The Liberal-NDP agreement: What’s all the fuss?

By Lindsay Advocate

An October 2020 Angus Reid poll discovered that almost 90 per cent of Canadian supported a public pharmacare program.

By Dr. David Rapaport     

Less than five months ago, Canada’s governing Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party announced an agreement for the remainder of the 44th Parliament.

In its broad strokes, it is quite simple. The NDP agrees to support the Liberal Party in confidence votes, thus guaranteeing the survival of the Liberal government until the next scheduled election in October 2025.

As the Liberals only won a minority government in 2021, it was possible for opposition parties to outvote them in confidence motions, sending us back to the polls. In return, the NDP secured two campaign promises: the passage of national pharmacare legislation by the end of 2023 and the launch of a dental care program for low-income Canadians. (There are other parts to the agreement but these two get the most attention.) 

There are two questions to address to judge this agreement. First, is the process above-board? Does it fall within acceptable parliamentary practice in Canada? Second, what does universal dental care and pharmacare mean for Canadians?

Our parliamentary system is fashioned after the British Westminster model. In other words, a government is recognized after it secures the confidence of a majority of MPs in the House of Commons. 

That government can either be a single party that wins an electoral majority or more than one party forming a coalition or an agreement. In the past seven Parliaments we have had only two majority governments: the Conservatives in 2011 and the Liberals in 2015. Minority governments must accommodate the wishes of other parties to stay in power. This is not unusual in Canada. We have seen agreements between parties in British Columbia in 2017 and in Ontario in 1985. In fact, our universal health care system was a product of an agreement between the Lester Pearson Liberals and the NDP of Tommy Douglas in the mid-1960s. 

What about the actual content, the agreement to expand socialized dental and pharmacare programs?  A core function of government in Canada is to develop and implement social and political policy that is in tune with Canadian values and with public opinion. It is no great secret that a significant majority of Canadians consistently support a public health care system where access is not determined by ability to pay. An October 2020 Angus Reid poll discovered that almost 90 per cent of Canadian supported a public pharmacare program. A 2019 Ipsos poll indicated that 86 per cent of Canadians support publicly funded dental care. In other words, the concept of Medicare remains incomplete without these two add-ons.

Unfortunately, Canada has an electoral process that emphasizes parties over policies. In our (let’s hope) post-pandemic world, it’s time we turn our focus to matters of social policy. The Angus Reid poll cited above sadly discovered that 23 per cent of Canadians did not fill prescriptions because of lack of funds.  Clearly, their health does not matter less than the health of the 77 per cent of Canadians who filled their prescriptions. 

What do we expect from our government? Like most Canadians, I expect the provision of equal access to health care, in all its forms. 

–Dr. David Rapaport is an assistant professor in the sociology department of Trent University and lives in Lindsay.

2 Comments

  1. Joan Abernethy says:

    I support generously adjudicated, means-tested universal pharma- and dental-care programs for Canada. But I think the funding should attach to patients not clinics. Let the patient decide which dentist will perform the work and which pharmacist will fill their prescriptions.

    When I needed dental surgery a few years ago, I got quotes from four separate dentists including the low-income seniors practice my income made me eligible for. Two of those quotes came in at about the same price for in excess of two hours in the chair. One was for sleep dentistry that I couldn’t afford. But the fourth was from a former military officer who I chose to do the job – he did it in less than half an hour (he didn’t pull; he cut) and his price was less than the low-income dental clinic quoted.

  2. William says:

    There are serious problems with means-testing, but it is something that neoliberals love to do. First, means-testing leaves programs vulnerable to cuts when a new government takes power. Would you also argue that OHIP should be means-tested? I would hope not. What about public education?

    Another problem with means-testing is that the rich will use another program. If the rich had their own healthcare system, ours would be left to rot. With everyone using it, upgrades benefit everyone (and downgrades hurt us all).

    Another issue is that people still fall through the cracks even if they’re eligible for the program. Not everyone has the time or ability to seek out programs they are eligible for and many will not know it exists. Even if they know they are eligible, means-testing makes programs more difficult to access. Anyone who has ever applied for ODSP, for example, knows the ordeal that is.

    If even the NDP favours means-testing, which they do, we are doomed.

    Here’s something that will trigger a lot of people: communism is the answer to our problems and unless we switch to a system like it, our society will continue it’s suicidal downward spiral. Before you try to say China is communist, or Stalin was communist, and therefore it’s bad: try reading a book.

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