New health minister says pharmacare legislation is coming this fall

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new health minister says legislation to implement a universal pharmacare program will be tabled this fall.

Liberal agreement with NDP stipulates that pharmacare legislation must be passed by end of 2023

A man in a black suit and red and black striped tie squints looking into the sunlight.
Health Minister Mark Holland says conversations on pharmacare legislation continue but he plans to table a bill when the House of Commons returns. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's new health minister says legislation to implement a universal pharmacare program will be tabled this fall.

Passing legislation to establish a national universal pharmacare program by the end of the year is a condition of the House of Commons supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and the NDP.

To meet that deadline, the government's legislation will need to pass through the House of Commons and the Senate and undergo two committee studies before Parliament breaks in December.

Health Minister Mark Holland, who took on the portfolio in last month's cabinet shuffle, told reporters that conversations are ongoing but he plans to table a bill when the House of Commons returns.

"For my part, [conversations] are more nascent … just because of how recent I am to the role. But it certainly is our intention to proceed with legislation this fall," Holland said Wednesday.

When asked by CBC News, a spokesperson for Holland's office said there isn't a more specific timeline for tabling the legislation.

Holland's predecessor, Jean-Yves Duclos, had warned that pharmacare legislation might not pass by the end of the year.

"This is a minority government. We don't obviously control the House of Commons, but we'll do all we can to be able to both table and to pass the bill by the end of this year," Duclos told reporters in June.

A bearded man in a suit stands next to another man in a suit in front of a row of flags.
NDP health critic Don Davies (right) and party leader Jagmeet Singh discuss the NDP's Canada Pharmacare Act at a press conference on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The NDP put forward a pharmacare bill in June in an effort to pressure the government to uphold that portion of the confidence-and-supply agreement.

When asked about the approaching deadline, an NDP spokesperson said the party still expects to see legislation passed by the end of the year.

"The goal is to pass every legislative stage before the end of the year. That's the aim here," the spokesperson said.

Holland's office said the government plans to introduce its own legislation rather than usher the NDP bill through the House.

NDP health critic Don Davies told CBC News his party's bill was meant to lay out New Democrats' expectations for the pharmacare program.

"It is crucial that the legislation be clear that the system is universal, comprehensive and entirely public, so no one will have to pay out of pocket for their medication," Davies said in a media statement.

"Only a single-payer pharmacare system will achieve the savings, efficiencies and fairness that is the hallmark of Canadian medicare. Anything less will be unacceptable to Canadians and the NDP."

Program estimated to cost $15B annually

Holland was in Charlottetown on Wednesday. The P.E.I. government has a pharmacare program that covers a limited number of medications and other medical supplies. The federal government committed $35 million in 2021 to allow the provincial government to add new drugs to the coverage list.

When asked if the P.E.I. model is one he's considering for a national system, Holland said the provincial program is just one "input" in the conversation about a national program.

"There are a great deal of lessons from the enormous success we're seeing here in P.E.I. that are going to be helpful," he said. "It's important we take a look at what works and what is efficacious."

In 2018, the Liberals appointed Dr. Eric Hoskins, a former Ontario Liberal health minister, to chair an advisory council to assess a national pharmacare plan.

The council's report, released the following year, recommended the establishment of a universal, single-payer public pharmacare system.

The council estimated the yearly cost of the program at $15 billion.


Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email at darren.major@cbc.ca.