The NDP is threatening stalling tactics and ending the agreement with the Liberals over the slow pace of pharmacare talks
The federal NDP has warned its staff on Parliament Hill to prepare for the potential abrupt termination of the party’s supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals — a bipartisan cooperation agreement that could delay a snap election.
A senior NDP source, who was not authorized to speak publicly, told CBC News that the party held a meeting Tuesday to tell staff that with negotiations ongoing with the Trudeau Liberals on pharmacare, the deal could be heading to an early grave.
The source also said the party is looking to ramp up pressure on the government by withholding support for measures that speed up debate on legislation in the House of Commons, such as time allocation and evening sittings. A time allotment allows the government to set limits on how long debate can continue before a vote is called.
A source told Radio-Canada the party may slow down adoption of a key piece of government legislation to implement the fall economic statement. It can also withhold assistance from Liberal MPs on committees in the face of political maneuvering by other parties.
“We are tired of messing around,” a senior NDP source said in French.
“The Liberals promised (pharmacare), signed the deal, and now they have to deliver the goods,” another party source said.
The source said talks with the government on pharmacare have been productive but difficult because the Liberals have not yet made any concrete commitments. A source told Radio-Canada the NDP has not received a pharmacare counter-offer from the government since December.
Under the wording of the supply and confidence agreement — which sees the New Democrats backing the government on key votes, preventing a snap election in the minority Parliament — the NDP called for the Canada Medicare Act to be passed by the end of 2023. In December, the two parties agreed to Deadline extended until March 1.
“We need a final version of the bill ready for March 1,” another NDP source told Radio-Canada in French.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has ratcheted up the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his latest comments.
“If the agreement is violated, then all the terms of the agreement have been violated,” Singh said on February 5.
Singh met with Trudeau on Monday. The two meet from time to time to discuss the terms of the offer and trust agreement.
Pharmaceutical care negotiations seem to become more complex the longer they go on. The New Democrats insist on a drug plan that is completely generic and global. They’re also calling for early coverage of some major drugs before a full pharma care plan is in place — a provision that wasn’t part of their original agreement with the Liberals.
“It’s clear that we’re not always on the same wavelength,” a Liberal source familiar with the state of the negotiations told Radio-Canada in French. “But we are ready to have difficult conversations.”
In 2019, a federal advisory board led by former Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins urged Canada to implement single-payer universal pharmacare.
Its report estimated that such a program would cost the federal government $3.5 billion annually if it began covering essential drugs.
“It’s a big difference in money,” the Liberal source said, noting that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office is putting some pressure to limit new spending in the spring budget.
“We have a balance to manage. The cost of this action will be very significant.”
Despite the more confrontational tone coming from the New Democrats recently, the liberal source said behind-the-scenes conversations have been “frequent and cordial.”
Tensions within the National Democratic Party gathering
If Singh now feels the need to increase pressure on Trudeau, it may be because he faces internal pressure from his caucus.
Sources say that some NDP MPs feel threatened by their conservative opponents in different regions of the country. They say they fear their association with the Liberals will become a liability that could hurt their chances for re-election — and that they need a big win on drug coverage to boost their chances.
“It’s of great importance to the seniors on my trip,” one NDP MP said. “It represents a significant portion of their monthly budget. We must push the Liberals to the brim.”
This would not be the first time Singh has threatened to withdraw from the agreement if the Liberals do not meet expectations. The agreement also called for a dental coverage program for middle-to-low-income Canadians. When negotiations over dental care were delayed, Singh also threatened to withdraw support.