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A healthcare worker leaves after finishing her shift for the day at the Eatonville Care Centre in Toronto. The Liberals are promising better pay for personal support workers, among other pledges.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

The Liberals have promised sweeping spending in Canada’s long-term care system, with housing affordability and social issues also gaining prominence on the fifth day of the federal election campaign.

Better pay for personal support workers and a stronger contingent of critical staff at long-term care facilities are among a new list of commitments the Liberals have promised to fulfill if they are re-elected on Sept. 20.

But such promises are largely outside the federal government’s control and rely heavily on the assumption that the premiers – most of whom are conservatives – will support the plans.

At a campaign stop at a long-term care facility in Victoria, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau announced $9-billion over five years for seniors living alone or in assisted-care centres.

“This pandemic laid bare unacceptable and heartbreaking conditions in too many long-term care homes across the country,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“We must make sure that tragedies like this never happen again.”

He added that Ottawa would not start to “micromanage” long-term care, which is a provincial responsibility, but rather work with the provinces and territories to improve the system.

The funding would go to provincially controlled areas such as setting a minimum wage of $25 an hour for personal support workers. It also dedicates $500-million to training as many as 50,000 new workers in that field.

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If re-elected, Mr. Trudeau said his party would direct $3-billion to increasing the availability of long-term care beds. The Liberals also said they would improve infection prevention and control measures. They reaffirmed their promise to set national standards – a pledge first announced in the 2020 Throne Speech but not yet implemented – and said this would be done through a new Safe Long-Term Care Act.

The move was praised by some health care unions. But Melissa Miller, a lawyer who specializes in long-term care cases and elder abuse, said she hopes the announcement is not a public-relations stunt.

She said the Liberal Leader talked about working with the provinces and territories to set national standards a year ago.

“We still haven’t seen anything,” she said. Ms. Miller said legislated standards are critical, adding that the system is broken.

“I view this as a human right,” she said. “We are asking just for people to be treated properly in long-term care homes. That’s it. Don’t treat those who are the most vulnerable with indignity and disrespect.”

After the announcement, a spokesman for Quebec Premier François Legault said he would not comment on specific proposals during the campaign, but added that “we reiterate that health is an exclusive jurisdiction of Quebec.”

“Mr. Legault will present the official demands of the Government of Quebec to the federal parties in the coming days,” spokesman Ewan Sauves said.

Speaking in Edmonton on Thursday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh talked about his party’s plans for long-term care. In its “Ready for Better” document, released last week, the NDP announced it would like to put an end to private, for-profit facilities and set national standards for home care and long-term care.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has been talking about affordability issues throughout the first week of the campaign. On Thursday, he turned to housing. If elected, he promised that his party will help build one million homes over the next three years through a mix of measures that include reviewing a federal real estate portfolio of more than 37,000 buildings and releasing at least 15 per cent for housing use. He is also offering incentives for Canadians to invest in rental housing.

The Conservatives say they would work with the private sector to convert unneeded office space into housing; and they would encourage a market for seven-to-10-year mortgages to provide more stability for first-time home buyers and lenders.

The party platform also proposes barring foreign investors not living or moving to Canada from buying homes here for two years. Instead, the Tories would encourage foreign investment in purpose-built, affordable rental housing.

Social issues have also returned to the campaign trail.

On Thursday, the Liberals accused Mr. O’Toole of teaming up with the “extreme right” faction of his party, pointing to a section of the Conservative platform that promises to “protect the conscience rights of health professionals.”

In response, Mr. O’Toole repeated that he is pro-choice and is trying to strike a “balance” between a woman’s right to choose and the personal views of health care workers.

“We will make sure that women have the ability to make decisions with respect to their health care themselves and make sure that abortion services are available … from one ocean to the other,” he said.

He focused his remarks primarily on concerns about expanding medical assistance in dying to people with mental-health problems. The Conservative Party also released past statements from Liberal MPs supporting conscience rights for physicians regarding medical assistance in dying, although a top Ontario court has affirmed that doctors must refer patients to other physicians if they do not want to perform the services themselves.

In response to Mr. O’Toole’s remarks Thursday, Mr. Trudeau said there is something “fundamental” that the Conservative Leader doesn’t understand.

“Pro-choice doesn’t mean the freedom of doctors to choose, it means the freedom of women to choose. Leaders have to be unequivocal on that, and once again, Erin O’Toole is not,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Mr. O’Toole won last summer’s party leadership race partly because socially conservative Tories switched their support to him on later ballots after their preferred candidates failed to secure enough votes in earlier rounds.

At times, Mr. O’Toole has found himself in opposition to the majority of his caucus on social issues. For instance, Conservative MPs were sharply divided during the June vote for the third reading of Bill C-6, which sought to effectively ban the practice of conversion therapy. Mr. O’Toole was one of 51 party MPs who voted in favour of the bill, while 62 Conservative MPs voted against the legislation.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the Conservative Leader’s position on social issues is at odds with the views of his own party.

“He says he’s pro-choice, but his caucus is pro-life,” Mr. Blanchet told reporters in Gatineau.

With reports from Kristy Kirkup, Menaka Raman-Wilms and Bill Curry in Ottawa

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