The NDP is willing to waive a key deadline contained within its working agreement with the Liberals that states pharmacare legislation must be passed by the end of the year.
Since March, 2022, the New Democrats and the Liberal minority government have had a supply-and-confidence agreement in place to work together on priority issues.
The arrangement is designed to last until the fall of 2025. A federal election is not expected imminently because of the agreement.
One of the stipulations of the agreement is the need for “progress toward a universal national pharmacare program by passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023.”
No such legislation has been tabled in the House of Commons as the end of November approaches, raising questions on Parliament Hill about whether the Liberals remain committed to moving ahead on pharmacare.
An NDP source told The Globe and Mail that pharmacare conversations are taking place between its health critic, Don Davies, and Health Minister Mark Holland, as well as at the staff level. If the process takes longer than the end of the year and the legislation turns out to be better because of that, it will be worth it, the source said.
The Globe is not identifying the source because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the discussions.
Mr. Holland said discussions with the NDP have been productive. “I think we need to give space for those to continue,” he said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said last week that a first draft of the pharmacare legislation was “not acceptable” to the NDP and it was sent back to the Liberals. The NDP has been “very firm” that universal pharmacare must cover all Canadians, he said.
The initial Liberal position was one that “really favoured big insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, which we disagree with,” Mr. Singh said. “We want a bill that supports families, workers, Canadians, not these big enterprises.”
Last month, the NDP passed a resolution at its policy convention in Hamilton saying the party would withdraw its support for the supply-and-confidence agreement if the government does not commit to “a universal, comprehensive and entirely public pharmacare program.”
Following the convention, Mr. Davies said this would be a “red line” for the party.
Mr. Singh said the NDP is using the resolution as leverage. “We’ve been using that to negotiate something that’s going to be good for Canadians,” he said. “We’re confident we can move forward with it.”
The NDP Leader also said his party is more interested in making sure that “we do this right.”
In October, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report estimating the cost of a single-payer universal drug plan from 2023-24 to 2027-28. It found that pharmacare would cost federal and provincial governments $11.2-billion in the first year, but the program would result in $1.4-billion in savings on drug costs in 2024-2025, which would increase to $2.2-billion by 2027-2028.
The Liberal government’s fall economic statement, released Tuesday, did not set aside new funding for pharmacare and the fiscal framework for future years left relatively little room for major new spending.
In 2019, former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins chaired an advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare, which found that such a program would cost $15.3-billion a year if fully implemented in 2027.
One of the top recommendations from the advisory council was for Ottawa to work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal, single-payer, public system of prescription drug coverage.
Most Canadians pay for prescription drugs through extended workplace health plans, privately purchased plans or out of their own pockets. Government drug plans are typically reserved for those with low incomes, seniors and those with catastrophically high drug bills.