavily backed by the party’s social conservative members, said Trudeau ran on a plan that required “adherence (to) the Liberal Party of Canada’s illiberal values test,” as she touted pregnancy centres for offering supports to women.

“Too often, women find themselves in a position where they feel that the circumstances of life are pushing them to make a decision they don’t want to make,” she said.

“As a member of Parliament, I will be opposing the proposed illiberal, anti-women policy that would seek to strip charitable status from organizations … that don’t pass Justin Trudeau’s values test,” Lewis said her statement.

In a statement, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, repeated the wording of the Liberals’ platform pledge, adding only that “more information will be available in due course.”

In an interview, charity tax lawyer Adam Aptowitzer warned moving on the promise would be a politically loaded process that could open the country up to a debate about what counts as “charitable” in Canada.

“They surely do not want to get into that discussion because that is really fraught with difficulty,” he said.

Campaign Life Coalition, a national organization opposed to abortion, has nonetheless been mobilizing against the promise. On Wednesday, it presented petitions to Lewis, as well as other MPs that hail from the federal Tories’ social conservative ranks.

One of those was Alberta MP Arnold Viersen, who appeared alongside Lewis at that day’s Parliament Hill demonstration. He told the crowd they would fight the move “tooth and nail in the House of Commons.”

How much Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole plans to back that battle, however, remains unclear.

Asked about the Liberal pledge on Thursday, O’Toole repeated he supports reproductive rights, and that he doesn’t believe in politicizing health issues.

“If anyone is at crisis, for any reason, whether it’s addiction, homelessness, an issue related to choice for a woman, we need to bring people together, not divide them. And that’s what Conservatives will try and do.”

Several years ago, the Conservatives mounted a vocal opposition to the Liberal government’s requirement that applicants to its summer-jobs program needed to pledge support for abortion access to qualify for funding.

Last month, a Federal Court judge dismissed a legal challenge against that rule, which came from Toronto Right to Life.

The social conservative grassroots of the Conservative party have been some of the fiercest critics of O’Toole because they say he backed down from promises he made to them when he was running for the leadership last year, where he directly appealed to supporters of Lewis.

Despite what was viewed as an impressive showing during the race, Lewis was left on the backbenches when O’Toole named his picks for critics earlier in the month.

O’Toole says as Conservative leader, he’s a supporter of reproductive rights.

Most of his caucus voted in favour of a private member’s bill from Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall in June that proposed to ban physicians from performing what is known as sex-selective abortion.

The bill was defeated easily after Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs characterized it as a Trojan horse to erode reproductive rights.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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CP NewsAlert: L’Arche says co-founder Jean Vanier sexually abused 25 women

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MONTREAL — A report commissioned by a non-profit organization founded by the late Jean Vanier says the Canadian sexually abused 25 women during his decades with the group.

L’Arche International says the investigation identified 25 women who experienced a sexual act or an intimate gesture from Vanier between 1952 and 2019.

It says the relationships between Vanier, who died in 2019, and the women are “part of a continuum of confusion, control and abuse.”

Vanier, son of former Governor General Georges Vanier, worked as a Canadian navy officer and professor before turning to Catholic-inspired charity work.

He founded L’Arche in 1964 as an alternative living environment where those with developmental disabilities could be full-fledged participants in the community instead of patients.

More coming.

The Canadian Press

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Federal departments failed to spend $38B on promised programs, services last year

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The federal government failed to spend tens of billions of dollars in the last fiscal year on promised programs and services, including new military equipment, affordable housing and support for veterans.

Federal departments are blaming a variety of factors for letting a record total of $38 billion in funding lapse in 2021-22, including delays and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

They also say much of the money remains available for future years.

The unspent funds also played a big part in the Liberal government posting a smaller-than-expected deficit in the year ending March 31, 2022.

Canada rang up a $90.2 billion deficit — $23.6 billion less than had been projected in the budget.

The unprecedented amount of lapsed funding, much of which has been returned to the federal treasury, has one observer suggesting it is a sign of long-standing challenges delivering on big federal projects for the country.

The amount of lapsed funds across government is spelled out in the most recent iteration of the public accounts, a report on federal revenues and spending by every department and agency tabled in the House of Commons every year.

The $38.2 billion that was reported as lapsed in the last fiscal year marks a new record over the previous year, which was $32.2 billion. That was a dramatic increase over the previous record of $14 billion in 2019-20.

That compares to around $10 billion about a decade ago, when Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was accused by political opponents and experts alike of using large lapses to make cuts by stealth.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada reported the largest lapses of all departments and agencies, with nearly $11.2 billion of their combined $28.2 billion budgets going unspent.

Much of that had been set aside for COVID-19 initiatives that were not needed, said Health Canada spokeswoman Tammy Jarbeau. Those include vaccines, personal protective equipment and rapid tests.

“Both Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have rigorous internal financial management controls designed to prevent, detect and minimize errors and financial losses, and ensure the funding is spent in the best interests of Canadians,” she wrote in an email.

The pandemic figured in the responses and explanations from many other departments and agencies, with many blaming COVID-19 for delays.

One of them was the Defence Department, which reported a lapse of $2.5 billion in the last fiscal year. Much of the money wasn’t spent due to delays in the delivery of new military equipment such as Arctic patrol vessels and upgrades to the Army’s armoured vehicles.

There were also delays on major infrastructure projects for the military, according to Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande. Those include upgrading and rebuilding two jetties for the Navy in Esquimalt, B.C., and a new armoury in New Brunswick.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on many of our business lines,” Lamirande said.

“The impacts of the pandemic on supply chain and industry capacity are causing manufacturing backlogs and delays.”

Lamirande added most of the unspent funds are expected to be available in future years through a process called reprofiling, in which schedules are revised to reflect planned spending in future years due to those delays.

Former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page said the government’s handling of lapsed funding now is “a little more relaxed” than in previous years, when unspent funds were not reprofiled and even used to justify budget cuts in Ottawa.

But defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the Defence Department’s lapse, which has been steadily growing in recent years, is a symptom of Ottawa’s continued difficulties purchasing new military equipment.

“If we’re not getting those procurement projects through, we’re not getting new equipment into the inventory, so we don’t actually have the gear for our troops,” he said, noting many of the delayed projects were launched under the Harper government.

Perry also noted the current rate of inflation, which is already naturally higher for military equipment and the defence sector than most other parts of the economy. Not spending money now means Canada will have to pay more for the same gear and services later, he said.

The Infrastructure Department, the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. and the Fisheries Department, which includes the Canadian Coast Guard, also reported delays with different capital projects, including on affordable housing and broadband internet.

“Due to the unprecedented circumstances over the last few years such as the COVID-19 pandemic, disbursing funds to proponents for many projects are expected to and will take longer,” CMHC spokeswoman Claudie Chabot said in an email.

Perry suggested a bigger problem.

“The government of Canada’s ability to actually deliver services to the public, especially when it comes to large projects, large capital projects, be it for equipment or infrastructure or IT projects, is struggling across the board,” he said.

Other federal entities with large lapses included Indigenous Services Canada, which failed to spend $3.4 billion, and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada, which reported a lapse of $2.2 billion.

Spokesman Vincent Gauthier attributed much of the latter lapse to “the timing and progress of negotiations for specific claims and childhood litigations,” adding that funds will available “in some instances” in future years.

Gauthier did not say why Indigenous Services, which is responsible for delivering federal services to First Nations, Inuit and Métis, failed to spend billions of dollars. He did say most of the money had been reprofiled “so that it will be available when recipients need it.”

Veterans Affairs Canada also reported a nearly $1 billion lapse last year, which the department blamed on fewer ill and injured ex-soldiers applying for assistance than expected.

However, critics have described earlier lapsed funding as evidence of the challenges many veterans face in accessing benefits and services. In 2014, the Royal Canadian Legion demanded the Harper government explain why $1.1 billion went unspent over seven years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 30, 2023.

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