Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday March 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Bloc leader says he would back fast-tracking bill on medical assistance in dying

Bloc leader says he would back fast-tracking bill on medical assistance in dying

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government has given notice that it will impose closure to ensure a bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying comes to a final vote in the House of Commons before a court-ordered deadline of March 26.

Notice was given Tuesday just hours after Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet announced his party would support a government bid to put an end to Conservative stalling tactics on the bill.

Blanchet said it appears “necessary” to use time allocation to cut off debate, which the minority Liberal government cannot do without the support of at least one of the main opposition parties.

“The target of the Conservatives is not to let this be adopted before March 26. So if the government needs to use time (allocation), we will vote in favour of such an initiative,” he told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa.

“If they had the option they would suspend time itself.”

Blanchet accused the Tories of holding up the bill due to divisions within the party on the controversial legislation.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez quickly welcomed the Bloc’s backing with a tweet.

“We have acted responsibly and collaboratively on the MAID bill. Conservatives have obstructed,” he wrote.

“Three times they blocked our plan to debate C-7 in the evening. This must end. We will move ahead without further delay and we welcome Bloc support.”

The bill has been stuck at its next-to-last hurdle for several weeks.

It was approved last month by the Senate but with some substantive amendments, including allowing advance requests for assisted deaths and imposing an 18-month time limit on the bill’s proposed blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

The government has been trying since then to get the Commons to agree to a motion laying out its response — which includes rejecting advance requests and agreeing to a two-year time limit on the mental illness exclusion — to the Senate changes.

It was not immediately clear when the government will proceed with closure, final debate and a vote on the bill. But it seems likely to happen Wednesday or Thursday, given votes are not allowed on Fridays and the House is not sitting next week.

Once passed by the Commons, the revised bill must still go back to the Senate, where senators will decide whether to accept or reject the verdict of the elected chamber.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday that the revised bill demands ample debate, and that he would not support any motion to rein in discussion.

Conservative Leader Eriin O’Toole said it is inappropriate to hustle through legislation that involves serious questions about the end of life and that the bill warrants “reasonable debate.”

He warned it risks jeopardizing the lives of Canadians living with mental health challenges. And he blamed the bill’s sluggish progress in Parliament squarely on the government.

“If C-7 was that important to the government, it’s only coming up today. Where was it Monday? Where was it Tuesday?” O’Toole said.

“The government should stop this sideshow of delays and just start managing their affairs professionally.”

The bill is a response to a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision in the law that allows assisted dying only for intolerably suffering individuals whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

The government has sought and received four extensions to the court-imposed deadline for bringing the law into compliance with the ruling. The latest — and very likely the last extension, the court has warned — expires March 26.

Some disability rights groups argue that Bill C-7 discriminates against people with disabilities, fearing they will be pressured to prematurely end their lives rather than live in poverty, without adequate health care and support services.

Singh suggested Tuesday he would be open to cutting short debate on the bill if the government pledged more support for people with disabilities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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