NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh extended an olive branch to Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s government on Friday by promising to meet the province’s demands for bigger health transfers, but didn’t provide exact numbers or say whether the funding would come with conditions.
The premiers, with Mr. Legault their outspoken leader, have called on Ottawa to immediately boost health-care funding by at least $28-billion to increase the federal government’s share of the cost of health care to 35 per cent, and to increase that funding by roughly $4-billion each subsequent year.
Mr. Legault has also said he wants that funding for his province to be unconditional because Quebec is better placed to determine its own health-care priorities.
In unveiling its 19-page plan for Quebec on Friday, the NDP committed to “increasing health care funding to meet the Quebec government’s request.”
But when pressed repeatedly on specifics, Mr. Singh would not clearly commit to the figures or the timeline put forward by the provinces.
“We are prepared to increase health care transfers, and we would also increase health care funding, for the $10 billion required for pharmacare, the 1.5 billion for dental care,” he said.
“We believe very strongly that we need to expand our health care system.”
Alexandre Boulerice, the party’s Quebec lieutenant, later said the NDP is committing to $28-billion.
Mr. Singh was also asked whether a New Democrat government would make the funding conditional, but he did not directly answer.
“We’ve got programs that we want to put in place. Quebec would always have the right to withdraw from those programs, but there are specific programs that we believe if we work together we could deliver and they would be in everyone’s benefit,” Mr. Singh said, citing pharmacare as an example.
The health-care promise is one of the pledges highlighted in the NDP’s newly released Quebec platform, which also includes recognizing Quebec’s national character and cultural sovereignty.
The platform specifies that it is based on a model of “asymmetrical, co-operative and respectful federalism” that grants the province specific powers.
Many of the elements in the platform are similar to what the NDP presented in 2019. That includes granting the province the right to withdraw from federal programs with financial compensation, increased powers in areas such as environmental assessment and trade agreements, and expanding the province’s language law, Bill 101, to cover all federally regulated companies in Quebec.
The party also repeated its desire to “enable Quebec to integrate the Canadian constitutional framework,” without providing any details on how it would do so.
The platform also includes some new elements, including granting legal “personhood” status to the St. Lawrence River, which would grant it rights that could be defended in court, and economic recovery measures such as a temporary 15-per-cent pandemic “excess profits tax " on large corporations who profited from the health crisis.
The NDP also promised to put in place a pharmacare program that would eliminate prescription drug fees by the end of 2022. The party says it would cost $5.2-billion the first year, rising to $10.7-billion in the first full year it is in place. It also claimed it would save provinces $4-billion a year in health costs.
The NDP is attempting to regain some of the ground lost in Quebec in the last election, when the party lost all but one seat in the province.
When asked how he would increase his seat count with a platform that is similar to that from the last election, Mr. Singh said he believed Quebecers have had more time to get to know him as a leader.
“Our platform lays out our values, and we want folks to know these are our values and our values haven’t changed,” he said.
“We want people to know we will always recognize the nation of Quebec and the distinct identity of Quebec.”
Mr. Singh pointed out that it took several elections for former NDP leader Jack Layton to break through in Quebec with the so-called “Orange Wave” that propelled the party to its best-ever showing in 2011.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Singh’s platform will be enough to appeal to Mr. Legault’s nationalist tendencies. The Quebec premier criticized the NDP and the Liberals last week for policies he deems too centrist or that interfere in provincial jurisdiction, including the creation of national standards for long-term care.
On Friday, Mr. Singh defended the need for standards, but described them as a “tool,” leaving the door open for the province to opt out. He also maintained the importance of his pharmacare program and of ending for-profit long-term care.
Mr. Singh said his platform is for the people of the province, and not its premier.
“This isn’t a plan to respond to Mr. Legault,” he said. “It’s a plan to respond to Quebecers and our plan is to make sure Quebecers get the help they need.”
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