As pharmaceutical care deadline approaches, Singh reflects on future without NDP deal with Liberals


NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is reflecting on what it would mean if the supply and confidence agreement linking his party to the Liberals ended prematurely.

The deal is poised to fall apart if the parties cannot agree on legislation that would lay the groundwork for a future pharmaceutical care plan by the end of the month.

“My feeling right now is that I don’t know where it’s going,” Singh said at a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday.

The NDP signed a political pact with the Liberals in 2022 to support the government in key votes in exchange for progress on shared priorities such as pharmaceutical care.

The Liberals agreed to introduce and pass pharmaceutical care legislation by the end of 2023, but negotiations over its content stalled and the parties extended the deadline to March 1 in hopes of reaching a deal.

Singh’s hopes appeared to be dashed Tuesday when he explained what the NDP’s relationship with the minority government will be like if the deal dies next month.

The NDP would not automatically support the passage of government bills and the Liberals would have to negotiate with them whenever they wanted support, Singh said.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to pass other bills that we still support. That doesn’t mean we can’t continue to push… things like scabies legislation that we want to see happen,” he said.

In other words, the other elements of the deal are not necessarily doomed if the deal fails.

When it comes to important votes that could trigger an early election, such as the one on the budget, Singh said the NDP would have to work it out on a case-by-case basis.

“If the agreement is not in place, we are saying that none of our votes should be taken for granted,” he said.

Both parties have been dragged down in the polls recently as the Conservatives gain popularity, but the NDP insists electoral politics is not putting the deal at risk.

Instead, Singh said the split has to do with the focus of a future pharmaceutical deal.

The New Democrats have insisted they will not support a bill that does not reflect a universal single-payer system.

“There’s a bit of a philosophical problem here, which is that the NDP is committed to single-payer pharmaceutical care and the Liberals aren’t. And that’s why we don’t have legislation,” said NDP health critic Don Davies, who has been leading the negotiation for his party.

Health Minister Mark Holland has expressed concern about committing to the future cost of such a program, even if the government does not need to launch it immediately.

The expected annual cost of a full program is about $38.9 billion, which would be offset by economy-wide savings, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated in a report published in October.

The NDP has suggested the plan could be phased in if it only covers certain essential medications first.

Davies said he hopes to meet with Health Minister Mark Holland this week, adding that they are in almost daily communication.

The Liberals know full well what they committed to and will meet their obligations under the deal, Liberal House Leader Steven MacKinnon said Tuesday.

Withdrawing support from the Liberals if they don’t meet the March 1 deadline is “not a well-thought-out strategy,” Liberal MP Hedy Fry weighed in on social media Tuesday.

If that triggers an election and the Conservatives win, there will surely be no pharmaceutical care for the next four years, he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 13, 2024.

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