Politics Blog: NDP provides another chance for universal pharmacare

Ottawa – November 21, 2020 – Jagmeet Singh and Canada’s NDP are once again putting the pressure on Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to finally follow through on their repeated commitments to universal pharmacare.

The Liberals have been good at talking about the need for universal pharmacare in Canada, but they always seem to fall short when in comes to acting on these discussions. We have heard this commitment many times before. Trudeau talked about the need for pharmacare during the 2015 Federal Election campaign, but the best his government could come up with was an advisory committee that was not created until June 2018 – almost three years after the election.

The head of that committee, Eric Hoskins, did not release his report until June 2019, but the report was significant in that it recommended the establishment of a universal, single-payer pharmacare system – something that the federal New Democrats and Canadian health experts had been calling for repeatedly. But once the report was issued, the Trudeau government failed to act on its recommendations, and the Liberals waited until the 2019 Federal Election to once again commit to a pharmacare program. The Liberals won re-election, but there has been no action on this issue since then.

In place of the Trudeau government’s oft-repeated commitments to pharmacare with no tangible actions, Jagmeet Singh and the NDP have stepped forward to fill the void by introducing Canada’s Pharmacare Act (Bill C-213). The proposed Canada Pharmacare Act is based on the recommendations of the Hoskins Advisory Council – along with other expert reports – and is modelled on the Canada Health Act (CHA). The Hoskins Report recommended that the federal government enshrine the principles and national standards of pharmacare in federal legislation, separate and distinct from the Canada Health Act. The report also recommended that the five fundamental principles of Medicare, embodied in the Canada Health Act, also be enshrined in federal pharmacare legislation. Like the CHA, the Canada Pharmacare Act specifies the conditions that provincial and territorial prescription drug insurance programs must meet to receive federal funding. This includes tying federal funding to the core principles of public administration, comprehensiveness, universality, portability, and accessibility.

Study after study has shown that a national pharmacare program would save billions of dollars in health care costs. Prior to the arrival of COVID-19, over 7.5 million Canadians lacked adequate prescription drug coverage, or had no coverage at all, and with millions of jobs lost due to the pandemic, even more Canadians lack drug coverage in the post-coronavirus economy. Women, minorities, and lower income Canadians, meanwhile, face the brunt of the problems exacerbated by the lack of adequate drug coverage.

While the Trudeau government may wish for another election, Singh and the NDP are trying to make this minority government work, and are using their leverage to finally achieve a universal pharmacare program. The NDP’s Bill C-213 was debated on November 18, but unfortunately there has been no indication from the Trudeau government that they will support the New Democrats’ pharmacare bill.

We cannot wait for Trudeau and the Liberals to make another election promise for universal pharmacare, while failing to act on this issue in any significant way. Now is the time to call your Members of Parliament and lobby the federal government to support the NDP’s pharmacare bill, and make a universal pharmacare a reality for all.