Singh tells Conservatives to back off as House prepares for first pharmacare vote

The Liberals and the New Democrats pledged to stop the Conservatives from blocking their pharmacare legislation in the House of Commons on Monday — even though the two parties have more than enough votes to bypass the Opposition.

Both NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Health Minister Mark Holland gave impassioned speeches about women’s freedom and access to birth control.

They accused the Conservatives of trying to deny that access to Canadian women.

Their parties carefully negotiated the bill as part of a political pact to prevent an early election, and together planned a program that will cover select contraceptive and diabetes medications and supplies.

Conservative health critic Stephen Ellis tabled an amendment to the bill last month that, if approved by Parliament, would effectively quash the proposed law.

The program will do nothing to address the health-care crisis, he argued, and instead offers an inferior drug plan that covers less, costs more and builds up a massive new bureaucracy.

The amendment is expected to be easily defeated by government and New Democrat MPs.

“Will the government support us in stopping the Conservatives from denying 9 million Canadians free birth control?” Singh asked Holland during a question period exchange Monday,

Minister of Health Mark Holland rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Holland responded by accusing the Conservatives of standing in the way of basic freedom for women in Canada.

“I will say to the Conservative Party of Canada: stop blocking this so that women can get the reproductive aids they need to have control over their reproductive futures,” Holland said.

The Conservatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Notwithstanding efforts by the Liberals and NDP to conjure fears about the Tories’ plans, how the official Opposition votes is not expected to alter the bill’s trajectory.

The tough talk began over the weekend, when Singh penned a letter to Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre to ask him to withdraw the motion, citing the cost-of-living crisis.

“Nearly one in four Canadians have reported splitting pills, skipping doses or deciding to not fill or renew vital prescription medications due to their high costs,” he wrote.

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Ottawa.
Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre rises during question period on Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

In social media posts, Singh framed the letter as an ultimatum. “He can withdraw or we’ll stop him,” Singh posted on X earlier Monday.

NDP health critic Peter Julian put forward a motion in the House on Monday to call on the Conservatives to withdraw that amendment, but the Tories declined.

The Conservatives have argued the vast majority of Canadians already have some form of drug coverage.

Ellis also criticized the list of drugs that would be covered under the program, and charged the government with failing to consult with anyone except the NDP about what medications should be included.

“It is rife with older medications, with no fees for pharmacists,” he said during the early stages of debate in the House last month.

The Liberals moved Monday to put a five-hour time limit on further debate before the House votes on the bill for the first time later in the week.

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