Pharmacare delay puts max pressure on Liberals for Budget 2024
The NDP and the Liberals have been signaling for weeks that negotiations over promised pharmacare legislation require more time, and last Friday Parliament sat for its final day in 2023 with no pharmacare legislation in sight.
Now, according to both parties, the timer has been reset to March 1, 2024 for the government to introduce pharmacare legislation that meets the NDP’s expectation of a single-payer, universal pharmacare program.
The new deadline will put pharmacare front and centre mere weeks before a crucial vote on Budget 2024. Pharmacare will determine the fate of the government, potentially plunging the country into a spring election if the Budget doesn’t pass.
You see, if the government fails to introduce a Canada Pharmacare Act that meets the bar set by the NDP, then the deal between the parties would collapse. A non-binding resolution passed by the NDP convention made pharmacare a requirement for the continuance of the Confidence and Supply Agreement deal with the Liberals.
A breakdown would leave the minority Liberal government without enough votes to pass the annual federal budget normally introduced in March or April, unless the Liberals win support from another opposition party. A budget vote is considered a confidence measure under Parliamentary rules, which means an election would have to be called if the Liberals lose the budget vote.
Technically, the Liberals are already in non-compliance with the cooperation deal reached between the two parties in March, 2022, when the Liberals agreed to the following in return for the NDP’s support in Parliament —
“Continuing progress towards a universal national pharmacare program by passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then tasking the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”
The Liberals misfired in the fall when they presented draft pharmacare legislation that was rejected by the NDP. The two went back to the drawing board, and officials on both sides have expressed a willingness to keep talking despite the promise to pass legislation by the end of the year.
Organizations such as the Canadian Health Coalition, which has campaigned for pharmacare over many years, said that there was no need to “rush to failure,” and that properly-written pharmacare legislation was worth the wait. But public health care advocates are not prepared to wait forever.