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Liberals and NDP reach deal on pharmacare

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The Liberals and the NDP have reached a deal to table pharmacare framework legislation, quelling the back-and-forth from recent months that failure to reach an agreement on the issue could put the parties' confidence-and-supply agreement at risk.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh confirmed the development to CTV News on Friday, calling the draft legislation "historic."

"I can proudly say that not only do we have legislation that specifically refers to single-payer, that refers to the Canada Health Act, and the principles and values, we also have secured commitments to delivering diabetes medication and contraceptives using a single-payer public model," Singh told CTV's Question Period host Vassy Kapelos in an interview airing Sunday.

Singh said he's "confident" Canadians can expect coverage for diabetes medication and contraceptives "very quickly."

But when pressed on whether the Liberals have promised a specific timeline for the actual implementation of a universal, single-payer pharmacare system more broadly, the NDP leader wouldn't say.

A plan for a universal, single-payer pharmacare system is part of the confidence-and-supply agreement between the Liberals and the NDP.

Penned nearly two years ago, the deal sees the NDP prop up the Liberals until 2025 in exchange for progress on certain policy priorities, including pharmacare.

But the NDP had signalled the March 1 deadline it set for the Liberals to table pharmacare framework legislation could be its red line, with Singh warning in early February that he'd put the prime minister "on notice" over the issue.

Both Singh and Anne McGrath — a senior NDP official and one of the lead negotiators for the confidence-and-supply agreement — said they would interpret a missed deadline as the Liberals walking away from their deal.

Singh said while he hasn't secured a hard deadline for implementing pharmacare – which the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates will cost about $11 billion a year – the NDP has "laid out the foundation with this legislation," and beyond that it will be an "ongoing battle."

Some provinces, namely Quebec and Alberta, have said they're likely to opt out of a national pharmacare program, if given the option. Meanwhile, others, such as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, say they want to hear the details of the plan before saying whether or not they're in favour.

When asked why he would push the federal government into drafting a national pharmacare program without first consulting provinces, Singh said he sees similarities with when universal health care was legislated.

"Provinces balked at the idea of universal health care. No different," he said. "It took time, it took negotiating, and it took some provinces stepping up and agreeing, and then other provinces followed suit."

And when pressed on why the federal government should invest in a new system instead of improving the existing one – considering the challenges of the country's health-care system, in particular significant wait times and staffing shortages – Singh said "we need to do all of it."

"We absolutely believe we need to do both," he said. "And … I don't accept at all for a second that we can't do both. We can and must."

With files from CTV's Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha and CTV News Channel's Power Play Associate Producer Samantha Pope

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