A panel appointed by the Conservative government to give advice on doctor-assisted dying is carrying on as if the election never happened – starting a series of cross-country meetings less than 24 hours after the polls closed.
The three-member panel was appointed just weeks before the election call, asked by the Harper government to provide advice on legislative options for doctor-assisted death following the February Supreme Court decision that struck down the existing law. The court suspended the effect of its ruling for 12 months and the panel was asked to consult with the groups that intervened in the case and with medical authorities – meetings they cancelled during the election.
With the vote over, its members have picked up where they left off, although it is unclear what the Trudeau government will do with their work. The Liberals are on record as supporting a different approach to this sensitive file, but have no authority over the panel until they take office on Nov. 4.
"We still believe that their needs to be broad consultation," said MP Hedy Fry, the Liberal health critic in the last Parliament.
In February, the Liberals called for an all-party committee to lead a national discussion on the topic, a position it repeated during the campaign. "It is such a serious piece of legislation that we are looking at and we really need to consult," Dr. Fry said. "The right thing to do is to get Parliament involved – because Parliament is going to be writing that legislation – and not just leave it up to committee, or a task force, or whatever."
Still, she said that decision will be up to the new government and the new ministers of justice and health when they take office.
Prime-minister-designate Justin Trudeau, questioned on the issue at his first news conference this week, acknowledged the panel, saying only his government looks forward to seeing "what results those consultations have brought forward."
How the new government decides to deal with the panel is just one example of the kind of challenges the Liberals will confront when they officially take power. To implement their own agenda, they face the prospect of unwinding a number of initiatives put in place by the Conservatives.
In the case of the Supreme Court ruling, which will take effect in February, there will be little time to consider options unless the new government requests and gets an extension from the court.
One member of the panel says it has not altered its course because of this week's vote – especially given the approaching deadline.
"We're at the service of the government – not a particular political party," said University of Ottawa law professor and constitutional expert Benoît Pelletier, a former Quebec cabinet minister. "Nothing has changed with regards to our mandate, our duty, our mission."
Indeed, while the campaign was on, panel members – who include Harvey Max Chochinov, Canada research chair in palliative care at the University of Manitoba, and Catherine Frazee, professor emerita at Ryerson University – continued their work, travelling to Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Oregon and talking with experts in Canada.
Cindy Forbes, president of the Canadian Medical Association, which met with the panel the day after the election, said her organization has been consulting with members and the public for more than two years and is working with the process as it now stands. Above all, she said, it is anxious to avoid a patchwork of policies imposed by various provincial governments.
"We want to make sure there is federal leadership so that it is consistent in every province," she said.
In addition to the federally appointed panel, an Ontario-led provincial consultation process is also taking place, and Quebec established its own bipartisan committee that travelled the province to study the subject.