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‘Ball in the Liberals’ court’: federal NDP deal hangs in balance with Pharmacare

New Democrats threaten to end agreement with Liberals over universal pharmacare expectations
The federal New Democratic Party is threatening to end a supply-and-confidence deal with the Liberal Party if the government doesn’t support legislation that would build the foundation to a universal pharmacare plan in Canada. (Stock photo)

A confidence-and-supply agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party of Canada could come to an end if the Liberals don’t agree on new legislation that would begin the process to create a universal pharmacare system.

The New Democrats gave the Liberal Party until March 1 to agree on the legislation, which would set the legal framework to a new, Canada-wide pharmacare plan, a policy the Liberals campaigned on in the 2019 election.

“Seniors that I’ve spoken to, in B.C., on [Vancouver Island], who are right now reeling with the high cost of groceries, rent and mortgage, they’re saying, ‘How do we budget given how expensive everything is?’ They’re also having to make really tough choices in their budgets between groceries or medication, and in a country that’s as rich as ours that shouldn’t be a choice that a senior has to make,” said Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party.

According to a Statistics Canada survey from 2021, 21 per cent of Canadians reported not having insurance to cover medication costs. Canada is also the only country in the world with a national health-care system that does not provide universal coverage for prescription drugs.

Singh said although his party is only looking for the “legislation to set us up to be in a position to eventually get this done,” and is not requesting it to be included in this year’s budget, the price calculated for the program would be “just under $40 billion.” He called it a “big investment,” but added that it would be offset by the long-term benefits.

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“[Universal pharmacare] would lower costs for provinces, territories, and the federal government, it would eventually lower the costs for medication for everyone,” he told the News Bulletin. “It would also mean for B.C., which already buys medication, you go to the hospital, the medications you receive, whether it’s painkillers or antibiotics, it’s covered, you don’t have to pay for that. For the same amount of money that B.C. already spends on medications in the hospital or in other scenarios, this program would cover every single person in the province.”

The program would affect B.C.’s life sciences and pharmaceuticals sector; however, Singh said the industry would remain “highly profitable.” The federal government would be able to negotiate better prices and buy in bulk which would calm the current “wild west” of pharmaceutical pricing, and “insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t be able to rip off Canadians in the way that they have been.”

Coming up to the given deadline, Singh said he doesn’t know what’s going to happen, and the “ball is in the Liberals’ court now.” He says the Liberals are currently on the side of “big pharma” despite the research and a 2019 government-sponsored report that found “the best, most cost-effective, most efficient, best value for money” is universal pharmacare.

“Are they going to back up people, or are they going to back up their buddies in the in the pharmaceutical industry? I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to see,” said Singh.

According to the Ministry of Health’s 2023-24 departmental plan, Health Canada has “engaged extensively” since 2021 with provinces, territories and stakeholders on the potential scope and functions of a Canada Drug Agency as part of its work toward a Canada Pharmacare Act.

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Bailey Seymour

About the Author: Bailey Seymour

After graduating from SAIT and stint with the Calgary Herald, I ended up at the Nanaimo News Bulletin/Ladysmith Chronicle in March 2023
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