Canada remains the only country offering a public health care plan that does not include coverage of prescription medication, which is leaving one in five Canadians to make the hard choice between paying rent, utilities, and the prescription medicines they need. It is time for our country to move forward and address this glaring gap in coverage.
It was nearly 23 years ago — during the 1997 federal election — that the Liberal Party of Canada committed to a plan and timeline for universal public coverage for medically necessary prescription drugs. Since then, the Liberals have been saying all the right things in public, especially during election campaigns, but we are still waiting for the time when words will turn into action. And although there was reference to a pharmacare plan in the Speech from the Throne, the words “universal,” “comprehensive,” and “public” were noticeably absent.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh recently announced that the NDP’s first legislation to be debated in the 43rd Parliament will be a framework for pharmacare coverage for all Canadians. Our proposal will chart a path forward through the necessary steps the federal government must take in working with the provinces to receive funding under the program.
The NDP’s bill will be modelled on the Canada Health Act, and follows recommendations set out in the 2019 report authored by the government’s own Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare. The chair of the Advisory Council, Dr. Eric Hoskins, said in a statement about their findings: “Canadians have considered the idea of universal drug coverage, as a complement to universal health care, for over five decades. For such a long-standing debate there is a surprising level of consensus. After hearing from many thousands of Canadians, we found a strongly held, shared belief that everyone in Canada should have access to prescription drugs based on their need and not their ability to pay, and delivered in a manner that is fair and sustainable. That’s why our council has recommended that Canada implement universal, single-payer, public pharmacare.”
In this minority Parliament, we have before us an opportunity we have not seen since prior to the 2011 general election — when we were last in a minority government situation. This is our chance for all parties to put aside partisan differences, work together in a collaborative way, and provide Canadians with the long-overdue access to publicly funded, universal medicine. No Canadian should be forced to rack up debt or skip the care they require due to the cost of medicine.
Alistair MacGregor is the NDP Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford. He serves as the NDP’s Critic for Agriculture and Agri-food, Rural Economic Development, and deputy Justice.