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

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising five years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

Most routes in the Northern Region require winter tires to stay on your vehicle until April 30, 2021. (Ministry of Transportation map)
Snow tire reminder: keep them on until April 30th

Ministry of Transportation warns drivers to keep winter tires on and not change them early

Born in 1940, Luella came to Kitimat at the young age of 20. Never looking back, Luella married and raised six sons in our small town. Always being an advocate for volunteering, Luella has worn many hats for many fundraisers and continues to do so. (Photo Supplied)
In Our Valley: Luella Froess

Kitimat’s #1 church fundraiser and volunteer queen

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, visiting Alcan’s first metal pour back in 1954 during his solo 20-day visit to various Canadian cities. (Black Press File)
Queen’s husband, Prince Philip passes away at age 99

The Duke of Edinburgh retired from public duties in 2017 and rarely appeared in public

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Titanic was the largest and most luxurious ship in the world. Photo provided and colourized by Jiri Ferdinand.
QUIZ: How much do you know about the world’s most famous shipwreck?

Titanic sank 109 years ago today, after hitting an iceberg

B.C. Premier John Horgan speaks at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
Tougher COVID-19 restrictions in B.C., including travel, still ‘on the table’: Horgan

John Horgan says travel restrictions will be discussed Wednesday by the provincial cabinet

Protesters occupied a road leading to Fairy Creek Watershed near Port Renfrew. (Submitted photo)
B.C. First Nation says logging activist interference not welcome at Fairy Creek

Vancouver Island’s Pacheedaht concerned about increasing polarization over forestry activities

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

Guinevere, lovingly referred to by Jackee Sullivan and her family as Gwenny, is in need of a gynecological surgery. The family is raising money to help offset the cost of the procedure. (Jackee Sullivan/Special to Langley Advance Times)
Langley lizard’s owners raise funds for gynecological surgery

The young reptile is scheduled for operation on Tuesday

Facebook screenshot of the sea lion on Holberg Road. (Greg Clarke Facebook video)
VIDEO: Sea lion randomly spotted on remote B.C. logging road

Greg Clarke was driving home on the Holberg Road April 12, when he saw a large sea lion.

Defence counsel for the accused entered two not guilty pleas by phone to Grand Forks Provincial Court Tuesday, Jan. 12. File photo
B.C. seafood company owner fined $25K for eating receipt, obstructing DFO inspection

Richmond company Tenshi Seafood is facing $75,000 in fines as decided March 4 by a provincial court judge

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 2, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. NDP ministers defend ‘air tax,’ latest COVID-19 business aid

Empty home tax doesn’t apply to businesses, but space above them

Most Read