Liberals vote against pharmacare

The bill was blocked because it infringed provincial healthcare jurisdiction

PHOTO: Christina Victoria Craft / Unsplash

Written by: Jaymee Salisi, News Writer

On February 24, 2021 Parliament voted against Bill C-213, the “Canada Pharmacare Act,” which aimed to provide Canadians with universal access to prescription drugs. The proposed legislation was blocked by the Liberals, Conservatives, and Bloc Quebecois at its second reading with a vote of 295 in opposition, and 32 in favour. 

Sponsored by New Democratic Party (NDP) MP Peter Julian, the Act was meant to establish a set of criteria and conditions aligned with the fundamental principles of the Canada Health Act: public administration, accessibility, comprehensiveness, universality, and portability. 

Provincial governments would have been required to create a public drug insurance plan with these standards in order to receive financial assistance from the federal government to support the legislation. 

“Canada is the only country that has universal healthcare [without] universal pharmacare,” MP Peter Julian said in an interview with The Peak. He explained this Act would be essential to supporting Canadians, as jobs and drug plans have been lost during the pandemic.

Over ten million Canadians are unable to access their medication due to the high cost of drugs, according to Julian. In this situation, he added, people must decide between purchasing medication or basic necessities. 

Universal pharmacare would cut the current system’s expenses by billions of dollars as it would give the government the ability to purchase medication in bulk, lowering the cost, Julian said. 

He added the legislation would also save money for small businesses — as they would no longer need to finance employee drug plans and they would supplement the economy by creating local jobs. 

Julian said, “There aren’t any consequences to passing the bill — there are huge consequences for not passing the bill. And those consequences are upwards of ten million Canadians not being able to access their medication.” 

If the legislation had been passed, a universal drug plan could have been set up by next fall. However, he said it would be “one of the first pieces of legislation that [the NDP] bring[s] moving forward” if they are next parliament’s leading party. 

Those who voted in opposition to the bill voiced concerns it lacks consultation and would impose federal rules onto provincial jurisdiction. 

At the House debate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the NDP’s proposed legislation makes the possibility of pharmacare look easier than it seems. Instead of “imposing, in provincial jurisdiction, rules that are not worked out with them,” he said the federal government should consult premiers to align provinces with their respective health-care needs. 

In 2019, former Liberal MLA of Ontario, Dr. Eric Hoskins, proposed a phased approach to pharmacare projected to be implemented by 2027. 

This would include the creation of a Canadian drug agency “governed collaboratively by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments and would have strong patient representation on the board.” 

The agency would approve a list of drugs to be covered by national pharmacare and be responsible for providing guidance and monitoring drug effectiveness. The Liberal Party aims to follow this pharmacare plan rather than the NDP’s immediate implementation plan. 

Liberal MP Ron McKinnon said in a statement to The Peak, “Implementing universal Pharmacare requires careful work in willing partnership with the provinces and territories — as, ultimately, it is they who are the level of government responsible for delivering healthcare services. To succeed here, we must proceed in close partnership with those provinces and territories willing to do so.”