Pharmacare ultimatum: NDP backs Singh’s ability to kill deal if Liberals don’t deliver | CBC News

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New Democrats have resoundingly urged their party to stand firm on negotiating pharmacare, even if it means ending their political agreement with the Liberals.

Party members gave leader Jagmeet Singh and his MPs resounding support to use all the leverage the party has through its confidence-and-supply deal with the Liberals to obtain the party’s vision of pharmacare, even if it means walking away from the agreement and possibly triggering an election. 

The directive went to the floor on Saturday at the party’s policy convention in Hamilton. It was the top-ranked emergency resolution, outranking two motions on Israel’s war with Gaza.

It passed unanimously.

The motion, now official NDP policy, cannot force Singh to back out of the deal. But it signals that the NDP caucus would have the backing of the party’s membership to walk away from the arrangement if the Liberals won’t agree to a public, universal, single-payer system.

According to the resolution, the “continued confidence-and-supply is contingent on government legislation that commits to a universal, comprehensive and entirely public pharmacare program.”

Singh used some of his keynote speech on Saturday to both defend the confidence-and-supply agreement and push for more from the government.

“The reality is Liberals only act when New Democrats force them. That’s how we got medicare. And that’s how we are going to win pharmacare as well,” said Singh in his keynote address prior to his leadership review.

NDP health critic Don Davies supported the pharmacare motion Saturday, criticizing the Liberals for watering down a yet-to-be-introduced bill that’s supposed to be passed by the end of this year. 

“They are weaselling out. Now, we have been crystal clear. Nothing less than public pharmacare delivered through a single-payer system will do for us,” Davies told NDP convention delegates. 

“It’s time to send a message to Liberals. We want single-payer pharmacare right now,” Davies said on the convention floor. 

Delegates at the NDP Convention in Hamilton, Ont. cast their ballots in a vote to hold a leadership review or not, on Saturday, October 14, 2023.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power
Delegates at the NDP convention cast their ballots Saturday in a vote on whether to hold a leadership review. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal minority government relies on New Democrats’ votes to pass legislation through a formal agreement that both parties signed. Under the terms of that confidence-and-supply agreement, the NDP agrees to support essential government legislation in exchange for the Liberals advancing several NDP policy priorities.

According to the wording of that agreement, one of those policy priorities is to pass “a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then [task] the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”

The issue could come to a head soon with about two months left in the House of Commons sitting calendar. The NDP rejected the bill’s first draft, Davies said, because it did not commit to a single-payer system. 

While New Democrats have drawn a line in the sand, Davies said the NDP is willing to compromise on the timing of the pharmacare rollout. The party, he said, could accept an interim system that covers all essential prescriptions and expands over time.

Expanded dental care by December

In addition to pushing for legislation on pharmacare, Davies is continuing to negotiate the expanded rollout of dental care for low-income Canadians.

People with net incomes of less than $90,000 who don’t already have oral health coverage would qualify. Families with a net income of less than $70,000 will have no co-pays under the soon-to-be-launched Canadian Dental Care Plan.

Under the NDP-Liberal deal, both parties committed to providing government-subsidized dental coverage for children under 18, persons with disabilities and seniors over 65 by the end of 2023. 

Two men smile at each other while shaking hands.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 14, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Instead of cutting cheques as it did when the plan first began covering children under 12, Davies said an enrolment program would launch offering dental coverage through the insurance company Sun Life in December. 

These groups that are now covered, he said, will be able to go to the dentist in December or early January. 

The health minister’s office would not confirm an exact date when more young people, seniors and people with disabilities can visit the dentist.

“More information on the plan will be shared by Health Canada in the coming weeks,” read a statement from the federal health minister’s director of communications, Alex Maheux. “Given its scale and scope, we want to make sure that our plan is solid before announcing the full details.”

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