NDP could pull support for Liberal government over pharmacare, health care privatization: Singh

OTTAWA — The NDP would consider pulling support for the minority Liberal government if it doesn’t pass a pharmacare bill this year or insist on no-privatization conditions for health care funding, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh indicated Thursday.
A day earlier, Singh called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “protect” publicly funded health care while negotiating with the provinces on funding. He said one of the conditions of the money should be “straight-up no privatization.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced this week he would direct more publicly funded surgeries to private clinics.

Speaking to reporters on Parliament Hill Thursday, Singh said “one of those conditions should be that public money from the federal government should not be going towards enriching private companies. And any new money that we invest in the health-care system shouldn’t be going towards private delivery.”

He also indicated his party would consider pulling support over that stance. “We really believe that health care has to remain public. This is one of our major priorities,” Singh said.

“Every option is on the table. If the government’s not willing to defend a public system, we’ll always use all options.”

The NDP and the Liberals announced a deal last year in which the NDP agreed to support the minority Liberal government through to 2025 in exchange for action on a series of NDP priorities, including passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023. The House of Commons is currently on break and will resume sitting on Jan. 30.

Singh said that is “the framework necessary to move forward with universal public pharmacare. And that’s something that we fought for in the agreement we negotiated, and we expect it to be there.”

He said if the government doesn’t follow through, it would be the Liberals who are breaking the agreement.

Singh said the NDP would fight to ensure the bill is passed, but could withdraw support. “We always have the right, if the government breaks any conditions of the agreement, if they don’t follow through with what we forced them to agree to, we have then the power or the option of withdrawing our support.”

The Toronto Star reported on Thursday that in an interview, Trudeau referred to Ford’s move to increase the number of surgeries in private clinics as “innovation.”

“I recognize we’re in a moment of crisis right now, but we need to build a stronger system for the future, and that’s where my focus is,” Trudeau told the Star. “I’m not going to comment on what Doug’s trying to do on this one … We’re supposed to say a certain amount of innovation should be good as long as they’re abiding by the Canada Health Act.”

The office of Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also brought up the Canada Health Act in a statement Thursday, saying the legislation “ensures that all Canadians have reasonable access to medically necessary insured services based on need and not the ability to pay.”

“Our government will continue to work with provinces and territories to make sure our investments are used in the best interest of health workers and patients, and in a way that (respects) the principles of the Canada Health Act.”

The statement from Duclos’ office also said the government is “taking significant steps” toward tabling a Canada Pharmacare Act this year. “We remain committed and continue engaging provinces and territories towards (a) national universal pharmacare program,” it said.

The NDP’s must-haves for the federal budget, which will be released this spring, include enough money to move forward with the dental care program, the first phase of which launched last year and which is also a part of the agreement, and more investments for health care in general, Singh said.

“We want to see investments in health care, broadly speaking.”

The government announced last year an interim Canada Dental Benefit that will provide $650 a year per child, for two years, to cover the cost of dental care for uninsured children whose families earn less than $70,390 a year. Families that earn between $70,390 and $90,000 can receive either $390 or $260, depending on their income.

The NDP’s agreement with the Liberals specifies a new dental care program which would be expanded to cover under 18-year-olds, seniors and persons living with a disability by the end of this year.

The statement from Duclos’ office added the Liberal government is on track to deliver on its dental care commitments under the agreement with the NDP.

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