EDMONTON — A New Democrat government would likely have to ask for more time to deal with a Supreme Court ruling that Parliament produce new legislation on doctor-assisted death, the party's leader said Friday.
Campaigning in Edmonton, Tom Mulcair insisted he would do his best to meet the court's February deadline if he becomes prime minister after Oct. 19, but said it would be "extremely tough" and he might have to ask for an extension.
"I hope not but since we've lost so much time and wasted so much time, that's a real possibility," Mulcair said. "It's the most candid answer I can possibly give."
He also said he would allow a free vote in Parliament on any new legislation given the sensitivity of the issue.
"I will not be whipping anybody on this, but I do want us to have the time to do it properly," he said.
Mulcair also praised Quebec for creating a bipartisan committee that travelled the province to study the subject.
Last February, the high court found Canada's prohibition on physician-assisted suicide violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The ruling recognized the right of clearly consenting adults who are in intolerable physical or mental pain to end their lives with the help of a doctor.
The court also gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation.
The activist group Dying With Dignity Canada said it was pleased Mulcair would allow a free vote, but said letting the struck-down law stay in place — even if only temporarily — would subject dying patients to further "brutal, unnecessary suffering."
The group's CEO, Wanda Morris, called on all federal parties to commit to meeting the court's timeline.
"To politicians, a few weeks or even months might not seem like a long time," Morris said in a statement. "But when you are suffering horribly, every hour can feel like an eternity."
In June, the Conservative government said it would need more time to deal with the decision. Justice Minister Peter MacKay said then that an extension request would be perfectly reasonable.
MacKay, who is not seeking re-election, also said he thought it was likely the next government — regardless of party — would need such an extension but there was no guarantee the court would grant one.
In July, the Tory government set up a panel of experts to consult Canadians and key stakeholders to produce options for the justice and health ministers to consider. Several groups, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, panned the panel. They noted two of its three members served as federal witnesses opposed to assisted suicide when the case was heard.
During his stop in Edmonton, Mulcair also touted the merits of his spending plan for public transit and other municipal infrastructure. He said his 20-year federal funding commitment could help Edmonton build 40 kilometres of light rail transit and buy 100 train cars and 100 buses.
All three major federal parties are in an infrastructure bidding war, each claiming to have the best plan for beleaguered cities.
The NDP continues to headline annual investments of $1.3 billion over 20 years, although the party has conceded that not all the funding would be new. The Conservatives and Liberals also have long-term municipal infrastructure money in their platforms.
The NDP, which won a single seat in the province of Alberta in the 2011 federal election, is hoping to pick off additional ridings around Edmonton on Oct. 19, in part on the coattails of this spring's surprising provincial election victory by the NDP under Rachel Notley.
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