Pharmacare to be first bill NDP will advance in new Parliament, Singh says
OTTAWA – NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the first item of business they’ll be looking to advance when the 43rd Parliament kicks off is the implementation of a universal pharmacare program. The New Democrats will also be challenging the government to immediately drop its appeal of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s child welfare ruling.
Singh spelled out these top orders of business while listing his party’s priorities for the new House of Common sitting, backed by his caucus on Parliament Hill where they all met for the first time since the election.
The single-payer pharmacare implementation bill will be introduced through the private members’ bill process, which is the only legislative avenue for non-government MPs to table bills. PMBs as they are called generally have a lower standing on the order of precedence and like all bills, require majority support to advance.
The demand to drop the appeal—which ordered the government to compensate First Nations children who had been discriminated against by the government's child welfare system—could come in a motion.
When asked what leverage they’d have to force the government’s hand on either issue, Singh said he’d look to build public pressure.
“A lot of Canadians wanted to see this government work with other parties, they need to work with other parties,” he said.
With orientation for new MPs already underway, the NDP described today’s confab as their own caucus orientation session. The party has elected several fresh faces, while other longtime MPs lost their seats last week.
‘They’re going to need us’
While the New Democrats are coming in to the 43rd Parliament with fewer seats than it had before the election, the party is optimistic about its ability to play kingmaker in a minority government with the 24 seats it holds.
“They’re going to need us and we’re ready to work but we’re going to hold them to account because we’re going to demand real action that’s going to benefit Canadians, and real action that’s going to tackle the problems we’re faced with,” Singh said.
The day after the Liberals secured a 157-seat minority government, Singh framed the next Parliament as a “historic opportunity” to push for progressive policies, discussing his opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline and desire to still see electoral reform come to fruition and reconciliation followed through on.
Though, the Liberals only need to secure 13 votes to pass bills, and depending on the issue the Conservative and Bloc Quebecois caucuses—which both are larger than the NDP— could provide that support.
Singh has framed the NDP support as needed if the Liberals want to advance any “national” or “progressive” policies.
Two weeks before all ballots were counted, Singh also spelled out what he called the “priorities for Canadians” that he’d advocate for in the next Parliament, regardless of the outcome.
Among what was on that list:
- National universal pharmacare and dental care
- Affordable housing and tackling money laundering
- Removing student loan interest and making cell phone bills more affordable
- Ending subsidies to oil companies and closing tax loopholes
On Wednesday Singh said these priorities remain the party’s focus.
Hasn’t spoken to PM
Singh said that other than conceding on election night, he hasn’t heard from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, nor has he spoken with the other opposition party leaders.
He said he thinks Trudeau should get in touch, adding that he’s “open” to conversations about the coming session, even if Trudeau has ruled out any formal or informal coalition, as Singh said he’d be open to.
Asked about the conversation surrounding Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s potential challenges ahead to remain at the helm of that party, Singh said he completely disagrees with Scheer’s positon that a prime minister can hold socially conservative views.
“I think it’s clear you can’t in Canada,” Singh said.
SNC-Lavalin scandal not finished
Singh also indicated that New Democrats will be looking to reopen the months-long and now nearly a year-old SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Over the course of the affair—which centered on allegations of improper pressure being placed on the attorney general to push for the criminal trial against the Quebec-based company to be dropped—much of the new information came to light through the committee process. Though, eventually the studies and calls for further digging were shut down by the Liberal majority.
Now, opposition parties will hold the majority of seats on committees, a shift in the dynamics that could mean more SNC-Lavalin scandal-esque probes.
“I think Canadians still want to know, I don’t think it’s an issue that’s finished. There’s lots of opportunities perhaps in committee for these issues to be addressed and I think Canadians ought to know the truth of what happened,” Singh said.
Caucus size reduced, ‘that’s life’ Singh says
Asked about what reflecting he has been doing on the race, that saw the size of his caucus reduced by 15 seats, Singh said he is still proud of the campaign he ran.
“That’s life, sometimes it doesn’t work out,” Singh said.
He said that while he is sad to see several multiple-election NDP MPs lose their seats—some of which he is having dinner with Wednesday evening—he’s excited by the number of news faces that are part of his team.
Singh said he is not concerned about his future as leader being questioned.
“I got to introduce myself to Canadians and I think that they like what we stand for and I’m going to continue to fight for them,” Singh said.
Could they afford a snap campaign?
While the NDP and the other opposition parties will have some leverage in the next Parliament, they all also have to contend with the reality that if they defeat the government on a confidence vote then they’ll be in to another election campaign, which comes with a hefty price tag that some parties would have an easier time affording than others.
Asked if the NDP would even be in the financial position to go into another election, Singh said the party is in a “good” place, citing “great” campaign fundraising, though in comparison to the Liberals and Conservatives, the NDP were trailing going into the election.
“I’m not going to deal with hypotheticals in terms of what’s going to happen until we see the throne speech, but I’m ready to let Canadians know where we stand,” Singh said.