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Health Minister Mark Holland arrives to a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Nov. 7.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Health Canada will consult with provincial dental associations that have complained of being left in the dark about the new federal dental-care plan – but only if they sign a confidentiality agreement.

Health Minister Mark Holland noted that condition in his response to provincial and territorial dental associations, which last month expressed serious concerns over Canadian dentists lacking information about critical aspects of the new plan set to launch before the end of the year.

In a joint letter to the federal health minister, the associations said they worry the success of the new plan is being compromised “by a lack of meaningful consultation with the dentists we represent – those who will be expected to deliver on the government’s promises.”

Holland responded to the provincial and territorial associations with his own letter on Wednesday, where he committed to engaging with them.

He said, however, that the associations had recently declined conversations with the government after they had been asked to keep those discussions under wraps.

“A successful launch requires communicating the program simply and clearly to Canadians, which is why we are recommending these conversations happen under confidentiality agreements until details are finalized,” Holland wrote.

The 10 provincial dental associations, plus one for the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, had signed confidentiality agreements in anticipation of a meeting with the federal government, said Dr. Brock Nicolucci, president of the Ontario Dental Association.

He said that meeting was unexpectedly cancelled and no new date was set, so the associations pulled out of the agreement.

“We wouldn’t have been able to talk to our members, the public, (the media) and keep everybody informed. Without a meeting date, that didn’t sit right to us, so we pulled back and rescinded our non-disclosure agreement,” said Nicolucci, who has a practice in London, Ont.

He said he was happy to receive the minister’s letter, and the provincial and territorial associations will have to discuss whether they will agree to a new confidentiality agreement in anticipation of a future meeting.

Their concern, he said, is that with the new federal insurance plan set to be announced within weeks, it may be too late for them to have meaningful input.

“They’re coming to us at the 11th hour, with only two months to go. We should have been at the table from Day 1,” Nicolucci said.

Three other dental groups the government has consulted with on the development of the dental-care plan, including the Canadian Dental Association, told The Canadian Press they have agreed to sign confidentiality agreements.

Health Canada began to develop the new dental-care insurance plan last year, after the Liberals signed a confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democrats, who had campaigned on such a plan in the 2021 election.

The deal, which has the opposition party support the minority Liberals on key votes in the House of Commons in exchange for action on major NDP priorities, pledges dental coverage for middle- and low-income families.

The new insurance program is expected to be announced before the end of the year, though claims may not be accepted until 2024.

The spring budget promised $13 billion over the next five years to implement the national dental-care plan, which the federal government says will insure up to nine million people.

The government plans to begin with coverage for uninsured people under the age of 18, seniors and people with disabilities under a $90,000 annual family income threshold.

In his letter to the dental associations, Holland said the insights of the dental associations have been heard and taken into consideration throughout the process of designing the new insurance plan.

In a written statement Thursday, Holland’s office said it has held many consultations throughout the process, with “some under (non-disclosure agreements), and others not, depending on the level of detail shared, including decisions around costs and services.”

“This was part of the due diligence in developing policy that will cost the government more than $13 billion over five years and help nine million Canadians,” the statement added.

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