Mar 242022

The Liberal-NDP Pact announced this week contains a lot of promises that working people have been waiting for, for a long time. The Romanow Commission proposed more than 20 years ago and to wide acclaim, to expand universal Medicare to include pharmacare, dental care, vision, and long-term care.

The Liberal’s own Dr. Eric Hoskins proposed a universal, single-payer pharmacare system in 2019.

These were good ideas then, and they’re good ideas now. But regrettably for working people and for public health, that’s not what’s on the table.

The promise of pharmacare is a promise to table a motion to prepare legislation to deliver a pharmacare program, before 2025. There is no commitment to deliver pharmacare, although it’s urgently needed by millions of people who can’t afford the sky-high cost of drugs in Canada. The two years of the pandemic have once again exposed the painful reality that for Big Pharma profits always trump people’s health, and the even more painful reality that the federal government isn’t going to do much about it. What they should do is nationalize the pharmaceutical industry in Canada.

The dental care program is not universal dental care either. It’s means tested and when it is fully implemented it will only cover 6.5 million people, and will be mostly limited to the treatment of cavities.

As to long-term care, the promise is to impose national standards on long-term care facilities, not to move long-term care out of the private, for-profit sector and make it part of Medicare. This is despite public outrage at the appalling conditions that lead to thousands of deaths in private, for-profit long-term-care facilities in the last two years, and the demand that it be made public. National standards is the absolute minimum that needs to be done.

The Communist Party calls on the government and the NDP to deliver the universal drug, dental, and long-term care programs that should be part of Medicare, and that the public urgently needs and expects from this deal.

As a social democratic party whose goal was to soften the sharp edges of the capitalist system, the NDP used to advocate for universal social programs as opposed to means tested, piecemeal neo-liberal schemes. Free, universal programs make social services such as healthcare and education a right for everyone that can be paid for with progressive income taxation. Means tested social programs are inadequate, create tiered access to social programs and are easily undermined and cut by future governments.

In exchange for the Liberals’ thin promises, the NDP will support the government’s vastly increased military spending, support for NATO and NORAD, and Canada’s undeclared war against Russia in Ukraine.

The Liberals have said that they will increase the military budget by tens of billions annually, in addition to the hundreds of billions currently being spent on new fighter jets and war ships. This means more cuts and austerity measures as the costs are downloaded onto the public.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says the NDP will support military budget increases as long as it doesn’t affect “health-care measures and other assistance measures to people”. But military expenditures are intended to kill people; that’s their purpose. It’s ludicrous to suggest that healthcare spending and other assistance to people, can be weighed up against military spending, war and mass death, as a simple budget issue.

We call on the government to abandon its death-dealing spending on military arms and equipment for NATO and NORAD, and in support of the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian people and the world’s peoples need a political solution to the crisis in Europe which could easily explode into a world war. Canada must press for negotiations and peace, and redirect military spending to support refugee re-settlement and for peaceful purposes such as expanding Medicare to include pharmacare, dental and vision care, long-term care, and mental health care.

There are many other urgent issues that are not addressed, or minimally addressed in the Pact, including the housing crisis caused by the absence of affordable social housing stock across the country, rising prices and inflation that cut deeply into real wages and incomes leaving 25% of households insolvent at the end of the month, and continuing high levels of unemployment and part-time and precarious work that have left many on the margins.

The government needs to act to build affordable social housing across the country, to roll-back prices and impose price controls on food, fuel and housing, and introduce full employment policies, and pay for them by cutting military spending and increasing corporate taxes.

The agreement to bring in anti-scab legislation is welcome, but also long overdue. Many workers and their families have suffered as a result of employers’ efforts to crush unions exercising their legal right to strike, by bringing in strike-breakers. This should be illegal in all jurisdictions across the country.

The labour and democratic movements will need to exert steady pressure on the government and Parliament to deliver on these key issues as well. Minority government leaves the door open for gains to be won by an organized extra-parliamentary movement with labour at its core.

Central Executive Committee, Communist Party of Canada