The federal NDP is concluding its three-day Edmonton caucus retreat on Thursday, after holding both a series of closed-door planning sessions and community outreach meetings.
Over the last few days, New Democrats have heard from housing affordability advocates and embarked out into the city in small groups to visit local labour, business and First Nation leaders, as well as dentistry and nursing students.
At a town hall earlier in the week, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his MPs seated behind him on stage also heard pleas to pin down the Liberals on pharmacare.
All of this feedback, and the days of internal deliberations have helped NDP MPs focus in on what should be prioritized when the House of Commons resumes next week, and what they could try to negotiate into Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s 2024 federal budget.
Singh will be holding a closing press conference Thursday afternoon to outline his caucus’ plans as they head back to Parliament Hill.
Over what the New Democrats have called their “strategy session,” there’s been two central themes: finding ways to leverage their confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, and in case they need to pull the plug on it, election readiness.
While progress has been made on some key pillars of the Liberal-NDP pact, such as initiating a national dental care program, and tabling “anti-scab” and “just transition” legislation, New Democrats at the caucus retreat have indicated that they feel the need to be on the Liberals’ heels, ensuring follow-through.
Actually accomplishing the entirety of the two-party deal keeping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in power is what MPs CTV News has spoken with indicated is a primary objective for 2024, indicating they want real action and not just Liberal announcements.
Pressing pharmacare priority
Likely the first test of the NDP’s resolve, will be advancing legislation to implement a national pharmacare framework, before March 1.
While the agreement originally required the federal government to pass a “Canada Pharmacare Act” by the end of 2023, the Liberals and New Democrats agreed to an extension, after being unable to even table a bill.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, NDP MP and health critic Don Davies said there has been some back-and-forth on the parties’ positions about how far the legislation should go, after the initial draft of the bill was rejected by Singh as offering “insufficient” coverage for Canadians.
“We’re battling for the proper way to deliver prescription medication to Canadians,” Davies said. “We’ve set down a very clear line in the sand. We know that single-payer pharmacare is the only way that you get a fair distribution of medication… so we continue to take that position with the government.”
Davies said he will be picking back up on his meetings with Health Minister Mark Holland when they’re both back in Ottawa next week, stating the NDP have some “creative” and “bold” proposals to see an agreeable version of the legislation materialize.
Optimistic about the possibility of both introducing and passing legislation before the deadline, Davies said he hopes both parties can work together to make it happen. CTVNews.ca has reached out to Holland’s office for comment.
“It’s rare in Canadian politics when you have a policy that not only would make a dramatic improvement to people’s health, but also give them significant profound relief to the economic pressures that they’re facing right now, and pharmacare does both,” he said.
While other budget wins are on their minds, Davies said money for actually implementing a pharmacare plan is not necessarily one of the line items they’ll be looking for.
“It’s less of an issue of a dollar amount, and more of setting up that system in the legislative way that we can build on in the future.”
Other pieces of legislation the New Democrats are expecting the Liberals to table in the months ahead include a “Homebuyer’s Bill of Rights” to make the process of buying a home more transparent, a “Safe Long-Term Care Act” to improve protections, and legislation exploring improving electoral accessibility.