NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

NDP will not trigger election as long as pandemic continues: Singh

‘“We will vote to keep the government going’

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says he will not trigger an election as long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, relieving some pressure on Liberals concerned about cooking up a budget palatable to the NDP.

Singh saidWednesday he will stand by his pledge to prop up the Liberal minority government on confidence votes, even though Liberals refused to back an NDP private member’s bill to enshrine a universal pharmacare program in legislation.

The bill was defeated by a vote of 295-32 at second reading in the House of Commons, with the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois voting against it.

The federal government is expected within the next couple of months to table a budget, which would trigger an election if related legislation failed to garner support from at least one major opposition party.

“We do not think it’s the right thing to do to go to an election while we should be fighting the pandemic. We are not going to trigger an election. So that means any confidence vote,” Singh told reporters at a press conference Wednesday.

“We will vote to keep the government going.”

All parties say they seek to avoid an election while the virus cuts a swath across the country. At the same time, all parties are gearing up for a possible campaign as they vet candidates and rev up fundraising efforts.

New Democrats had been hyping their proposed legislation on pharmacare — a key plank of any NDP campaign platform — in advance of Wednesday’s vote. Private member’s bills, especially those introduced by opposition parties, rarely succeed.

The NDP and Liberals both promised some kind of pharmacare program during the 2019 federal election campaign, but differ on the details.

Singh said his party’s universal prescription medication plan, laid out in the bill sponsored by NDP House leader Peter Julian, mirrorsthe framework recommended by a government-commissioned report released in June 2019.

“This is exactly what their own commission report recommends,” Singh noted.

The framework’s scaffolding was hammered out before the pandemic, but he said COVID-19 has exposed Canada’s dependence on big pharmaceutical companies in a way that renders action more urgent.

The proposed $15-billion-per-year program was to be modelled after the Canada Health Act, which is the legislative framework underpinning universal health care. Wednesday’s vote happened to come on the 35th anniversary of the death of former federal NDP leader and Saskatechewan premier Tommy Douglas, widely known as the father of state-run health care in Canada.

More than 700,000 Canadians have no prescription drug coverage, while another 3.7 million have coverage but cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions, according to a parliamentary budget office report in 2017.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is “committed to national universal pharmacare” and has worked to lower prescription drug prices. But he stressed discussions with the provinces to achieve medication for all rather than supporting a “unilaterally imposed” plan.

“No Canadian should have to choose between paying for their medication or putting food on their table,” Trudeau said during question period.

“We know there is more to do but, unlike the NDP, we will not be imposing on provincial jurisdictions rules that are not worked out with them.”

Singh’s vow to back the government almost unconditionally puts the ball in the prime minister’s court.

“In a sense it forces Trudeau’s hand — that if he really wants an election now, he will have to trigger it himself. But of course, if Trudeau doesn’t want an election, then he doesn’t need to bargain really hard to survive,” said Karl Bélanger, president of consulting firm Traxxion Strategies and former senior adviser to the NDP.

“In the end what Jagmeet Singh is doing is really to keep Justin Trudeau in charge of his destiny when it comes to the election timing.”

A bumpy COVID-19 vaccine rollout, ongoing devastation to industries such as travel and retail, and the complications attending an election amid strict lockdown rules are all reasons to think twice about sending Canadians to the polls.

“It would be a gamble for sure,” Bélanger said of a potential spring election.

“As a prime minister, you should always think twice before gambling the power that you currently have, because you may end up losing everything.”

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison. Photo courtesy Conservative Party of Canada.
Kootenay-Columbia MP pans federal budget

Conservative Rob Morrison says budget doesn’t have a plan for long-term spending priorities

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
211 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health over the weekend

Currently, there are 875 active cases of the virus in the region

A nurse prepares a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. As of April 19, more than 230,000 doses have been administered across the Interior Health region. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press)
More than 230K doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered across Interior Health

A total of 220,216 first doses and 13,775 second doses have been given to residents across the B.C. Interior

Staff and residents from RMV show their appreciation for the volunteers who enrich their lives. From left to right: Shelley Moulton, Darlene Hutchinson, Betty Schanni, Mark Hudock, Victor Myette, Elinor Siska, Melissa Roger, Anita Braconnier. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
‘We can’t wait for you to come back’: Rocky Mountain Village residents show appreciation for volunteers

Volunteers can’t make in-person visits, but that hasn’t stopped them staying in touch

Members of the community garden hosted their first seed swap and fundraiser at the Greenwood Mall in Sparwood on Monday. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)
Sparwood Community Garden hosts first seed swap

Work on the garden at Engelmann Spruce Drive will begin soon

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Interior Health issued warning April 18, 2021 of crack cocaine in Penticton that looks similar to the substance above containing fentanyl. (Interior Health photo)
Interior Health warns of fentanyl contaminated crack-cocaine in Penticton

There have been recent reports of overdose associated with the use of this substance

..
Abbotsford nurse at ‘breaking point’ pleads with public to take COVID-19 seriously

Instagram post urges general population to stay home, wear a mask and get vaccinated

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A native-to-B.C. wild queen bee (bombus melanopygus for those in the know) feeds on a periwinkle flower. (Submitted/Sarah Johnson, Native Bee Society of BC)
B.C.’s wild bees need messy gardens to survive

The year-long nesting period makes habitat a primary concern for wild bees

FILE – Health-care workers wave to people clapping and yelling thank you to the frontline workers during the 7 p.m.-tribute outside the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, April 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. nurses issue plea for all to follow health orders as hospitalizations spike

Nurses worried about strain COVID-19 is having on hospital capacity, care

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Lawsuit filed last summer accused Barney Williams of verbal abuse

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark. (Black Press Media files)
Former B.C. premier to testify at money laundering hearing today

Attorney General David Eby has been added to the witness list as well

Most Read