The NDP has sent a message that it wants action on pharmacare, the party’s health critic Don Davies said, calling the matter a “red line” in the New Democrats’ working agreement with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to keep the minority government in power.
On the weekend, the NDP passed a resolution at a policy convention in Hamilton, which said the party will withdraw its support from the agreement with the Liberals if the government does not commit to “a universal, comprehensive and entirely public pharmacare program.”
“I think it was a crystal-clear message to the government that we want public pharmacare and we expect the Liberals to deliver on the promise,” Mr. Davies told reporters on Parliament Hill on Monday. “It’s going to be a red line for us.”
The New Democrats currently have a supply-and-confidence agreement with the Liberals in which the NDP supports Mr. Trudeau’s minority government in exchange for a Liberal commitment to act on NDP priority issues. The arrangement is designed to be in place until the fall of 2025.
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.”
Mr. Davies said Monday that eight million Canadians do not have access to pharmaceutical coverage and millions more have some coverage but at insufficient levels.
He said pharmacare has been recommended by committees dating back to the 1940s. Mr. Davies also said former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins advised the federal government to act in this area, as well as the House of Commons health committee.
In 2019, Dr. Hoskins chaired an advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare, which stated that such a program would cost $15.3-billion a year if fully implemented in 2027.
One of the top recommendations in a report by the advisory council was that Ottawa needed to work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal, single-payer, public system of prescription drug coverage.
Pharmacare amounts to an “excellent public-policy solution to a pressing problem,” Mr. Davies said.
“It’s time Liberals deliver,” he said. “Pharmacare saves money. I don’t know how many times the Liberals have to be convinced of that.”
Last week, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated pharmacare would amount to $1.4-billion in savings in 2024-2025 and that this would increase to $2.2-billion by 2027-2028.
The PBO also said a single-payer universal drug plan would cost federal and provincial governments $11.2-billion in the first year.
At present, 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.
When asked if there could be a political price to pay should the New Democrats pull out of the working agreement with the Liberals, Mr. Davies said that sometimes it is necessary to “stand on principle” and “this is a principle worth fighting for.”
In Question Period on Monday, Mr. Davies asked Health Minister Mark Holland whether the Liberals will keep their word on delivering pharmacare.
Mr. Holland replied saying the federal government has been working with the provinces and territories on bulk purchasing, which amounts to $3.5-billion in savings. He also pointed to steps being taken to bring down the costs of drugs for rare diseases.
“We are having a discussion on pharmacare legislation,” Mr. Holland added.