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Rather than talk up his triumph with the pharmacare deal, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh managed to offend his only allies in Quebec.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

In his moment of purported triumph, Jagmeet Singh managed to bungle things.

The NDP Leader was celebrating the deal with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to launch a mini-pharmacare program that would cover birth control and diabetes medication.

Good news for the NDP, you would think, in that they had pressed one of their social-policy priorities on to the Liberals. The tricky part is that it’s a matter of provincial jurisdiction, so it takes some provincial buy-in. And that’s where Mr. Singh slipped on a banana peel and did a vaudeville pratfall.

Somehow, he managed to tell English Canada that Quebec should get special status in matters of provincial jurisdiction while telling Quebec that jurisdiction doesn’t matter and they should stop bickering and start caring about sick people.

In doing so, he managed to offend his only allies in Quebec provincial politics, the social democrats in Québec Solidaire. Ruba Ghazal, a Québec Solidaire MNA who said in 2021 she was going to vote for the NDP, called Mr. Singh paternalistic and insulting.

And it all started with the announcement of a pharmacare deal that was supposed to be a New Democrat win.

Even before that agreement was announced, two provinces, Quebec and Alberta, said they’d opt out of the program and demand money instead.

That would obviously make the national pharmacare program less than national – especially because the NDP insists a key benefit of universal pharmacare is mustering the buying power of the whole country to negotiate cheaper drug prices.

Mr. Singh trooped out to tell reporters he wasn’t surprised that conservative governments in Alberta and Quebec won’t help sick people.

He also said he believes Quebec has a right to opt out of federal programs in provincial jurisdiction and get cash instead – but suggested Alberta does not.

That prompted Alberta Premier Danielle Smith to complain Albertans are being treated like “second-class citizens.”

Yet somehow, Mr. Singh managed to send a different message to Quebec – that Quebec should do what Ottawa thinks is best.

Quebec politicians, both in the governing Coalition Avenir Québec and in the opposition, had already been complaining about the new dental insurance program that was also a product of the Liberal-NDP deal.

Québec Solidaire had pressed Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé to demand the money instead so that Quebec could improve its existing dental-care program. The party wants Quebec to do the same with pharmacare.

Mr. Singh could have tried to finesse the politics. His only Quebec MP, Alexandre Boulerice, had asked provincial politicians to meet to talk about the potential benefits of a national program. Mr. Singh chose a more inept version.

The NDP Leader sent a letter to both Mr. Dubé and Québec Solidaire MNA Vincent Marissal asking for a meeting but suggesting jurisdiction doesn’t matter, and they should stop their academic debates and put people first. Then he told a journalist he wanted to remind both of the reasons why people go into politics.

That didn’t go down well, especially with Québec Solidaire, which has been advocating for expanded dental coverage and pharmacare in Quebec. Mr. Marissal sniped on social-media platform X. Ms. Ghazal called his letter “paternalistic.” Quebec pundits gleefully piled on Mr. Singh for his dismissal of Quebec’s jurisdiction as an academic debating point.

Perhaps in the grand scheme of Canadian politics it doesn’t matter that much. The NDP doesn’t have a lot of game in Quebec any more.

But Mr. Singh certainly didn’t do any favours for his lone Quebec MP, Mr. Boulerice, who shares his Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie riding and most of his political base with Québec Solidaire. Mr. Singh’s clumsy intervention reinforced the notion that the NDP is a centralizing federal party, and that will help the Bloc Québécois.

It was always going to be hard to sell the nationalist Québec Solidaire on a federal program in provincial jurisdiction. Still, it’s noteworthy that Mr. Singh managed to both assert Quebec’s right to opt out and offend defenders of Quebec’s jurisdiction.

And Mr. Singh’s clumsiness will only make it harder for Mr. Trudeau to negotiate with premiers to make the pharmacare initiative a reality.

The NDP Leader was supposed to be making this pharmacare deal the vehicle for NDP success, but in the first weeks, Mr. Singh steered it into the curb.

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