Three reasons why the NDP tabled its own pharmacare bill this week
Pharmacare is back in the news after NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Health Critic Don Davies introduced their own private member’s bill to establish the Canada Pharmacare Act on Tuesday morning. Bill C-340, An Act to enact the Canada Pharmacare Act is essentially a reintroduction of the party’s previous private member’s bills on pharmacare.
The move may have taken some by surprise because, under the terms of the 2022 agreement between the Liberals and NDP, the government promised to pass its own Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of this year.
So, why did the NDP put forward this private member’s bill if the Liberals have committed to bringing in their own? There are three reasons.
Enforce the timeline
First, the NDP wants to pressure the government to keep to the timeline stated in the two parties’ agreement.
In exchange for the NDP’s support, the minority Liberal government committed to, “passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023.” But it is just days before Parliament will break for the summer, and still, no legislation has been introduced.
“We have found with this government that even if we have things in writing, it’s not guaranteed,” Singh told reporters at a press conference. “We’ve got to continually fight and push them to deliver. So, with pharmacare it’s no different.”
A year ago, the NDP found itself in a similar position with foot-dragging over dental care, prompting the NDP leader to publicly admonish the government’s inaction. The government responded by passing the Canada Dental Benefit within a few months.
Oppose the anti-pharmacare corporate lobby
Second, the NDP wants to push back against the fierce opposition from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries which appears to be gaining traction with the government.
Several officials resigned this year from a government drug price review board in a scandal prompted by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos when he intervened in the arms-length body on behalf of corporate lobbyists opposed to new proposed price-control measures.
Singh said he’s concerned people are paying for prescription medication which is overpriced in Canada. “We have a Prime Minister and a Health Minister that have sided with the billionaire CEOs of corporations instead of with Canadians and families that are just trying to buy the medications that they need,” said Singh.
Set out expectations for the government’s legislation
Third, the NDP wants to set out its expectations clearly for the government’s anticipated legislation to enact a pharmacare program that is universal, comprehensive and publicly delivered.
Pharmacare is a very complicated program and there are many potential approaches the government could take, including a weaker “fill-the-gaps” approach which would not cover everybody. The Liberal-NDP agreement commits the government to pass legislation for “a universal national pharmacare program,” but there does not seem to be a clear consensus on the definition of universality from the Liberals’ side of the House.
The NDP’s bill, Davies told reporters, “is the framework for what a universal, single-payer pharmacare system should look like.” He added that it is based on the principles of the Canada Health Act and follows the recommendations of the government’s own Hoskins Advisory Council. “But the most critical elements are that the system be universal, comprehensive, and public.”
Reporters asked if there was a lack of progress going on behind the scenes between the two parties, and Davies said the relationship was working well. He added he was very pleased with the progress on dental care so far, and there have been productive discussions on pharmacare.
The Canadian Health Coalition shares the goals put forward by the NDP. In March, over 100 volunteers met with parliamentarians of all political stripes to advocate for public universal pharmacare.