Labour Council calls on Liberals to deliver on Pharmacare promise

By Lincoln DePradine

The executive board of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council wants the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow through with a promise of a Canada Pharmacare Act that will “ensure all Canadians have access to a wide range of safe, medically effective drugs’’.

Andria Babbington

The Labour Council is headed by Jamaican-Canadian Andria Babbington as president. In a letter to Liberal MPs in Toronto and York Region, the executive board reiterated its “strong’’ backing for the implementation of a national pharmacare program “that is universal, public, and comprehensive, rooted in the same principles as Canadian medicare’’.

“Currently, more than 3.4 million in Canada —11 percent of all adults — cannot afford their medications, while millions more are forced to choose between buying food, paying the rent, or filling their prescriptions. It is only through a universal, public, and comprehensive pharmacare program that we can ensure equal access to medicines for all, while reining in excessive drug prices,’’ the letter said.

After the last federal election, Trudeau’s minority Liberal government and the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) signed a formal “confidence-and-supply agreement’’. Under the deal, the New Democrats agree to support essential government legislation in exchange for the Liberals advancing several NDP policy priorities.

According to the wording of the agreement, one of those NDP priorities is to pass “a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023’’.

However, on Tuesday, government House Leader Karina Gould warned that the Liberals are unlikely to get a pharmacare bill passed by next month’s deadline.

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

New Democrats unanimously passed a motion at their policy convention last month, calling on their party to stand firm on pharmacare — even if it means ending their political agreement with the Liberals.

The motion, now official NDP policy, does not force the New Democratic Party caucus in Ottawa to do anything. However, it gives NDP MPs the backing of the party’s membership to walk away from the arrangement if the Liberals do not agree to a public, universal, single-payer system.

According to the resolution, the “continued confidence-and-supply is contingent on government legislation that commits to a universal, comprehensive and entirely public pharmacare program’’.

“If you allow the Liberals to not deliver on this key promise, you weaken your long-term negotiating ability,’’ said New Democrat James Brunet, the original drafter of the motion.

Peter Julian, the NDP House Leader, said New Democrats are still hoping that a pharmacare bill can be introduced, if not passed, before parliament ends its current sitting in mid-December.

Apart from the Toronto & York Region Labour Council, the proposed pharmacare program is supported by other organizations such as the Canadian Labour Congress and the Council of Canadians.

“Universal pharmacare is the only way to cover all Canadians — regardless of age, income, employment, or place of residence. Eliminating out-of-pocket costs for healthcare and ensuring equal coverage across the country are key principles of Canadian medicare, and they should be replicated in the Canada Pharmacare Act,’’ the Labour Council’s letter said.

“A public health care system that pays for a doctor to write a prescription, but refuses to cover the medication prescribed, is an unnecessary injustice. Canada is the only country with a developed public healthcare system that does not cover prescription drugs. It is high time that changed.’’