The federal NDP has warned its Parliament Hill staff to prepare themselves for the possible sudden termination of the party’s supply-and-confidence deal with the Liberals — a bipartisan cooperation agreement which may be holding off an early election.
A senior NDP source who was not authorized to speak publicly told CBC News the party held a meeting Tuesday to tell staffers that, with negotiations with the Trudeau Liberals on pharmacare dragging on, the deal could be headed for an early grave.
The source also said the party is looking to ramp up the pressure on the government by withholding support for measures that speed up debate on legislation in the House of Commons, such as time allocation and evening sittings. Time allocation allows the government to set limits on how long debate can continue before a vote is called.
A source told Radio-Canada the party could slow down the adoption of a key piece of government legislation implementing the fall economic statement. It could also withhold help from Liberal MPs in committees in the face of political manoeuvring by other parties.
“We are tired of the messing around,” a senior NDP source said in French.
“The Liberals promised [pharmacare], they signed the agreement, now they have to deliver the goods,” said another party source.
The source said conversations with the government on pharmacare have been productive but challenging because the Liberals have yet to offer any concrete commitments. A source told Radio-Canada the NDP has not received a counteroffer on pharmacare from the government since December.
According to the wording of the supply-and-confidence agreement — which sees New Democrats support the government on key votes, staving off an early election in a minority Parliament — the NDP demanded passage of a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023. In December, the two parties agreed to extend the deadline to March 1.
“We need a final version of the bill ready for March 1,” another NDP source told Radio-Canada in French.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been ramping up the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in his recent statements.
“If the agreement is broken, all the conditions of the agreement are therefore broken,” Singh said on Feb. 5.
Singh met with Trudeau on Monday. The two meet occasionally to discuss the terms of the supply-and-confidence agreement.
The pharmacare negotiations appear to be getting more complex the longer they continue. New Democrats are insisting on a drug plan that is entirely public and universal. They’re also calling for early coverage of certain key drugs before the complete pharmacare plan is in place — a condition that was not part of their original agreement with the Liberals.
“It’s clear that we are not always on the same wavelength” a Liberal source familiar with the state of the negotiations told Radio-Canada in French. “But we’re willing to have difficult conversations.”
In 2019, a federal advisory council led by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins urged Canada to implement universal, single-payer public pharmacare.
Its report estimated such a program would cost the federal government $3.5 billion annually if it started by covering essential medicines.
“It’s a big difference in money,” said the Liberal source, who suggested that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office is exerting some pressure to limit new spending in the spring budget.
“We have a balance to manage. The cost of this measure would be very significant.”
Despite the more confrontational tone coming from the New Democrats lately, the Liberal source said the talks behind the scenes have been “frequent and cordial.”
Tensions in the NDP caucus
If Singh now feels the need to step up the pressure on Trudeau, it may be because he’s facing internal pressure from his own caucus.
Sources say some NDP MPs feel threatened by their Conservative opponents in different regions of the country. They say they fear that their association with the Liberals will become a burden that could harm their chances of re-election — and they need a major win on drug coverage to boost their chances.
“It is of capital importance for the elderly seniors in my riding,” said one NDP MP. “It represents a significant part of their monthly budget. We must push the Liberals to the end.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Singh has threatened to pull out of the agreement if the Liberals don’t meet expectations. The agreement also called for a dental coverage program for mid- to low-income Canadians. When negotiations on dental care were dragging, Singh also threatened to pull support.