Jagmeet Singh confirms NDP wants national contraception coverage

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh confirmed for the first time Friday that New Democrats are pushing the federal government to fund contraception coverage.

The NDP leader was in British Columbia, where the province’s NDP government already funds birth control and other forms of contraception through a single-payer model.

The Manitoba NDP, which recently formed government in that province, campaigned on covering contraception. The Ontario Progressive Conservative government has shown a willingness to do the same.

The federal NDP is negotiating the introduction of a national pharmacare program with the federal government. Getting provinces and territories to opt would be key to such a program, since health falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. 

“If we can do that in B.C., we should be able to do this across the country,” Singh said. “This can be a step forward in showing that we can actually achieve universal coverage.”

New Democrats are calling for coverage of contraception in their pharmacare talks with the Liberals, Singh said.

“We’re getting very close to a final position, and when we submit our final position on this, that will be it,” Singh told a news conference Friday in Port Coquitlam, B.C.

Singh said his party wants coverage for prescription contraception, intrauterine devices and emergency contraception.

“This is about ensuring that we don’t just say people have a right to do whatever they want with their bodies … That we back that up with a concrete step tearing down the barrier that prevents some from accessing contraception,” he said.

Singh also said contraception coverage would be a “prudent” first step, given that some in government have balked at the cost of fully implementing universal single-payer pharmacare.

In 2019, a federal advisory council led by former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins estimated that universal, single-payer public pharmacare would cost the federal government $3.5 billion annually if it started by covering essential medicines. The report found that fully implementing comprehensive coverage would cost $15.3 billion. 

Singh’s Friday news conference confirmed reports that until now had been attributed to unnamed sources within the NDP and government. 

Those sources with direct knowledge of the talks, who aren’t authorized to speak publicly, told CBC the government is considering covering not only birth control but diabetes drugs as well.

Discussions between the two parties are ongoing and the wording of the proposed pharmacare legislation has yet to be finalized.

The introduction of a pharmacare bill was a condition the NDP set when it joined the federal Liberals in a supply-and-confidence agreement in 2022. 

The agreement sees New Democrats support the minority government on key votes in the House of Commons to stave off an early election in exchange for movement on NDP policy priorities.

Singh warns Liberals not to ‘break the agreement’

The deal is slated to last until 2025, but the shape of pharmacare legislation is a sticking point between the two parties.

The original supply-and-confidence agreement stipulated that legislation would have to be introduced by the end of 2023. That deadline was extended to March of this year as the parties tried to hammer out the details.

Singh said once again on Friday that if the Liberals miss another deadline, the deal would be considered broken. He added that doesn’t mean the Liberal government would immediately fall.

“So we put it really clearly that if the Liberals break the agreement, the agreement would be broken,” Singh said. “They would have broken their promise, and we will walk away then.”

This isn’t 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 program for mid- to low-income Canadians. When negotiations on dental care were dragging, Singh also threatened to pull support.

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