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Liberals, NDP agree to new deadline to introduce pharmacare legislation

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After being unable to table — let alone pass — pharmacare framework legislation this year, the Liberals and New Democrats have agreed to a new deadline to present the bill: March 1, 2024.

Passing a "Canada Pharmacare Act" in 2023 to set up a framework for the drug plan was one of the core planks of the two-party agreement meant to provide the minority Liberal government parliamentary stability until June 2025, in exchange for progress on progressive policies.

While talks remain constructive on following through with the plan, disagreements remain over what exactly the framework should include.

When the Liberals presented a first draft of the bill to New Democrats earlier this fall, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rejected it as missing the mark and offering "insufficient" coverage for Canadians.

"We know that many people are not taking the medication they need because they can't afford to, and this is getting worse as Canadians are struggling with the high cost of living. Given that context, continuing progress towards a universal national pharmacare program is more important than ever. We must get this right," NDP MP and health critic Don Davies said in a statement.

"The negotiations remain constructive and we are making progress. We have therefore agreed to extend discussions to produce legislation by March 1, 2024 that meets Canadians' expectations."

Federal Health Minister Mark Holland's office confirmed the agreed-upon extension. Asked earlier this week on where talks stood, the minister said there were "still additional details" the two parties were working through, but wouldn't offer specifics on what the outstanding sticking points were.

"Conversations with the NDP continue to be incredibly productive and collaborative. Pharmacare will impact so many Canadians, which is why it is important that we get this right - and this takes time," said Holland's spokesperson Christopher Aoun, in a statement on Thursday.

A few weeks ago, when his lead legislative manager acknowledged that the Liberals likely weren't going to be keeping their promise this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government remained "committed" but was looking at "responsible ways" to proceed given the current economic context and the estimated multibillion-dollar universal drug plan.

The NDP had previously signalled that if the Liberals needed more time to present Parliament with legislation, they would need to make up for it with "more results."

Dr. Eric Hoskins — who chaired the 2019 Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare — told CTV News Channel's Power Play host Vassy Kapelos in an interview last month that if more time was needed before a bill could be brought forward, the parties were making "absolutely the right decision."

"I'm confident that the folks that are involved in these negotiations know that and want to make this happen," Hoskins said.

The House of Commons is scheduled to adjourn for the year on Friday, and is not expected to resume until late January 2024. 

With files from CTV News' Annie Bergeron-Oliver 

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