NDP tries to table old Liberal platform promising pharmacare in bid to reclaim turf

The NDP’s health critic tried and failed to get unanimous consent Thursday afternoon to table in the House of Commons an old Chrétien-era Liberal campaign platform promising to establish a national pharmacare program.

It comes just days after the 2018 federal budget promised the Trudeau government would start to explore policy options for implementing such a program.

NDP MP Don Davies held up and read out of the 1997 Liberal platform, which stated: “A new Liberal government will develop a national plan and timetable for introducing universal public coverage for medically necessary prescription drugs.”

“Liberals failed Canadians then,” Davies charged in question period. “Why should we believe them now?”

Davies was chided by Speaker Geoff Regan for using a prop in the House.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor shot back after a sustained attack on the new pledge: “It is no surprise to hear the NDP try to implement an idea without a plan. We are moving forward with a plan.”

The 2018 budget announced that the advisory council looking into pharmacare options will be led by former Ontario Liberal health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, although details were otherwise sparse.

Trying to table the old platform was one of a number of attacks NDP MPs launched at the Liberals Thursday after the federal budget encroached on established policy turf the NDP had squarely cut out for itself.

This ploy, in particular, was aimed at making the pledge to look into a pharmacare program look like the Liberals’ abandoned promise for electoral reform by the next election.

The NDP had long-enjoyed claiming it was the only federal party supporting a national pharmacare program, but the Liberals’ budget pledge, which came just weeks after NDP delegates passed a pharmacare motion at the party’s bi-annual policy convention, kicked that distinction out from under the feet of NDP MPs.

NDP MPs also echoed a call Thursday from three labour and healthcare groups who are asking in a letter that Finance Minister Bill Morneau recuse himself from the file over his family business’ operations.

They also pounced on comments Morneau made after budget day suggesting there’s a difference between a “national pharmacare strategy” and a “national pharmacare plan,” and where he spitballed on what kind of system it could be.

Peter Julian charged that the Liberals didn’t just steal their idea, they “vandalized” it, while Ruth Ellen Brosseau said the “dice is already stacked” because the government plans to “go forward with a means-tested system.”

“We think that the idea of actually having experts help us to come forward with a way that we can get pharmaceuticals to all Canadians is important,” Morneau said.

“I guess members opposite would have us not have experts involved. I can tell the member what would happen if that were the case: We could have the NDP and the member for Carleton do the policy.

“That way we would have no expertise at all.”

Recusal demands related to Morneau Shepell have been a favourite tactic of opposition MPs over the past year. These ranged from demands he step back from involvement with the Bombardier loan for the C Series program, to demands he step away from his role with Bill C-27 — a bill Morneau is sponsoring that seeks to amend laws related to pensions for workers in federally-regulated sectors — because of Morneau Shepell’s pension administration activities.

Morneau said in November last year, after weeks of political pressure, that he has sold all of his shares to his family business, following criticism over ownership of the shares and using private corporations to hold his assets.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons health committee has been quietly preparing to release its own report on the feasibility of introducing a national pharmacare program following a two-year in-depth committee study.

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