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Liberal-NDP Agreement Promises Dental Care, But Overwhelmingly Reaffirms Existing Commitments

All but one of the objectives in the agreement either reaffirm promises in the Liberals’ 2021 election platform or boost existing commitments.

Liberal-NDP Agreement Promises Dental Care, But Overwhelmingly Reaffirms Existing Commitments
Screenshot of CPAC video/YouTube.

Written by Alex Cosh

News broke late Monday night that the Liberals and NDP reached a deal to keep the Liberal minority government in power until 2025 (the year when the next election was already scheduled) in exchange for action on some of the NDP’s policy priorities.

However, analysis by The Maple confirmed that all but one of the individual objectives in the agreement either reaffirm promises in the Liberals’ 2021 election platform, or extend, boost or otherwise adjust existing federal programs and commitments.

The deal is a “confidence and supply” agreement, which means the NDP will vote with the Liberal government on major bills, such as confidence and budgetary measures, to keep it in power. The NDP agrees not to move or vote in favour of non-confidence motions.

However, the parties can abandon the deal if either feels that the promises are not being kept. An identical press release from both the Prime Minister's Office and the NDP issued Tuesday stated: “The government will pursue elements of its agenda that the NDP may oppose and nothing in this agreement prevents either party from doing that.”

But what policy areas have the two parties agreed to prioritize together? Of the 23 fiscal and social spending promises outlined in the document, 22 extend, boost or adjust existing commitments and programs from the Liberal government. None of the promises are guaranteed to be implemented under the agreement.

The only new promise in the agreement is a “dental care program for low-income Canadians.” The NDP’s 2021 election platform promised to “develop a roadmap to incorporate universal dental care into Canada’s public health care system, and immediately deliver dental care coverage for people who don’t have any private insurance.”

Under the Liberal-NDP agreement, the dental care program would be means-tested and only available to families making less than $90,000 per year, with copays for those making over $70,000 per year. The median total household income of Canadian couple families was $98,690 in 2019, according to Statistics Canada.

If the Liberal government follows through with the promise, children under the age of 12 would have coverage starting this year, expanding next year to include those aged under 18 as well as people with disabilities and seniors. The agreement states the program would be fully rolled out by 2025, election year.

The agreement does not explicitly commit to implementing universal pharmacare, but outlines a plan to make “progress towards” such a program by passing “a Canada Pharmacare Act” by the end of 2023, and to task the National Drug Agency with establishing a “national formulary of essential medicines and bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.”

The Liberals had long promised to implement universal pharmacare, but outlined no new measures to put the program in place in its 2021 election platform, a failure that drew strong criticism from public health advocates.

The Liberal-NDP agreement also outlines a plan to pass “a Safe Long-Term Care Act to ensure that seniors are guaranteed the care they deserve, no matter where they live,” echoing a verbatim promise made in the Liberals’ 2021 election platform. No further details are provided.

On the housing file, the agreement promises a new “Home Buyers’ Bill of Rights” to be passed by 2023, echoing a similar promise in the Liberals’ 2021 election platform. The bill will be aimed at “tackling the financialization of the housing market.”

Also on housing, the agreement promises to refocus the existing Rental Construction Financing Initiative (RCFI), which provides low-interest loans to private real estate developers, on building “affordable units.”

The RCFI program has been criticized by policy analysts for failing to deliver truly affordable housing, while subsidizing profits for corporate property developers.

The agreement also outlines a plan for a one-time $500 top-up of the existing Canada Housing Benefit which could be renewed if affordability challenges persist.

On childcare, the agreement states the government will protect funding for existing child care program agreements with provinces and territories through an Early Learning and Child Care Act by the end of 2022.

Other pledges include:

  • Other housing measures that extend or continue the Liberal government’s existing programs.
  • Re-affirming promises the Liberals already made on climate change, including phasing out public fossil-fuel subsidies, with no new specific measures proposed.
  • “Significant emissions reductions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels,” with no specific target.
  • Legislation to prohibit federally regulated employers from using scabs during strikes and lockouts, a promise made in the Liberals’ 2021 election platform.
  • Making “a significant additional investment in Indigenous housing in 2022,” after the Liberals promised to invest $2 billion in Indigenous housing in their 2021 platform.
  • A reaffirmation of a Liberal election promise to introduce “tax changes” on “financial institutions who have made strong profits during the pandemic,” but no additional promises for tax measures aimed at tackling wealth inequality.

Since the agreement overwhelmingly maintains existing Liberal promises and programs, here are some pieces of analysis on the Trudeau government’s record on some of these key issues:

Analysts Respond to New Agreement

Early responses to the Liberal-NDP agreement were mixed. Writing in the Washington Post, columnist David Moscrop noted the agreement “restates promises that have already been made, adding phrases like “moving forward” and “accelerating,”” and so “we shouldn’t take it for more than it is.” He also argued the dental care program “should be universal and should include no co-pays.”

Dr. Danyaal Raza, a physician and pharmacare advocate, tweeted Tuesday: “There's hope again for the many in Canada struggling to afford the meds they need & dental care they can't pay for.” However, he added, “neither program is a done deal - we must keep the pressure on.”

Similarly, Pauline Worsfold, a registered nurse and chairperson of the Canadian Health Coalition, expressed optimism Tuesday about the healthcare commitments.

“This agreement has the potential to deliver significant improvements in public health care for patients, families, and frontline workers,” said Worsfold in a statement. “Public health care is in crisis, and new investments into programs and continuing progress towards universal national pharmacare are needed urgently.”

Labour news outlet RankandFile tweeted Tuesday that the federal anti-scab law “would cover about 10% of workers in specific sectors: federal govt, rail, air, broadcasting, banking.”

However, the outlet noted, “almost all scabbing happens under provincial jurisdiction.”

Greenpeace Canada tweeted: “Cooperating across party lines to deliver action on climate change, housing and health is good news. We still need to keep all their feet to the fire and raise the level of ambition, but this is a positive step.”

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