Conservative leadership candidates offer ideas that carry political baggage

OTTAWA — Two thorny ideas have been injected into the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race: ending supply management and supporting more private health care options.

OTTAWA — Two thorny ideas have been injected into the Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race: ending supply management and supporting more private health care options.

The ideas were put forward this week by individual candidates and carry baggage from past races – although some conservatives hail the policies, saying they fit in with the small government and free enterprise thinking the party promotes.

Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest has pledged to reform the country’s public health care system to end the practice of lockdowns to stem the spread of COVID-19.

He promised to reorganize health care through a series of measures, including allowing “private providers to foster innovation”.

Charest’s plan also included a commitment to “untie the provinces” by allowing each to determine “the right model of health care delivery that suits them.”

Just seven months earlier, former leader Erin O’Toole had been attacked by the Liberals for suggesting the same thing during the federal election.

He found himself on the defensive after Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland released a video clip of her 2020 leadership bid.

The clip showed O’Toole answering “yes” when asked if he supports “the provision of private, for-profit and not-for-profit healthcare options within the universal healthcare system.” Twitter called Freeland’s post “manipulated media” because the video was not released in its entirety.

Liberals have accused O’Toole of wanting to promote a private, for-profit, two-tier health care model. He denied the charge, instead pledging his full support for the public system while touting the possibilities for greater “innovation” in the private sector.

He said he approves of provinces applying their own ideas to improve health care delivery, such as Saskatchewan’s use of private MRIs to combat wait times.

The wish to abolish supply management came from rural Ontario MP Scott Aitchison. He suggested it would lower the prices of farm produce at a time when families are seeing their grocery bills rise due to high inflation.

The MP is still working to raise the $300,000 fee required to officially enter the race.

The end of supply management was touted as a campaign promise by Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative leadership favorite who was defeated by Andrew Scheer in 2017.

Bernier’s campaign against the supply management system prompted many farmers in his home province of Quebec to sign up for memberships to vote against him in the Conservative race. After losing the contest, he founded the People’s Party of Canada.

Scheer defended the system of setting quotas on products like milk and eggs and high tariffs on imports. He gave a nod to that fight when he took a sip from a carton of milk during a dinner in the press gallery after winning the Tory leadership.

Aitchison said industry lobbyists have fought to maintain the status quo.

“But it’s a system that makes life more expensive and it’s not good for the farmers either. They have the opportunity to market their products to the world if we let them,” he said. in an interview this week.

He acknowledged that dismantling the decades-old scheme would come with the unknown cost of having to compensate farmers for their quotas.

So far, Aitchison appears alone in his speech when the two candidates fighting for Quebec do not join the cause.

Pierre Poilievre, whose campaign is rooted in the theme of giving individuals more freedom from government powers, said he does not plan to change the system.

In an article published last month by The Western Standard, Poilievre said he believed it would cost more to buy farmers over their quota than to keep the existing program going.

A spokeswoman for Charest’s campaign also said the former Quebec premier would support and defend supply management.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 22, 2022.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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