(Ottawa) New Democratic leader Jagmeet Singh did not want to reiterate on Wednesday the threat brandished by a member of his caucus and the delegates of his party that the agreement with the Liberals could be torn up.
“We will continue to use our pressure because we want to have a program that helps everyone, not the big pharmaceutical companies,” he responded to journalists who pressed him with questions on the subject.
Despite multiple variations of the same question posed by various members of the press, Mr. Singh would not say, word for word, that he was prepared to withdraw from the support and confidence agreement with the Liberals if the bill that the government will table on prescription drug insurance is deemed unsatisfactory.
More precisely, the New Democratic Party (NDP) campaigns for the establishment of a public and universal program.
At the convention of New Democratic activists last weekend, the delegates unanimously adopted a resolution discussing a possible withdrawal of the New Democrats from the agreement linking them to the Liberals.
According to the adopted text, the delegates argue that the breakdown of the agreement should occur in the scenario where the bill that the Liberals promised to table by the end of the year on drug insurance does not “s ‘engaged [pas] clearly towards a program […] universal, complete and entirely public.
The wording of the resolution specifies that it is not binding on the NDP caucus, but the MP and party health critic, Don Davies, affirmed that the elected representatives of the political party were “unanimously” in favor of such a withdrawal, if they consider the Liberal bill unsatisfactory.
Asked about this “red line” on which Mr. Davies insisted, Mr. Singh seemed to go less far.
“Liberals know our position is clear. We want to have drug insurance that is universal and entirely public, something that will reduce costs. [des] medicines for everyone, not a plan that will help big pharmaceutical companies,” repeated the leader of the NDP.
Former New Democratic strategist Karl Bélanger maintained in an interview that “Don Davies is not the leader, so he allows himself to go further.”
“It is not abnormal in a situation like this that there are people who send more aggressive signals than the one who is in charge of discussing directly with the Prime Minister and who must keep a way out, […] room for negotiation,” analyzed the man who is now president of the firm Traxxion Stratégies.
Mr. Bélanger recalled that the agreement with the Liberals provides for the adoption, by the end of the year, of a law on prescription drug insurance.
“It’s in two months. Are we going to elections in January? I’m not sure that that’s the NDP’s objective at this time,” believes the ex-strategist, who worked with former NDP leaders Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair.
The support and confidence agreement is designed to ensure that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, in a minority government situation, can remain in power until 2025.
In exchange, the Liberals promise to accomplish a series of things, such as launching a drug insurance program.
If the agreement is torn up, an electoral campaign would not automatically be launched.
For this to happen, two avenues are possible. The House could withdraw its confidence in the government by a vote. In the other scenario, the Liberals could decide to call an election if the wind became favorable to them in terms of voting intentions.
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Regardless, Employment Minister Randy Boissonnault suggested that Justin Trudeau’s government does not take the NDP’s threat lightly.
“We always take the NDP at their word,” he said as he went to a meeting of the Liberal caucus.
He then responded to a journalist’s question asking him if the government takes seriously the New Democrats’ comments on the subject of drug insurance.
Mr Davies has regular meetings with Health Minister Mark Holland. “It’s clear in our conversations that the cost of the program, it’s important to ensure that the cost is not a big expense because it’s not a fiscal situation, currently, today, where […] the affordability for that (is) there,” the minister said on Wednesday, in French.
The latter, however, did not close the door to finding a public and universal program, as the NDP wishes.
“We are in the middle of negotiations. The agreement we have with the NDP is working for the moment and when I talk to people in Edmonton and Alberta, the stability we have with this agreement, it works for them, it works for us, so we will continue to have negotiations,” added Mr. Boissonnault.
The government’s House leader, Karina Gould, did not want to comment on the concessions that the Liberals could make in their negotiations with the NDP.
“My job is really to work with the NDP in the House to advance the priorities that we have together,” she simply emphasized.