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No pharmacare bill this year would be a deal-breaker, says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh

Liberal government says it remains committed to creation of a national pharmacare program
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh listens to a question during an availability on Parliament Hill, Thursday, January 19, 2023 in Ottawa. New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says it will be a deal-breaker if the Liberal government doesn’t introduce a pharmacare bill in Parliament this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says if the Liberal government does not introduce and pass a pharmacare bill in the House of Commons this year, he will consider it a deal-breaker.

His party signed a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals last March, in which the NDP agreed to support the minority government in key votes until 2025.

In exchange, the Liberals would advance some shared priorities, including passing pharmacare legislation by the end of this year.

“We want to see a national framework presented in Parliament, and passed in Parliament before the end of the year,” Singh said Thursday during the second day of his party’s caucus retreat in Ottawa.

“That’s something we fought for in the agreement, we negotiated, and we expect to be there.”

The agreement stipulates that a pharmacare bill must be tabled by the end of 2023 and that a “National Drug Agency” will be tasked to “develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”

“If they don’t follow through with what we forced them to agree to, then we have the power or option of withdrawing our support,” Singh said.

A spokesman for the office of the minister of health said the Liberal government remains committed to pharmacare and is engaging with provinces and territories on the creation of a national program.

“We are taking significant steps towards tabling a Canada Pharmacare Act in 2023,” Guillaume Bertrand said in an email. However, he did not provide a more specific timeline.

Health care remains a top priority for the New Democrats as they head into the next sitting, which is set to begin on Jan. 30.

The parties have made several advances on their deal since it was signed almost a year ago.

Both parties also say they are on track to deliver on their dental-care commitment. The subsidy that was created in the fall provides coverage for children under 12 in lower-income households. This year, it’s expected the coverage will be expanded to teens, seniors and those living with a disability.

The Liberals introduced other measures this fall that reflected NDP priorities, including a one-time rental supplement for low-income renters and a temporary doubling of the GST tax rebate.

If the New Democrats were to pull out of the deal, the minority government would need to court support from the NDP or other parties on a vote-by-vote basis.

Other items under the agreement are also still outstanding, including the creation of a “just transition” bill intended to support workers who could be affected by a transition to a greener economy.

Earlier this month, federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson signalled that Ottawa would move ahead this spring with legislation to provide the framework for its green-energy jobs plan.

Singh described it as a way to invest in clean energy while creating “good-paying union jobs.”

Though no bill is on the table yet, it has already been used as a political wedge in Alberta, with the province months away from a general election.

CEOs of some of the biggest oilsands companies in Alberta have argued that transitioning toward energy production that produces net-zero emissions will be a major job creator.

But both Premier Danielle Smith and provincial NDP Leader Rachel Notley have criticized Ottawa over the prospective legislation, raising concerns it will hurt the oil and gas sector and arguing the federal government has not consulted enough with Albertans.

“This prospect of them debating that in Ottawa right now, while we’re in the midst of what is almost an election campaign, without us at the table is just unacceptable. It’s not how you run the country,” Notley told reporters in Calgary on Wednesday.

She said she’s been “very clear to everybody,” including “Jagmeet Singh, Justin Trudeau, all the MPs in Ottawa.”

Singh said Notley is a defender of workers, and if she’s raising concerns about the yet-to-be-tabled bill then the federal New Democrats will listen. But he stayed firm that his party will support a bill to promote clean energy production.

—Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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