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Singh puts PM 'on notice' over pharmacare bill, says failure to deliver a 'deal breaker'

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he has put Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "on notice" that the failure to present a sufficient piece of pharmacare framework legislation by the March 1 deadline will be a supply-and-confidence deal-breaker.

During a Wednesday news conference, Singh revealed he had a "tough" meeting with the prime minister on Monday, in which he outlined the New Democrat's line in the sand when it comes to the promised pharmacare bill.

"I made it clear… this is something we're very serious about. We're not going to extend this any further. We're very serious that pharmacare has to be delivered," Singh said.

"I put him on notice that we expect that by March 1, if not there will be repercussions... if the government doesn't follow through."

Setting up a framework for a national 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.

Now, Singh has indicated that if the Liberals don't follow-through within the next month, he'll consider that to mean they've "walked away" from their pact. He said he's not open to any additional delays.

"We made our demands very clear and our expectations very clear. The prime minister and the Liberal government now know where we stand, and we'll see what happens on March 1," Singh said.

He indicated the two parties continue to differ on whether the deal will truly be single-payer and universal, accusing Trudeau's party of trying to push a "mixed system" to please pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

"They've made lots of excuses why they don't want to use certain words. We are going to continue to push for what their own convention passed, what their own commission recommended, what all the countries in the world where we've looked in terms of where the best practices are… that's what we're going to fight for," Singh said.

At a town hall during last month's Edmonton caucus retreat, Singh and his MPs heard pleas to pin down the—as Singh characterized them—at-times "slippery" Liberals on pharmacare.

While the agreement originally required the federal government to pass a "Canada Pharmacare Act" by the end of 2023, the Liberals and New Democrats agreed to an extension, after being unable to even table a bill by that deadline.

The NDP leader said that because the Liberals missed their initial deadline, his party is now expecting more steps, but wouldn't offer more specifics, vowing to say more in the "coming days."

NDP MP and health critic Don Davies told reporters at the January retreat that there has been some back-and-forth on the parties' positions about how far the legislation should go, after the initial draft was rejected by Singh as offering "insufficient" coverage for Canadians.

Davies said the NDP has some "creative" and "bold" proposals to see an agreeable version of the legislation materialize.

Asked Tuesday for a status update on the talks and the overarching economic restraints on the government given the estimated multibillion-dollar price tag on a universal drug program, Health Minister Mark Holland acknowledged the federal government "can’t afford this to be a massively expensive program."

He said the NDP have been respectful of the limited room the Liberals have, and said the two sides are "progressing concretely."

"The challenge on these things is that you know, as you get closer to thinking you have an agreement, there are always additional details and additional pieces that come into play," Holland said. "When I say it's moving forward well, I say that earnestly. It is, but it isn't easy."

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