NDP rejects first draft of Liberal pharmacare legislation as deadline looms

According to the deal between the NDP and Liberals, a Canada Pharmacare Act must be passed by the end of 2023

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OTTAWA – NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party sent the Liberals back to the drawing board in drafting their upcoming pharmacare legislation, as the end-of-year deadline set in the supply-and-confidence agreement between both parties is rapidly approaching.

“We’ve seen a first draft and we made it very clear that the first draft was insufficient for our support. So the government has taken that back and is working on some amendments,” said Singh during a press conference in Toronto in describing the ongoing negotiations between both parties.

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According to the deal between the NDP and Liberals, a Canada Pharmacare Act must be passed by the end of 2023. Since Parliament is not sitting this week, that leaves only four weeks, or 20 sitting days, for the federal government to table and pass a bill that will satisfy the New Democrats.

Singh claimed it is “absolutely possible” to achieve the end-of-year deadline, even though both parties are not on the same page right now about what a pharmacare program should look like.

“Right now, the sticking point is the Liberals want to bring in legislation that appeases the big pharmaceutical industry. We don’t care about them. We don’t want to appease them. We want to make sure Canadians can afford their medication. That’s our priority,” said Singh.

Asked to elaborate further, Singh said the Liberals were leaving the door open for “some sort of a mixed public-private” system where the pharmaceutical industry would continue to make “huge profits.”

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The NDP is pushing for a single-payer universal pharmacare program, and its members passed an emergency resolution during a policy convention last month calling on the party to withdraw its support from the Liberals if they do not commit to that program in their legislative framework.

Speaking last week, Health Minister Mark Holland said conversations were still ongoing on “what exactly is the right path forward” to ensure all Canadians had access to medication, but recognized that the implementation of pharmacare is a “vastly complex question.”

“I think that we’ve been having good conversations with the New Democrats,” he said. “There are a lot of points of contention and we are in a fiscal frame … that we have to be very cognizant of.”

According to a recent report by the parliamentary budget officer, the cost of the universal drug plan wanted by the NDP would cost federal and provincial government $11.2 billion in the first year and $13.4 billion in five years but would lead to economywide savings in the long run.

The increasing pressures to table a pharmacare bill are happening as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to release her fall economic statement, which she said would be based on “a responsible fiscal plan that allows us to invest in what Canadians need right now.”

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Singh said he was not expecting estimates for pharmacare to appear in the financial document next week, as negotiations are still ongoing, but said his party would not be backing down from their demands.

He said his party was in a “similar” position just last year when his party fought to implement dental care for all Canadians under the age of 18 and had successfully managed to make the idea a reality, despite the Liberals saying they could not meet the required deadlines. “We kept the pressure up,” he said.

Singh would not say if he was open to a compromise or an extended deadline to ensure pharmacare legislation becomes reality.

“The Liberals are on the side of big pharmaceuticals, we’re on the side of families, working people, seniors, people that need medication and we believe it should be universal, public and affordable. Our plan would bring down the price for everybody and we’re going to keep on fighting,” said Singh.

“So we’re not going to back down, we’re going to keep the pressure going. We believe that we are in the right,” he added.

Holland’s office on Wednesday said negotiations are “ongoing and progressing constructively,” and said he has a “very good working relationship” with the NDP health critic Don Davies.

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“The Minister looks forward to continued conversations with the NDP as well as all parliamentarians and stakeholders to develop a universal pharmacare plan that Canadians can be proud of,” said Christopher Aoun, Holland’s spokesperson, in a written statement.

He added that the government’s goal remains to “table” the legislation this year — but made no mention of making sure it becomes law.

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