Ontario NDP pledges full dental coverage as part of universal health care plan

Ontario's NDP has pledged to introduce "Canada's first universal Pharmacare plan" that would cover prescription drug costs and dental care for every person in Ontario should the party form a government following the June provincial election.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath also says she would de-privatize Hydro One, raise corporate tax rates

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath addresses supporters at a Toronto campaign-style event on Saturday. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Ontario's NDP is promising to introduce "Canada's first universal Pharmacare plan" that would cover dental care and prescription drug costs should the party form a government following the June provincial election.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath announced the plan at a campaign-style event in downtown Toronto on Saturday that laid out five key planks of her election platform. 

"We are going to make sure every working person in Ontario has dental benefits. And we will make the largest investment in public dental coverage in Ontario's history — so that every senior can get the dental care they need. And every person on social assistance can get the dental care they need," she told a packed room of supporters.

"No one should go years without a trip to the dentist because they're a part-time worker, or retired, or because their job simply doesn't come with benefits ... We can help people be healthier and make life more affordable in our province if we can help more people go to the dentist."

The plan will be called 'Ontario Benefits,' she explained. 

The Hamilton Centre MPP went on to explain that the NDP's proposal would also include prescription drug costs. The plan will initially cover 125 of the most commonly prescribed drugs and cost $475 million a year.

"It's a prescription drug plan for everyone, no matter how old you are, no matter where you work, no matter how much money you make," Horwath said.

The Ontario Liberals recently introduced free prescription drugs for anyone under the age of 25. The change, introduced in the 2017 provincial budget, took effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

The NDP's platform also includes a promise to de-privatize Hydro One, improve care for seniors and children, convert provincial student loans into grants that will not have to be repaid and increase corporate tax rates. 

More details coming this week

Horwath did not provide comprehensive details about how an NDP government would pay for the promises made Saturday, but said more details about the plan will be made available at a technical brief at Queen's Park on Monday. When asked by reporters after her speech, Horwath wouldn't say whether her plan would run a deeper deficit than the Liberal party's current budget.

A full NDP campaign platform is expected in the next few weeks, she added.

"We are going to run the biggest campaign the NDP has ever run in Ontario," Horwath told the crowd. "It will show everyone why we are running, and why we are running to win."

Supporters cheer as Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath laid out her election platform in Toronto on Saturday. (Chris Donovan/Canadian Press)

Horwath said the party would also hold the federal government accountable for Indigenous rights issues, pointing to the lack of clean drinking water in some Ontario First Nations communities.

The NDP plan, which also promised increased support for transit and affordable housing, starkly contrasts plans outlined by newly elected PC leader Doug Ford, who promised $6 billion cuts to public spending.

"(Ford) says he'll 'leave no stone unturned' in his hunt to privatize what belongs to the people of Ontario," said Horwath. "Cutting jobs and services, selling off our public assets, that's not change."

Horwath also criticized Wynne, saying voters are sick of broken promises and are ready for change after 15 years of their government.

Wynne, Ford respond

In a statement issued after Horwath's event, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said she welcomes "a number of the ideas brought forward by the NDP today, especially those to help seniors, and support our healthcare system."

Wynne said her government will "outline our plan to invest in mental health, health care, home care and child care" in a speech from the throne set for Monday.  

Wynne prorogued the legislature late last week to allow for the address, a move that Horwath called a "stunt" and "nothing more than a desperate attempt to wipe the slate clean" heading into an election.

"A PC government will lower hydro rates, scrap Kathleen Wynne and Justin Trudeau's expensive carbon tax, end hallway health care, ensure students are ready for the workforce, and bring good-paying jobs back to our province and accountability back to Queen's Park," said Ford in an emailed statement.

"It's time for a change in Ontario. It's time to respect the taxpayer again."

A recent online poll conducted by Leger suggests that Horwath is narrowly more popular than Wynne, with 15 per cent believing Horwath is the best candidate to lead Ontario. 13 per cent of respondents preferred Kathleen Wynne, but Doug Ford was most popular with 24 per cent believing the populist politician was Ontario's best option.

With files from The Canadian Press