Ten Liberal members of Parliament from Nova Scotia opposed a bill on Wednesday that, if passed, would have paved the way for national pharmacare, according to the federal New Democrats.
Bill C-213, the Canada Pharmacare Act, aimed to establish some ground rules for the public administration, accessibility, and comprehensiveness of pharmacare, which provincial governments would need to follow before accessing federal funds for universal drug coverage in their jurisdictions.
The NDP private member’s bill failed to pass its second reading with a total of 295 votes against and 32 in favour, prompting party leader Jagmeet Singh to accuse Justin Trudeau’s Liberals of “looking for an excuse to justify breaking a promise.”
On Thursday, Nova Scotia’s Liberal MPs fired back, labelling the NDP as engaging in political theatre, and saying that C-213 infringed on the autonomy of provinces and territories to run their own health care systems.
“The provinces have a heightened alertness right now to what they feel is perhaps federal overstepping into provincial jurisdictions,” said Halifax MP Andy Fillmore in an interview.
“And I hate to say this, but I think it’s clear from what we’ve seen on social media, it was a rather intentional effort by the NDP to exacerbate that problem.”
Darren Fisher, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP and parliamentary secretary to the minister of health, said he thought the bill may have been a “political stunt,” but appreciated that it brought national pharmacare back into the political spotlight.
“A good idea is a good idea. I don’t care who came up with it,” he said. “I can’t stress enough how important it is that we get this right.”
Both said federal work to implement national pharmacare and consult with provinces and territories is underway, despite having been slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic, like many other government initiatives. Public consultation on creating a national strategy to improve Canadians’ access to expensive drugs for rare diseases is currently underway.
The Canada Pharmacare Act, sponsored by New Westminster-Burnaby NDP MP Peter Julian, said province and territories must apply coverage to all their residents, regardless of how long they’ve lived in Canada. It also stipulated that pharmacare must be administered on a non-profit basis “by a public authority appointed or designated by the government of the province.”
Singh said its conditions are in line with the government-commissioned 2019 expert report from the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare.
“When we put forward bills, we have non-partisan lawyers that help craft the bill,” Singh told Global News. “They’re not going to craft bills that are not constitutional, so that argument has no merit whatsoever.”
He added that C-213 operates on the same principles of the Canada Health Act by establishing a framework for provinces and territories, and that kind of framework has been gradually accepted.
“(The Liberals) are trying to find an excuse and it doesn’t make any sense,” said Singh. “This is the same principles to set up a framework, and then we’ve got to work with provinces and territories and they choose to sign on, just like the Canada Health Act.”
In a written statement, Liberal MP for Central Nova Sean Fraser said his opposition C-213 “is not partisan in nature.” As a private member’s bill, he explained, C-213 cannot contain provisions for the spending of federal dollars, so it would not result in “a single pill being delivered to anyone.”
“It merely permits the federal government to engage with provinces for the purpose of creating a pharmacare system, which is already permissible. Moreover, Bill C-213 would seriously restrict the conditions under which federal funding for pharmacare may take place.”
Fillmore said the NDP is “cherry-picking” from the advisory council’s report, which also recommended “the federal government work collaboratively and in partnership with provincial and territorial governments.”
Wayne Long, Liberal MP for Saint-John Rothesay in New Brunswick, was one of two Liberal MPs who supported the bill. He was not available for an interview on Thursday.