With more mainstream political parties jumping on the animal welfare bandwagon to try and shore up support in a tight election, it is important to read between the lines of what these platform promises mean before labeling politicians “champions for animals.”
The first time I heard a politician use the term “champion for animals,” it was used self-referentially by the B.C. Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham, at the BC SPCA Symposium on Animal Welfare. It was also in the same speech where she reiterated her support for livestock farmers. Similarly, I have locally seen city councillors claim to be the “animal person on council,” but then support exploitative and inhumane horse carriages. This same superficial and selective support for animal issues happens at every level of government.
This made me question how politicians gain the moniker “champion for animals” or “animal friendly” and how loosely it is thrown around in politics. There is little consequence for a politician to have a reputation as caring about animals, up to a point. Once their interest in protecting animals crosses into affecting business interests that exploit animals for profit, that is often where the relationship ends. In politics, unless an issue is very popular with the public, most politicians won’t touch animal issues that might cost them votes, and the businesses exploiting animals tend to carry a lot of votes.
Being in the middle of the federal election, there is a lot of discussion right now about various candidates from political parties being “champions for animals” or that the mainstream parties are now “animal friendly.” With this in mind, it is worth looking at the new interest of federal parties wading into animal issues in their platforms, what their platforms actually will actually do for animals, and if voters for animals are being mislead.
Starting with the Liberals, because they are the incumbent government, below is their platform for “Protecting Animals:”
A re-elected Liberal government will:
- Introduce legislation to end cosmetic testing on animals as soon as 2023 and phase out toxicity testing on animals by 2035.
- Work with partners to curb illegal wildlife trade and end elephant and rhinoceros tusk trade in Canada.
- Introduce legislation to protect animals in captivity.
- Ban the live export of horses for slaughter.
- Work with our partners to help women and children fleeing violence stay united with their companion animals.
Some of this should look familiar to those who follow politics and legislation in Canada. Their proposal to end cosmetic testing on animals, was a bill that already went through some stages of parliament in the form of Bill S-214 before the 2019 federal election. The Conservatives stalled this bill from passing then, and the Liberals supported a watered-down version that would allow products tested on animals elsewhere to be used in products labelled cruelty-free. The phasing out of toxicity testing is good, but if the Netherlands can commit to a 2025 phase out, why would it take the Liberals until 2035 – a great campaign promise but with no content or timeline.
Why on earth would the Liberal government work to “curb” illegal wildlife trade when they should just end it. Ending the trade in the elephant tusks and rhino horn is an excellent promise. However, more than some specific animal parts, we need an end to the trade in exotic species in Canada, and the Liberals don’t seem to want to go there.
Next, introducing legislation to protect animals in captivity sounds good, but is very vague. The animals who would be covered by federal jurisdiction would be polar bears, migratory birds, marine mammals, sharks and other sea life. It is unclear how they would be protected and by whom. Currently, there is little public oversight of these operations, with the Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums being an industry run body with little transparency or accountability.
Banning the live export of horses for slaughter is good, and something that the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition has been fighting for years to change. With Jann Arden on board, this is a popular issue with little negative consequence politically or economically. However, what is missing is the end of horse slaughter in Canada altogether.
Helping women and children who are fleeing violence stay united with their companion animals is also an admirable proposal.
Overall, will these platform promises protect animals? Not really. 99% of animals in Canada, the animals who live their lives in deplorable conditions and are killed in the animal agriculture sector are not included here. Wildlife protections? Also, not there. Animals used in research, left with no public scrutiny and little protection. One billion animals, if we include marine life, are killed annually with still no protections. They also will continue to subsidize the animal agriculture sector in their platform. While they should be commended for voting against federal ag-gag legislation, the Liberal platform is definitely a missed opportunity for the animals.
The other major party in Canada, the Conservatives at least deserve credit for being the first of the major parties to the table with animal welfare policy. Here is their Animal Welfare Platform:
Canada’s Conservatives will:
- Ban puppy mills and stop imports of animals bred inhumanely.
- Strengthen the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s ability to enforce current regulations and seize animals when imported under poor welfare conditions.
- Ban cosmetic testing on animals.
- Add animal cruelty as an aggravating factor in domestic violence prosecutions to go after abusers who hurt their spouse by hurting their pet.
- Support pet owners fleeing violence by working with the sector to ensure there are better options for women to leave abusive homes without having to abandon their pets.
- Provide $10 million a year to train judges and prosecutors on the links between violence against animals and violence against people.
- Work with the Council of Ministers of Education to promote animal welfare education as part of a child’s education on the environment and sustainability.
Starting with the ban on puppy mills and import of animals bred inhumanely, this was very popular out of the gate. Of concern though is that there is no discussion of how there are no “responsible breeders,” as the wording of this position alludes to only puppy mills being the problem. Definitely a missed opportunity for a larger discussion around breeding animals for profit or supporting the largely charity-based organizations across Canada who care for all the abandoned animals.
Strengthening the CFIA ability to enforce current regulations is a welcome acknowledgement of the lack of support and resources for CFIA officers to enforce the law, but the laws themselves are still lacking to protect animals from cruelty on farms and slaughterhouses.
Banning cosmetic testing on animals is, as above, something that has been on the table for a while. However, while this is relatively popular, banning animal testing in general in Canada and overhauling the Canadian Council on Animal Care must be essential to hold public and private institutions accountable for their conduct, and offer transparency about the number of animals being experimented on.
Adding animal cruelty as an aggravating factor in domestic violence prosecution, and the next statement of support for pet owners fleeing domestic violence, is also another welcome acknowledgement of how threats against animals are used by perpetrators of domestic violence as tools to coerce their partners into staying.
Funding from the federal government for training of judges on how violence against animals and violence against people are connected is an unexpected positive. Working with the ministries of education to promote animal welfare education as part of the environment and sustainability is significant, if it isn’t co-opted by the dairy and meat lobbyists to promote “humane” animal products to children in schools.
Overall, the Conservative’s animal welfare platform is more specific and comprehensive than the Liberals. What is good is the fact that it has some structural and social reform, rather than just specific issues. Although, this has to be balanced with the same omissions that are within the Liberal platform. The Conservative’s platform won’t protect 99% of animals in Canada and these are still the Conservatives who supported their private members ag-gag legislation, and who will continue to subsidize the animal agriculture sector. Their environmental and social policy may also be more of a detriment to animals and society than the Liberals. Even for the trade of some moderate animal welfare improvements, a Conservative government doesn’t seem worth it.
Much has been made this election about the leadership of Jagmeet Singh and the rise of the NDP. They are still far behind the Liberals and Conservatives, but pose a threat to the both if they gain ground by winning seats from them. So, where do they stand on animal issues?
If you go to the NDP platform and search the word “animal” or “animals” it only comes up once in the following statement:
“We will launch a 10-year nature plan to reverse species loss and we would curb the import and domestic trade of wild animals.”
This one mention is better than their previous platform where animals weren’t mentioned at all. However, this shows their lack of commitment to improving the status and treatment of animals in Canada and their support for the Conservatives ag-gag legislation further solidifies their status as not interested in animal issues. Certainly, Jagmeet and his colleagues have not proven themselves to be “champions for animals” and have a lot of work to do to show us otherwise.
The Greens just released their platform and unfortunately it does not contain any specific section on animal welfare or protections. However, it does have animals scattered about in a few areas:
- Adopt comprehensive animal welfare legislation to prevent inhumane treatment of farm animals. This will set minimum standards of treatment, housing density, distances live animals can be transported, and conditions for animals in slaughterhouses and auctions.
- Support the recommendations of the Canada Food Guide and will encourage Canadians to reduce their animal protein consumption as recommended in the Food Guide, while being inclusive of social and cultural diversity in recognizing what constitutes a healthy and environmentally sound diet.
- To support humane and sustainable food systems, promote more plant-based eating and reduced consumption of animal-source foods to levels the ecosystem can sustain, which is consistent with the dietary recommendations of the Canada Food Guide.
- Restructure the $3 billion Next Policy Framework (NPF- 2023-2028) to shift program dollars from supporting corporate-controlled industrial agriculture to supporting agriculture that is based on ecological and animal welfare principles, including organic and regenerative practices, permaculture, localized food systems, higher welfare farming systems and short value chains.
Point one is very vague, but could be good. Unfortunately, it really couches everything in welfare terms of continuing animal use.
Points two and three are good that they will encourage a reduction in animal protein consumption through the recommendations of the Food Guide, but the “humane” language fails to recognize the inherently cruel nature of animal agriculture systems industrial, or not.
Point four is definitely a let-down. While there are many people who expected the Greens to say they supported an end to subsidies for animal agriculture in their platform, it didn’t happen.
Overall, the vegans and animal activists who keep hoping the Green party will step-up for the animals have been let down in this platform. It is good that they have dropped support for the dairy industry from their platform, but there is no clear direction or commitments beyond the Food Guide. At least animals are incorporated into some of their policy at a broad level and they recognize the need to transition towards plant-based eating. This puts them slightly ahead of the other parties, but also behind some with the lack of specifics. Ultimately, their platform fails to live up to its”daring” purpose, perhaps next election they will take animals and their connection to the climate crisis more seriously.
The Animal Protection Party of Canada
The Animal Protection Party of Canada is dedicated to equal consideration of animals, people, and the planet in all our policy. Unlike the mainstream parties, we understand that the climate emergency requires bold, structural, and urgent action on animal issues. Here is some of what we would do:
Establish a Minister for the Animals to develop and implement policies and programs that would ultimately end their exploitation. The Minister for the Animals would hold an independent national inquiry to collect baseline data about animal use, abuse, and deaths; bring forward recommendations to improve the status of animals; and develop a schedule to diminish and eliminate their exploitation.
APPC would recognize all “life” in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. APPC would entrench the right of all human and non-human life the right to a clean and healthy environment.
1. Phasing out and transition all animal agriculture sectors to plant-based sectors by 2030.
2. Opposing live trade for slaughter for such animals as horses, pigs, sheep and others.
3. Ending federal subsidies to all animal use sectors.
a. This includes all sectors using animals in sport, competition, tourism, and
b. Animals raised and killed for their fur.
c. Land based animal agriculture
d. Fishing and marine aquaculture.
e. Animals used in experimentation.
4. Reinvesting federal subsidies from animal use sectors into alternatives to animal use and plant-based food production.
5. Removing animals from the property section of the Canadian Criminal Code and provide them with their own category as “non-human persons.”
6. Creating a national registry for people convicted of animal cruelty to ensure inter-provincial consistency of sentencing.
7. Ensuring accountability and transparency in animal law by ending the charity driven model of animal welfare enforcement provincially.
8. Replacing the Canadian Council for Animal Care, Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the National Farm Animal Care Council with new transparent, and publicly accountable animal centred bodies free from animal-use industry influence.
9. Redirecting federal funding from animal-use models of scientific research towards animal alternative methods and research.
10. Actively promoting and educating the public on the health, environmental, and social benefits of a vegan lifestyle.
This is the high bar we set for the other parties to look up to and hopefully someday embrace as parts of their own platforms. All our candidates are vegan and many are animal activists who want to bring their knowledge and passion for animals and the planet to the political realm to challenge the status-quo government. It is essential for the health of our democracy to have representatives for animals in politics who can hold the other parties accountable for their policy and lack of policy protecting animals.
Our candidates have to fight hard every day on the campaign trail to be included in debates and political surveys that are offered without question to the larger parties. This limits the public’s exposure to our ideas and platform, effectively silencing those who want to bring animals into the conversation. That is why if you see the Animal Protection Party of Canada excluded from the election politics of your favourite animal organizations or media outlet, contact them and tell them they should include us side by side with the other parties and candidates to hold them accountable, and improve the political discourse of animal politics in Canada. Otherwise they are undermining the ability for advocates to represent animals in politics and are contributing to the same status quo narrative that has failed animals for over a century in Canada. Our democracy, our politics, and the animals deserve better.
There are a total of 22 registered political parties in Canada according to Elections Canada. From what we could find, none of the other parties had anything to say about improving the treatment or status of animals in Canada.
Better than nothing, but far from good.
It can be deceiving when the seemingly less-progressive party outdoes the seemingly more-progressive party on animal issues. No one really expected the Conservatives to come out with anything at all, that is why it seems more impressive than it should. However, there really isn’t much there and that this is the best the major federal parties in Canada could muster to protect animals is disgraceful. These issues are not the sweeping federal legislative changes animal advocates have been fighting for years for. They are not really even moderate changes for animals. It is a hand-picking of a few issues they felt were safe enough to have in their platform, while discarding all the major issues people have been calling for change on.
At the end of the day, it is unlikely that any more than maybe one or two pieces of animal legislation promises will pass if we have a majority government. That is four years without any significant changes in a world that is in urgent need for us to change our relationship with animals. If we get another minority government, which is likely, it is unlikely these issues will be a priority or pass in a much shorter sitting of parliament.
Where does that leave voters for animals?
We need structural change for animals, not just a few feel-good issues that won’t scare away the big animal-use industries and their votes. More than that, we need real political “champions for animals” that are willing to take on the unpopular issues consistently when they are needed, not just before an election to gain support on popular issues.
Giving politicians a free-label as “animal friendly,” to try to buy their support on issues down the road diminishes the hard work of those on the ground who fight for these issues everyday. It also largely does not work. Supporting animal positive legislation on one vote or one issue is not enough to earn the badge, “champion for animals,” and I’ve seen politicians being called that who haven’t done anything for animals to deserve it. We need to demand more from our politicians on animal issues and not be satisfied with the meagre handouts they throw us. If we as voters are representing animals from the wild, on farms, and in our homes, we have to acknowledge they would want and demand far more.
The reality is that none of the major federal parties have strong animal protection platforms. Only the Animal Protection Party of Canada has a platform that will fundamentally change the status and treatment of animals in Canada for the better. However, we are still working on building the party across Canada. Where we do have candidates, if environmental and animal issues matter to you, show the other parties where your priorities are by voting for an Animal Protection Party candidate. Where you don’t have this option, do your own research on the candidates; call them, email them, and ask them where they stand on animal issues individually beyond their party’s platform. We have a great tool for that here.
Remember, being a champion for animals is something thousands of activists, advocates, and volunteers across Canada do everyday by giving their time, resources, and energy to mitigating the worst suffering and oppression of animals caused by cruel animal-use industries and the weak legislation our government allows. It is because of these concerned citizens that the lives of animals across Canada are improved and the Animal Protection Party of Canada is fighting to push our politics forward for them.
Deputy Leader- Animal Protection Party of Canada