NDP and Liberal delegates in step on three health policy areas

May / June 2018   Comments

Leading up to the next federal election, set for October 2019, the New Democratic Party of Canada and Liberal Party of Canada held their respective national conventions Feb. 16-18 and April 19-21.

The NDP meeting, held in Ottawa, was a first for party leader Jagmeet Singh, who does not hold a seat in the House of Commons. The former Ontario NDP deputy leader and MPP won the national party’s leadership convention in October 2017. The Liberal policy convention, held in Halifax, was the third for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He has been at the helm of his party since winning the leadership race in April 2013.

At these conventions, delegates considered policy resolutions previously proposed by party members. The resolutions focused on a wide range of areas, many with implications for health and health care. The NDP ended up adopting 55 resolutions; the Liberals, 15. Each party has its own process for determining whether these resolutions move forward and how.

The two parties adopted resolutions in three main health policy areas.

Universal pharmacare

The NDP’s resolution on a universal pharmacare program calls for amending the party’s policy book so it reads: “expanding our public health care system to include free access to medicines for every Canadian.”

The Liberal resolution calls on the federal government to develop “a universal, single-payer, evidence-based and sustainable public drug plan.” If implemented, the resolution will require an amendment to the definition of covered services in the Canada Health Act: adding “prescription medicines prescribed by a licensed practitioner in accordance with an established formulary.”

Opioid crisis: A public health approach

The NDP resolution calls on the federal government to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, provide additional mental health resources and support to front-line workers and first responders, and immediately increase the number of supervised consumption sites across Canada. The resolution “strongly encourages the development of medications for opioid use disorders, prevention and reversal, as well as medications for safe, effective, non-addictive pain treatments.”

The resolution also asks the party to “advocate for an end to the criminalization of the personal possession of all drugs, effective regulation through the health care system and a shift to treating addiction as a social justice issue.”

The Liberal resolution calls on the federal government to “treat drug abuse as a health issue, expand treatment and harm reduction services and re-classify low-level drug possession and consumption as administrative violations.”

Just before the convention, Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor spoke out against the decriminalization of illicit drugs.

Mental health

The NDP resolution calls for the party to “meet with mental health activists and organizations to craft a specific mental health strategy” before the next election. It also calls for the creation of a separate subsection in the NDP policy book that will specifically focus on mental illness.

The Liberal resolution calls for the amendment of the Canada Health Act and the development of a national framework, in consultation with provincial/territorial governments and Indigenous groups, to ensure mental health services are included in medicare funding. The resolution also stipulates the creation of a pilot program to “evaluate the effectiveness of community based partnerships led by mental health and primary care professionals in each region of Canada for up to a 5-year period with annual reports to Parliament on effectiveness, cost and outcomes.”

Other key health policy resolutions

Each party passed its own distinct resolutions on health matters.

NDP delegates called on the party to advocate for adding universal coverage for all medically necessary dental care to the public health-care system.

Liberal delegates called for Ottawa to create a ministry dedicated to seniors. Its mandate would be to implement measures such as creating a national seniors strategy and liaising with various governments on issues including housing, income security, home and long-term care, pharmacare, social isolation and elder abuse. Developing “national standards and monitoring protocols for seniors’ programs” would also be part of the new ministry’s mandate.

Two national policy conventions are scheduled to take place in the fall. The Conservative Party of Canada will gather in Halifax (Aug. 23-25); the Green Party of Canada will meet in Vancouver (Sept. 28-30).

David Granovsky, MA

David Granovsky, MA, is CNA’s lead for government relations.

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