Liberals agree to launch dental care program in exchange for NDP support
Singh says deal won't continue if Liberals fall short on commitments
The Liberals have agreed to launch a new dental care program for middle- and low-income Canadians and advance a number of other NDP priorities in exchange for New Democrats propping up the federal government until 2025.
"We've agreed to work together," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during a news conference Tuesday morning.
"It's about focusing on what we agree on, instead of what we disagree on."
According to a release from the Prime Minister's Office detailing the grounds of the agreement, the proposed dental program would start with those under 12 years old in 2022, then expand to under-18-year-olds, seniors and persons living with a disability in 2023. Full implementation would be rolled out in 2025.
"We're using our power to get help to people," NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told his own news conference. "We are getting help for people that need their teeth fixed, we're getting help for people that need to buy their medication and can't afford to."
The dental program, a key plank of the NDP's past two campaign platforms, would be restricted to families with an income of less than $90,000 annually, with no co-pays for anyone under $70,000 annually in income, said the government.
Co-pays are the flat-rate fees which can be charged each time someone makes a claim.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer costed the NDP's dental plan during the 2019 election campaign. At the time, Singh was promising that an NDP government would cover an extensive array of preventative and restorative services, including exams, cleanings, fluoride treatments, X-rays, filings, crowns, root canals and treatments for gum disease, as well as the cost of dentures and braces for non-cosmetic purposes.
The PBO estimated the cost for the first, partial fiscal year would be $560 million and would rise to $1.884 billion in the subsequent fiscal year — a "one-time" surge due to oral diseases that had gone untreated. The PBO said that after that point, the program would cost about $830 million a year, rising to $856 million.
The deal would also see a Canada Pharmacare Act passed by the end of 2023 to task the National Drug Agency to develop a national formulary of essential medicines and a bulk purchasing plan by the end of the agreement.
On housing, another key issue for the NDP, the government has agreed to extend the rapid housing initiative — a program to create new, affordable housing for people and populations who are vulnerable — for an additional year and to look at changing the definition of affordable housing.
Under the NDP proposal, "affordable housing" would be defined as housing costing 80 per cent or less of an area's average market rent. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation typically considers housing affordable if it costs no more than 30 per cent of a person's income.
While the Liberals have signed multiple child-care agreements with the provinces, the NDP is asking them to now introduce an Early Learning and Child Care Act by the end of 2022 to enshrine those agreements into law, and to make sure they have long-term protected funding prioritizing non-profit and public spaces.
'We want it to be like medicare," said one NDP source with knowledge of the deal.
The deal is rounded out by a number of other commitments, including pledges to transition to a low-carbon future for workers, to introduce a Safe Long-Term Care Act and to follow through on promises to Indigenous communities.
'We're not going to let the Liberals off the hook:' Singh
The confidence-and-supply agreement was presented to NDP MPs for a vote late Monday night. Under such arrangements, an opposition party agrees to support the government on specific measures under specific conditions, and to not vote to defeat the government for a period of time.
This is not a coalition deal — no NDP MPs will sit at the cabinet table.
This deal comes into effect Tuesday and would last until when Parliament rises in 2025, allowing for four budgets and staving off an election.
According to the agreement, the NDP has agreed to support the government on confidence and budgetary matters and would not move a vote of non-confidence during the term of the arrangement. New Democrats would also support some programming motions to pass legislation that both parties agree to.
"We're not going to let the Liberals off the hook," said Singh.
"If they fall short on what we've agreed to, this deal doesn't continue."
Both sides agreed that the leaders would meet once per quarter, the House leaders will meet regularly and that they'd hold monthly "stock-take" meetings by an oversight group made up of staff and politicians.
"What this means is during this uncertain time, the government can function with predictability and stability, present and implement budgets and get things done for Canadians," said Trudeau.
Chatter about a deal between the two parties emerged not long after the last election, although at the time, sources in both parties said there was no actual proposal on the table.
"In the late fall we started talking about our priorities," Singh said. "It took some time and there were some pauses and gaps in between, but we were immediately interested in using this opportunity to help people, using our power to get people the help they need, and that is what we did."
Both leaders mentioned the crisis in Ukraine, with Trudeau citing Russia's invasion as a source of global and economic uncertainty.
Asked whether his party would support an increase in defence spending in the coming budget, Singh said he is watching to see if that comes at the expense of his priorities.
"What we believe very strongly is that no decision around military spending should get in the way of our investments in health care, should not end up cutting our health care, or the initiatives that we fought for," he said.
Conservatives call it a 'power grab'
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen attacked the deal as a "Justin Trudeau power grab."
"Canadians woke up this morning to the fact that they've been hoodwinked and they've been deceived by their prime minister," she said Tuesday morning.
"He is desperately clinging to power. His No. 1 goal, as we've seen over the course of the last six years, is always to do what's best for him, not to do what's best for Canadians."
WATCH | Bergen reacts to new NDP-Liberal agreement
At a separate news conference, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called the Liberal-NDP alliance a "false majority." He said the agreement won't affect the Bloc's approach to Parliament.
"The Bloc will keep doing exactly the same thing: if it's good for Quebec, we will vote in favour. If it's bad for Quebec, we will vote against," he said.
Later Tuesday during question period, Blanchet said the federal government does not have the jurisdiction to introduce national dental and pharmacare plans.
"The basis of this agreement is intruding into provincial jurisdiction," he said in French.
Speculation about whether Trudeau would stay on past 2025 swirled in political circles when news of the deal broke Monday night.
On Tuesday morning, Trudeau attempted to put the speculation to bed. "As I've said a number of times I am planning on continuing to serve Canadians through and beyond the next election," he said.
WATCH | Opposition leader reacts to new NDP-Liberal agreement
With files from the CBC's Vassy Kapelos, Rosemary Barton, David Cochrane and Philip Ling