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Private health care possibility won't stop PM's notwithstanding plan

[PoliticsWatch Updated 4:10 p.m. January 11, 2006]

Prime Minister Paul Martin. 

OTTAWA  — Prime Minister Paul Martin said Wednesday that he will go ahead with a plan to eliminate the notwithstanding clause even if it means he could not overturn a court ruling that would order a parallel private health care system. 

Martin made the comment shortly after unveiling his party's election platform in Toronto. 

The PM surprised everyone on Monday when during the English-language leaders' debate he dropped the bomb that he would eliminate the controversial override provision in the Constitution that allows governments to ignore court rulings for a five-year period. 

Most political commentators believe Martin is making the promise in an effort to drive a wedge between the Liberals and Conservatives.

However, Martin faced tough questions from reporters on Wednesday, including one who questioned his "sincerity" in introducing the plan. 

Another reporter asked Martin what he would do if he did not have the notwithstanding clause and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of a parallel private health care system. 

"If the notwithstanding clause does not exist then the decision of the Supreme Court and its interpretation of the Charter is the one that will stand," Martin said. 

"I can't be much clearer than that. If I don't have the power it will be the decision of the Supreme Court."  

Martin said he thinks it is necessary to remove the clause to prevent future governments from taking rights, such as a woman's right to choose.

He specifically named members of the Conservative caucus as those he said he feared would pressure their leader to use it.

"There's certainly a great deal of talk among his caucus and among his candidates in terms of the introduction of a private member's bill to take away a woman's rights to choose," Martin said of Harper.

"Absolutely the guaranteed way to make sure that nobody takes away a woman's right to choose is to eliminate the notwithstanding clause. If you're not prepared to do that then I think you're entitled to ask why."

The Conservative Party voted at its convention last spring not to support abortion legislation.

However, a backbench MP could introduce a private member's bill that would go through a complex lottery system and could be passed as long as it does not affect funding. 

The Globe and Mail reported Wednesday that the president of the Conservative Party, Don Plett, wrote an e-mail late last year to a party member saying when the Conservatives form government "we can be rest assured that there will be a private member's bill on this."

Grits, NDP unveil platforms

Wednesday  was platform day on the election campaign as both the Liberals and the NDP released their blueprints for governing with just 13 days left in the campaign. 

> NDP Platform (PDF)
> Liberal platform (PDF)

The Liberal platform, which was leaked to the a conservative blog overnight, is based largely on campaign promises already made by the party. 

The only new tidbit is a plan for Canada to launch an international effort to ban the weaponization of space. 

Not in the platform is the Liberals' proposal to introduce legislation to prevent the federal government from using the constitution's controversial notwithstanding. 

"Not everything we will be saying over the course of the next 10 days is in this book," the PM told reporters about the omission Wednesday.

The NDP platform is also out and it is promising $72 billion in social spending and tax cuts over the next five years. NDP Leader Jack Layton said he can do this and not run a deficit.

The party also introduced a legislative agenda, which includes a Protection of Public Health Care Act, a Child Care Act and a plan to clean up politics that would included a "fixed elections" act, a leadership accountability act, protection for whistleblowers and amendments to improve the Lobbyist Registration Act. 

Layton also used his platform launch to counter Liberal scare tactics urging soft NDP support to vote Liberal to prevent a Conservative government. 

"If you don't vote Liberal, the sun will still rise the next day," Layton said. "If you don't vote Liberal, the planet will not be destroyed by a volcano."

Vote Early and Vote Often

The law firm McMillan Binch Mendelsohn has issued an employment and labour relations bulletin that outlines an employer's obligation to allow its employees the time to exercise their right to vote on election day. 

Did you know, for example, that Section 132 of the Canada Elections Act provides that an employee who is eligible to vote is entitled to three consecutive hours in order to vote?

And that it the same act says an employer cannot make any deductions from an employee's pay, or levy any penalty against the employee, for taking the time off?

You can find out more about voting and the workplace by reading the bulletin.

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