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

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Alberta begins rolling out AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for those aged 40 or older

There are more than 70 pharmacies offering AstraZeneca, including 26 offering walk-in appointments

A child writes in their school notebook during a home schooling session in Cremona, Alta., Monday, March 23, 2020, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of students in Calgary will shift to online learning as of today in a bid to curb rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Online classes begin for some Alberta students amid rising COVID-19 cases

Alberta currently has the highest rate of active COVID-19 cases in the country

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Alberta joins Ontario in lowering minimum age for AstraZeneca vaccine

More than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in this country

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta identifies 1,516 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday

Central zone has 1,849 active cases

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

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
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Most Read