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Trudeau's Liberals 'not pulling the fire alarm' on NDP deal, health minister says

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Health Minister Mark Holland says he has “every confidence” his government can deliver pharmacare legislation by the promised March 1 deadline, and that the Liberals are “not pulling the fire alarm” on their confidence-and-supply deal with the NDP over the issue.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said this week there will be “repercussions” if the Liberals don’t table a sufficient piece of pharmacare framework legislation by next month, and signalled he’ll consider a missed deadline to mean they’ve “walked away” from their confidence-and-supply agreement.

The pact sees the NDP prop up the Liberals until 2025 in exchange for progress on key priorities, including pharmacare, for which the parties have already extended the deadline once before.

Despite Singh’s statements, Holland told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday, that he will meet the deadline.

“I have every confidence it will be (tabled on time),” Holland said. “I appreciate negotiations aren't easy, and some of that spills out publicly. But (NDP health critic) Don Davies has been a great partner to work with, we've had a lot of back and forth.”

“So I'm confident that we'll be able to find a solution and that we'll have legislation tabled before that deadline,” he added.

While Holland insists the federal government can deliver on its pharmacare deadline promise, he wouldn’t give specifics about the contents of the plan.

This week, when asked 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, Holland acknowledged the federal government "can’t afford this to be a massively expensive program."

The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) estimates the total spending on prescription drugs under a single-payer universal drug plan would be $33.2 billion in 2024-25, rising to $38.9 billion in 2027-28, according to a report released last October.

“We can't do everything at once, I think is a fair thing to say,” he told Kapelos.

When pressed on whether the framework legislation will pave the way for a single-payer system — and whether he personally believes it should — Holland wouldn’t say, but added he’s not “ideologically bound to any one option.”

“I think the end state has to be that every person, everywhere in the country, is covered, and is able to afford their drugs,” he said.

Liberals not ‘pulling that fire alarm’ on NDP deal

And when asked whether the confidence-and-supply agreement continues to serve the government — despite hard lines being drawn and warnings from the NDP about their deal breakers — Holland said it “absolutely” does.

“It's a great starting point,” he said. “It doesn't mean that we work with the New Democrats on everything, sometimes we work with other parties, but it creates predictability.”

Holland also said he won’t speculate publicly about the future of the deal.

“It's not how I operate,” Holland said, pointing to his time as government house leader, when he was asked frequently whether one issue or another could be the one to fatally damage the agreement. “And I never speculated. I just don't think it's useful.”

“But I don't think Canadians want us pulling that fire alarm,” he added.

While Holland insists the pact with the NDP still has its advantages, some panelists on CTV’s Question Period’s weekly strategy segment said now might be an opportunity for the parties to change the parameters of the deal.

Holland in his interview also discussed the recently signed $3.1-billion health-care deal with Ontario, which both the federal and provincial governments say will increase access to primary care and reduce wait times.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello

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