NDP Threatens to End Deal with Liberals Over Pharmacare Disagreements

NDP Rejects Liberals' Initial Pharmacare Bill; Negotiations Continue Amid
The New Democrats have rejected the first draft of the Liberal's pharmacare legislation in what the health minister describes as extremely fluid negotiations over the highly anticipated bill. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has ramped up pressure on the governing Liberals over the pharmacare bill, threatening to pull support if certain demands aren’t met.

Jagmeet Singh’s Bargaining Chip

Delegates attending the NDP policy convention in Hamilton this weekend may offer party leader Jagmeet Singh a significant bargaining chip against the Liberals. A resolution under debate proposes to grant Singh the authority to end the confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals. The termination would be contingent on whether the Trudeau government delivers a pharmacare bill that meets the NDP’s expectations.

Mike Bleskie, a New Democrat delegate in favor of the resolution, emphasized the party’s stance, saying, “We want to give the caucus a vote of confidence from the membership to say these are things that we stand on. If you need to go to the mat on this, we are behind you 100 per cent.”

A group of grassroots NDP activists are planning to push the federal party to make pharmacare a make-or-break element of the supply and confidence deal with the Liberals at the New Democrat’s convention next week. New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh makes his way to the podium for a news conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NDP Rejects Liberals’ First Draft

The first draft of the Liberal’s pharmacare bill was recently turned down by the New Democrats. The bone of contention lies in the party’s insistence on a single-payer public system. “Their first piece of legislation simply did not commit to single-payer, and that’s unacceptable,” stated Don Davies, the NDP’s health critic, during the convention.

Bleskie further stressed the New Democrats’ vision for a pharmacare program, one that caters to every Canadian without being “means-tested” or linked to income. Echoing Bleskie’s sentiments, Davies said, “We’ve expressed that to them and said it is a non-starter. I’ve said it is a red line.”

Potential Compromises

While the NDP has drawn clear boundaries around the pharmacare issue, Davies highlighted that the party might be open to some compromises. The NDP could consider an interim solution, provided it covers all essential prescriptions and can be expanded over time.

“[Convention delegates] are sending a message to the Liberal government that they want single-payer pharmacare and they want it now,” Davies added, emphasizing the pressure this could place on the Liberals.

Emergency Pharmacare Resolution Takes Center Stage at NDP Convention Amid Ongoing Dental Plan Concerns
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept.27, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Balance of Power

Currently, the federal NDP holds the balance of power in the House of Commons. The Liberal minority government depends on the NDP’s votes to pass legislation, a formal arrangement set out in an agreement both parties have inked.

The terms of the confidence-and-supply agreement obligate the NDP to back major government legislation. In return, the Liberals commit to progressing several NDP policy priorities. Notably, among these priorities is the aim to pass “a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023 and then [task] the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”