NDP tells Liberals to sweeten the deal if pharmacare legislation is delayed

ndp tells liberals to sweeten the deal if pharmacare legislation is delayed

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. New Democrats are signalling they might allow the government to miss the end-of-year deadline on pharmacare legislation.

New Democrats say that if the Liberal government can’t honour its vow to pass pharmacare legislation by the end of this year, it will have to enhance the legislation to deliver “more results.”

A statement from NDP director of communications Alana Cahill suggested the party is willing to give the government more time if the Liberals give it a good reason to wait.

“If more time is required, we expect more results for Canadians,” Cahill said.

It’s not clear from the statement and follow-up questions to the NDP what the party means by “more results.” Cahill’s statement came after the the Globe and Mail cited a source saying the NDP is open to waiving an end-of-year deadline for pharmacare legislation.

The Liberal minority government relies on New Democrats’ votes to pass legislation through a formal confidence-and-supply agreement both parties signed. Under that 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 NDP 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.”

Cahill’s statement says that if the Liberals can’t come to the table with a better offer, the NDP still expects the Liberals to introduce pharmacare legislation.

“Negotiations are still ongoing, and our talks remain constructive,” Cahill said. “We believe there is enough time left for the government to honour its commitment in the supply and confidence agreement.”

A source within the NDP said the party realizes it may take more time to pass the legislation through the Senate. The government does not control the agenda in the Red Chamber.

Canadians wouldn’t necessarily see a fully funded national pharmacare program following passage of a pharmacare bill. Setting up the system might take several years.

Pharmacare saves money: PBO

The Liberals have faced pressure within the party to deliver on pharmacare. In 2019, an advisory council appointed by the Liberal government recommended establishing a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system — first with an initial list of common and essential drugs and then with a comprehensive formulary. The advisory council estimated such a system would cost $15 billion a year once fully implemented.

The council also said that, once implemented, the pharmacare program would cut the sum Canadians spend prescription drugs by roughly $5 billion a year.

It proposed a $2 co-payment for common drugs and $5 for less common ones. Fees would be waived for those on low incomes or social assistance.

In a recent report, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that a single-payer universal drug plan would cost federal and provincial governments $11.2 billion in the first year and $13.4 billion annually in five years.

The economy-wide savings, the PBO estimates, would be around $1.4 billion in 2024-25, rising to $2.2 billion in 2027-28.


But forecasts of higher-than-expected budget deficits for the next few years and lower economic growth in 2024 are raising questions about whether Ottawa can afford pharmacare right now. Interest rates are at a 20-year high and the cost of servicing federal government debt has spiked from $20.3 billion in 2020-21 to $46.5 billion in this fiscal year.

A statement from Health Minister Mark Holland’s office did not say whether the Liberals believe they can get legislation passed through the House and Senate by the end of this year.

“Our goal remains to table our pharmacare legislation this year,” said a statement from the minister’s press secretary, Christopher Aoun.

Aoun added negotiations with the NDP are continuing and Holland and NDP health critic Don Davies “have a very good working relationship.”

New Democrats urge the party to stand firm

New Democrats unanimously passed a motion at their October policy convention calling on the party to stand firm on pharmacare — even if it means ending their political agreement with the Liberals.

The motion, now official NDP policy, does not force the NDP caucus to do anything. But it gives NDP MPs the backing of the party’s membership to walk away from the arrangement if the Liberals do not 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.”

The motion doesn’t suggest a timeline for achieving pharmacare but it lays out what the bill should look like.

In an interview on Monday with CBC News, James Brunet, the original drafter of that motion, said his advice to caucus is to stand firm and take action if the Liberals don’t deliver.

“If you allow the Liberals to not deliver on this key promise, you weaken your long-term negotiating ability,” Brunet said. “We need to have some sort of consequence … (otherwise) in future minority governments, we might not be taken as seriously.”

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