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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.

This content is restricted to subscribers

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.

This content is restricted to subscribers

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.

In politics, there are important issues and there are useful issues. International issues and foreign affairs are important… but rarely useful, politically. No one could deny that the recent Hamas terrorist attacks, Israel’s military response, and the resulting humanitarian crisis are important things.

But watching the debate unfolding about this new crisis in the Middle East during the NDP convention, it’s hard to imagine how useful this is for New Democrats. Few voters really care about the party’s position on Palestine and Israel, and even fewer will think about it on Election Day.

Among the major parties, the NDP is the one most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Already in 1938, J.S. Woodsworth, first leader of the CCF, was opposed to the right of Jewish refugees to enter Palestine, claiming “it was easy for Canadians, Americans and the British to accept a Jewish colony,  as long as it was elsewhere. Why ‘pick on the Arabs’ other than for ‘strategic’ and ‘imperialistic’ reasons?”

This position created a lot of turmoil within the party at the time, especially since Woodsworth, a pacifist, had been the only MP to vote against Canada’s declaration of war on Hitler’s Germany. The party would eventually line up behind the creation of Israel. But the debates were lively and accusations of racism and anti-semiticism, numerous.

Interestingly, the first Jewish politician to become leader of a party in Canada was Stephen Lewis in Ontario in 1970. His father David, became the first Jewish leader of a federal party in 1971. Another New Democrat, Dave Barrett, was elected premier of British Columbia in 1972, becoming the first Jewish premier.

This is to say that the NDP’s desire to find a balanced position on the conflict between Israel and Palestine goes back a long way. This desire for nuance has forced NDP leaders to be funambulists over time: a two-state solution; Palestine has the right to independence; Israel has the right to defend itself; denouncing terrorist actions and violations of international laws.

But this balanced position does not make all New Democrats happy. Ed Broadbent, Alexa McDonough and Jack Layton all had to manage very delicate situations. Numerous resolutions denouncing Israel are regularly brought to NDP conventions. Candidates have been rejected or dismissed because of their overly strong pro-Palestinian positions or anti-Israel statements.

Former MP Svend Robinson was once arrested by Israeli soldiers while trying to enter Ramallah, arguing that he was there to carry a message of solidarity and to promote peace.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called for the resignation of Layton’s deputy leader, Libby Davies, for her support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

On the other hand, many NDP MPs have been part of the Canada-Israel Inter-Parliamentary Group, which “furthers cooperation and mutual understanding” between Canadian parliamentarians and members of the Israeli Knesset.

Under the leadership of Tom Mulcair, some felt the party was taking a stronger position in favour of Israel. Ignoring the latter’s epic quarrels with leaders of the Jewish community, MP Sana Hassainia even slammed the party’s door using the issue as an excuse, pointing to  Mulcair’s in-laws being Holocaust survivors and to the sizeable Jewish community in his constituency.

From there to say that the NDP is under the thumb of the Jewish lobby, there is only one step, happily taken by the most pugnacious. There is a mirror reaction from the fiercest supporters of Israel, who believe that the NDP is infiltrated by pro-Palestinian hysterics. In this context, having a reasonable discussion is mission impossible.

Jagmeet Singh had to play a balancing act once during this last Convention, marked by scenes of demonstrations, heckling, delegates being removed and police intervention. This is not Singh’s fault, but it gave the party an immature image, as videos of the confrontations made the rounds.

At the tactical level, these ardent pro-Palestinian activists target the NDP because it is the lowest hanging fruit. They assume the message will have a more significant and immediate impact on delegates and party policies than if they showed up at a Conservative convention.

They will claim victory when they see New Democrats stand up in Question Period, denouncing “the impact of this war on the Palestinians”, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and asking the government to “stand up for international law”. Important questions, to be sure.

Meanwhile, Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives are relentless on the cost of living, asking Prime Minister Trudeau to “reverse his inflationary policies,” “to lower interest rates” and to “allow Canadians to keep their homes.” Useful questions, without a doubt.

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.

The world is largely focused on the war between Israel and Hamas, for obvious reasons. Mere days before this terrible conflict began, a lightly-reported moment occurred in Canada that could ultimately have a direct impact on our political process.

The first draft of the Liberals’ pharmacare legislation was rejected by Jagmeet Singh and the NDP. Health Minister Mark Holland described negotiations between the two parties as “extremely fluid.” In contrast, NDP health critic Don Davies told the media the initial draft “doesn’t meet the New Democrats’ red lines at this point” and that they’re “waiting for a next draft to come to us.”

National pharmacare was one of several key policies identified by the two parties last March when they jointly signed a supply and confidence agreement to keep Parliament afloat until June 2025. “Continuing progress towards a universal national pharmacare program by passing a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023,” as highlighted in Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement, “and then tasking the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”

One of the NDP’s main campaign planks during the 2021 federal election was related to national pharmacare. They wanted to introduce “a drug plan with universal coverage that will cover the total cost of expenditures on drugs listed on Quebec’s public drug plan formulary.” This led the Parliamentary Budget Officer to provide an open estimate to the NDP on Aug. 27, 2021. According to the PBO, this proposal could have reached an annual cost of nearly $11.5 billion by 2025-26.

No party leader could ever spin this huge amount of public spending in a positive fashion. Unless you’re somehow able to convince people that money grows on trees, that is.

Hence, the three-year supply and confidence agreement is the NDP’s only realistic opportunity to get some semblance of its national pharmacare plan in place. Yet, they’re currently taking an unrealistic approach that won’t help achieve this lofty goal.

According to the Canadian Press on Oct. 5, “Davies said the NDP will accept nothing less than a commitment to pharmacare paid for and administered through the public single-payer system, though it doesn’t have to happen all at once. The NDP would be willing to start with essential medicines and expand from there, he said, but wants to see the timelines enshrined in the legislation.”

The federal government knows full well this isn’t doable. The costs of implementing the NDP’s vision of national pharmacare are way too high to begin with. When you add in the current affordability crisis that’s hurting many Canadian families, it’s not even a discussion worth having. That’s why Holland and the Liberals likely believe the two sides will meet somewhere in the middle once the negotiations are done.

But what if they don’t?

Today’s NDP has been gradually turning into a party where the fringe left has acquired more power and influence within the grassroots membership. Last weekend’s party convention in Hamilton, Ont. provided several indications of this.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators disrupted the proceedings for a spell, for instance, which led the police to getting involved. Counter Signal circulated a bizarre video clip that dealt with yellow cards being provided to some NDP delegates to “enforce gender parity at the mics” during the debates. Singh survived his leadership review, but only received 81 percent support – down from 2018 (91 percent) and 2021 (87 percent). His left-wing leadership evidently isn’t far enough to the left to satisfy some of his party faithful.

To top it off, NDP delegates gave unanimous support to make pharmacare the redline in their supply and confidence agreement with the Liberals. Maybe the two parties won’t meet in the middle, after all.

Is the NDP getting prepared to bring down the Liberals before June 2025? While it’s difficult to say with absolute certainty, it’s starting to look a bit more likely. They’re in the best position to bring down the curtain on Trudeau’s mediocre, ineffective leadership, after all.

The risks are huge. The NDP will lose its influential role in propping up the Liberals. Polls currently show Pierre Poilievre and the Conservatives in majority territory. The party doesn’t have much money in its war chest to run an effective campaign. It’s largely devoid of mainstream ideas that Canadian progressives would naturally support.

At the same time, Singh and his senior advisers may privately believe they have enough momentum to leapfrog the weakened Liberals and become the Official Opposition once more. A second political breakthrough, similar to the late Jack Layton’s memorable “Orange Crush” in the 2011 election, could be worth the gamble in both the short term and long term.

It may all come down to Liberal-NDP negotiations related to a wildly expensive national pharmacare plan and an imaginary redline. Hard to believe, when you think about it.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.


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.

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In Canada as elsewhere autumn 2023 is a strange political time on various fronts. And it is not always easy to know just what to make of various opinion polling anomalies.

Take the case of two late September Canada-wide polls, broken down for federal parties in the third most populous province of BC, between the vast Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains.

On the evening of September 28 the almost always interesting Polling Canada tweeted the BC provincial results of an EKOS federal poll taken September 19–24. As in the country at large this showed the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) well out in front, with a remarkable 53% of the provincial vote. The NDP had 22% and the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) only 12%.

At almost the same time, in the early morning of the same day Polling Canada had tweeted the BC provincial results of a Leger federal poll taken September 22–24. This proposed a rather dramatically different BC provincial picture: LPC 32%, NDP 30%, and CPC.29%.

With the confidence and supply agreement between Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh in mind (both of whom have particular BC connections), these Leger numbers could be read to suggest that the province sometimes known as British California may have now become a progressive bastion in Canada, broadly comparable to Gavin Newsom’s California in the USA.

What all this could suggest about BC seems especially striking when set beside the Ontario results of the same Leger federal poll taken September 22–24: CPC 45%, LPC 28%, NDP 18%.

These Leger Ontario numbers look more like the EKOS numbers for BC. Partisans of the BC EKOS poll raise methodological issues with the Leger poll. On Twitter (now  X),  Polling Canada offers a methodological note on its BC Leger poll:  “Sample size = 141 Online.”

Several commenting tweets urge this size is just too small. Yet 141 would be BC’s approximate share of the Canada-wide population in a cross-country sample of 1,000 people. And the EKOS poll whose results Leger poll critics like better has a Canada-wide sample of 1,025.

Methodologically, Polling Canada just notes “IVR” on  its BC EKOS poll. And veteran polling guru Allan Gregg has quietly criticized “the interactive voice response (IVR) surveys that bombard telephone numbers with recorded questions which, quite frankly, isn’t any more scientific than … trying to stop people … on a street corner.”

Finally, in the technical rating of  Canadian federal pollsters proposed by physics and astrophysics professor Philippe J. Fournier’s 338Canada website EKOS gets B+ and Leger A+!

All this having been said, there does remain an obvious enough sense in which less than 150 observations is not a very good sample size for political opinion polling.

Yet the insurmountable general problem here is that cross-Canada samples large enough to provide seriously reliable regional results are prohibitively expensive. (The average country-wide sample size of the most recent half-dozen polls followed by 338Canada is 1,385!)

The typical smaller-number, less reliable regional samples in Canada-wide polls are sometimes intriguing — and even revealing. But regional inconsistencies in these cost-effective soundings of Canadian opinion at large are not unusual. It is almost always wise to treat regional results of cross-country polls with  grains of well-seasoned salt.

All this having been said again, there remains some further support for the Leger poll’s Canadian bastion of progress on the Pacific coast in recent polling on BC provincial politics.

338Canada’s latest model of a BC election held now shows the NDP with 71 seats, BC United (old BC Liberals) 11 seats, Greens 3, and Conservatives 2. In the early autumn of 2023 the progressive NDP BC provincial government  — under new leader David Eby, but in office since the spring of 2017 — is arguably in greater command of provincial politics than ever before.

(And, it is tempting to wonder, is this somehow related to the 2023 wildfires?)

The ultimate truth probably is that both the recent EKOS and Leger polls reflect different strands in the complex web of BC provincial and federal politics. Both clusters of regional opinion are out there in the wet coast air.

The big question for the near-enough future is no doubt which of the two rather different late September 2023 BC polling pictures  will prevail in the next federal election on or before October 20, 2025— EKOS’s conservative dominance or Leger’s progressive bastion? The answer could have something to do with the futures of both Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh.

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.

This content is restricted to subscribers

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.

This content is restricted to subscribers

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.