National Pharmacare Debate: What are the Parties Saying?

This is part one of a three part series addressing the role of pharmacare in the national healthcare debate. In this series, we will discuss the emergence of pharmacare amongst the key political parties, industry, and patients throughout the election period.

On August 17, Global published a blog post, outlining that each federal party leader, particularly Stephen Harper, was anticipated to lay low on healthcare throughout the campaign period. Aside from some discussion on what the parties would do about the Canada Health Transfer, healthcare issues have, as expected, been virtually non-existent. Nevertheless, one related issue has gained some traction in the past few weeks: national pharmacare.

Exactly one month after the start of the Federal Election, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau replied to a letter from Canada’s thirteen provincial and territorial Premiers, committing to meeting with them and making progress on issues like affordability of prescription drugs. Despite this, Trudeau stopped short of committing to a pharmacare program.

And it came as no surprise – given Elizabeth May’s attendance at an August 27 pro-pharmacare town hall – that the Green Party highlighted in its official platform (as a condensed version of its National Pharmacare Plan) the expansion of Canada’s public healthcare system through the implementation of a National Pharmacare Program as a key commitment.

However, despite the appearance of healthcare rhetoric beginning to emerge amongst some party leaders, neither the Conservatives nor NDP have discussed pharmacare on the campaign trail, which leads us to question whether or not the topic really is a political red herring. When CBC released a video clip on August 31, entitled “Elizabeth May speaks on pharmacare in Halifax,” the leader was quick to follow up with a tweet, correcting that “most of my speech was on climate” – an evident indication that media and social media influencers alike are pushing healthcare issues, particularly pharmacare, further into the public eye than politicians may want them to go.

But with patient organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Association of Nurses Unions, among many others, seeking support for a national pharmacare program, we anticipate the Liberal and New Democrat parties will be looking to stake their positions on healthcare policies. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, it is expected that the Conservative Party will continue forward with its approach of healthcare being a provincial, not federal, issue.

With the Green Party being first out the gate with an official platform and a groundswell of support in the public sphere for pharmacare, it should be fascinating to see whether the dialogue surrounding this important topic will continue to grow or if it will be relegated to third rail status for party leaders in the election campaign.