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Lacking in both remorse and repentance, Liberal House Leader Karina Gould recently admitted to reporters that her government would not meet its 2023 deadline to enact pharmacare legislation.

I don’t think we’re going to get it passed by the end of this year,” Gould told the press, “but we’ll definitely keep working” she added, almost cheerfully.

With the House of Commons holiday break fast approaching, her message shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. By the time Gould finally acknowledged her government’s tardiness, there were only twelve sitting days left in the calendar year. As fellow Loonie Politics columnist Dale Smith has written, even 20 sitting days would likely have been insufficient to pass legislation. Twelve would have been unthinkable.

The NDP should have been the most frustrated by this development. After all, pharmacare is their signature policy demand.

Instead of ramping up the pressure, though, and lambasting the government for its poor punctuality, they meekly allowed the Liberals to continue procrastinating.

Perhaps they thought they could not leverage any more policy wins this year (after the Liberals tabled its anti-scab bill). Or perhaps the holiday season has made them overly charitable. Either way, they need to be much tougher on their supply-and-confidence partners.

Because believe me, the Liberals knew how long it would take to pass pharmacare legislation. They also knew all the necessary steps it would take to draft, introduce, and debate that legislation, before seeking its passage through both the House of Commons and the Senate.

But they dawdled and delayed, lingered and loitered, showing a complete disregard for the assurances they once made.

Now, as 2023 comes to an end, they have next to nothing to show for themselves. No Canada Pharmacare Act. No list of essential medicines from the National Drug Agency. No bulk purchasing plan. Nothing.

The answer why, is quite simple. It’s not a result of finite funds, or a struggling economy, as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has suggested.

Rather, it is because the wealthy pharmaceutical and insurance industries are hell-bent on maintaining Canada’s inadequate patchwork of drug coverage plans. And they have unleashed the full power of their lobbying efforts to keep it that way.

These industry types don’t care that approximately 7.5 million (one in five) Canadians either have no prescription drug insurance or lack adequate insurance, under the current status quo. Or that almost one million Canadians had to forgo heating their homes and spending money on food to fill their prescription. Or that three million others simply went without their necessary medication.

Immense profit is their only concern, and they’ll have it, so long as they can prevent the government from lowering the obscenely high price of prescription drugs in this country.

As many in academia, civil society, and leftist political circles have long advocated, a single-payer, universal pharmacare system is the best solution to bring drug prices down. At the same time, it will improve the health of millions of Canadians, while saving the country billions.

In a recent 2023 study, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that such a system would result in $1.4 billion in annual savings. By 2027-28, those savings would rise closer to $2.2 billion.

Others, like University of British Columbia professor Steve Morgan, and Carleton University professor Marc-Andre Gagnon, anticipate much greater annual savings. According to their estimates, pharmacare could save anywhere between $7.3 and $11.4 billion, respectively.

While various experts differ in their projections, all agree that pharmacare, and access to more affordable drugs, will reduce hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

Alas, as transformational as the system would be, the likelihood of it getting implemented, much less enduring beyond the current Liberal tenure in office, appears tenuous at best.

Even if the NDP succeeds in pressuring the Liberals to adopt a universal, single-payer pharmacare system – their preferred system – it may be too late to become effectively entrenched from C/conservative assault.

For the entirety of his eight years in office, Justin Trudeau has had to contend with fierce hostility from the Conservative Party of Canada. They have outright opposed – and even vowed to scrap – almost every policy they deem remotely progressive, regardless of its merit.

Take the carbon tax, for instance.

Knowing how controversial the new tax would be, Trudeau attempted to neutralize its threats. He allowed provinces to create and administer their own carbon pricing systems, sent rebate cheques to low- and middle-income citizens, and bought a multi-billion-dollar pipeline to help justify its existence. Still not satisfied, Trudeau also introduced carbon contracts to, among other things, help secure the survival of his emissions pricing scheme.

If you think that means the tax is safe, though, think again.

Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre has unequivocally promised to “axe the tax” should he become prime minister. And you can bet he will do the same to a future pharmacare program.

If the NDP wants to ensure pharmacare lives on after this government, they are going to have to demand an end to Liberal tardiness. Already, it may be too late.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.