Pharmacare: What Happens when Healthcare is Reduced to Politics

A national Pharmacare deal has been reached and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is proclaiming it to be a huge win for his party. But amidst the Gatorade celebrations and public […]
Published on March 1, 2024

A national Pharmacare deal has been reached and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is proclaiming it to be a huge win for his party. But amidst the Gatorade celebrations and public self-congratulatory statements, Mr. Singh and his MPs appear to be blind to the possibility that this deal may be the final straw that breaks what’s left of the back of Canadian healthcare.

Most obviously, the plan is fiscally irresponsible. Healthcare already costs the federal government over $300 billion per year. Yet, in the past few months, as the gaping cracks in the system have become increasingly evident, the Liberals have added on a $13 billion per year dental plan that will soon go into effect. And now this – another $40 billion per year to fund a behemoth Pharmacare bureaucracy. It’s just another expensive add-on to our piece-meal system that is already on life support because of a lack of both cash and innovation.

If $300 billion isn’t enough to fund the healthcare system that is now in place, it’s difficult to understand how the government thinks it can pay out an additional $53 billion to fund Mr. Singh’s political delusions. In fact, without innovation and change, there will never be enough money to sustain a universal, single-payer healthcare system. Healthcare delivery has changed, and the days of government-funded healthcare only are long gone.

But our federal Liberal finance minister seems just as unwilling to face reality — Chrystia Freeland claims the Pharmacare deal won’t have an impact on our federal financial situation. It’s an outrageous comment as every Canadian knows that billions of dollars in additional spending will ultimately mean higher taxes, program cuts in other sectors, and/or another addition to our trillion-dollar debt. No matter which way you cut it, Canadians will pay for so-called free Pharmacare.

Ironically, few Canadians even seem to want a national Pharmacare program.

In December, a Leger survey asked Canadians to name their top healthcare priorities. Their top concerns were reducing surgical wait times (36%), building long-term care homes (32%) and expanding mental health services (30%).  A national Pharmacare program was a priority to just 18%.

The government’s own research showed similar results. In January, it was reported that the Privy Council Office (that provides internal government research and support) had paid $815,0000 to a research group to hold focus groups on various issues, including healthcare.

Two reports emerged, dated June 12 and July 10, 2023, and they offered broad insights into the health care concerns and priorities of Canadians.  In the June report, priorities included long wait times to access emergency care, a shortage of doctors and nurses, burnout among medical professionals and a “widespread dearth of mental health services.”

The July report pointed to a lack of home care options for an aging population, limited access to virtual care options and a “perceived lack of prevention-base medicine.”

An August 2023 report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information confirmed these results while emphasizing the present need to modernize healthcare information systems and electronic health information.

A national Pharmacare program? Apparently, not that important.

Probably because Statistics Canada has shown that 79% of Canadians already have some form of prescription drug coverage through employers or other government-sponsored plans. Admittedly, gaps exist, but the bottom line is that prescription drugs are affordable for most Canadians.

If Canada can’t afford it and Canadians don’t want it, why is the Prime Minister doing this?

To stay in power. The Pharmacare and dental plan deals were a condition of the NDP’s confidence and supply agreement with the minority Liberal government and Prime Minister Trudeau. Mr. Singh offered the Prime Minister support for Liberal party motions in exchange for action on NDP priorities like Pharmacare and a federal dental plan. Over the past months, Mr. Singh has repeatedly warned Mr. Trudeau of the “consequences” that could ensue if his government failed to act on these two priorities.

This is the sad result that occurs when healthcare is reduced to political expediency. Politics is invariably adults who have power, doing all that they can to stay in power. In this case, Canadians and our broken healthcare system will end up paying the price for a government that is struggling to cling to power and keep the free family vacations.

Too cynical? Perhaps. But backroom deals that serve politics rather than provide Canadians with the services that they need and want offer clear evidence that our federal government is out of touch with the realities of Canadian life.


Susan Martinuk is a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and author of Patients at Risk: Exposing Canada’s Health-care Crisis.

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