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Pharmacare not likely before 2024, despite Liberals promise to NDP

Government still working on details of the bill in concert with New Democrats
Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Karina Gould rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Government House leader Karina Gould warned Tuesday the Liberals are unlikely to get a pharmacare bill passed by the end of the year, despite their promise to do so in an agreement with the NDP.

“I don’t think we’re going to get it passed by the end of this year, but we’ll definitely keep working,” Gould said on Parliament Hill.

The two parties are still hammering out the details of a bill and it’s a “productive” conversation, she added.

In the end, she said, “I’m quite confident that we’ll land it.”

The supply-and-confidence deal, in which the New Democrats are supporting the Liberals in key House of Commons votes, included a commitment to pass a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on his way into question period today that the government is “ready to go” on putting forward legislation.

But he said the government wants to make it happen in concert with the NDP.

“We’re open to talking with them to try and make sure that it’s as ambitious as we can do, in the right way,” he said.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland released a fall economic statement last week that introduced new guardrails for the size of federal deficits going forward, with little room for new spending until 2027 at the earliest.

Asked whether the government can afford a universal pharmacare program, Trudeau said the Liberals have already taken steps to lower drug prices in the country and “we will continue to work in responsible ways … to make sure that Canadians can afford to stay healthy.”

Peter Julian, the NDP House leader, said the New Democrats are still hoping that a pharmacare bill can be introduced, if not passed, before the House rises in mid-December.

“But the reality is that the government needs more time,” he said.

He called the discussions with the Liberals “ongoing and constructive.”

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