Amid growing concerns of the COVID-19 virus, MPs came together in the House of Commons today to pass implementing legislation today for the new NAFTA agreement, also known as the Canada-United States Mexico Agreement (CUSMA). Also on the table was an NDP motion calling on the government to move forward with a national pharmacare program, which was passed unanimously.
MPs then agreed to shutter the House of Commons for five weeks to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is now in self-isolation with his family after his wife, Sophie Gregoire, tested positive for COVID-19, announced financial aid to help people impacted during the current economic slowdown.
“No one should have to worry about paying rent, buying groceries or finding childcare,” Trudeau said in a press conference today.
New NAFTA brings good and bad
Canada is the last country to pass implementation legislation for the new NAFTA agreement. Mexico ratified the deal in 2019 and the U.S. ratified it in early 2020.
Canada’s Senate also met today to approve the deal. Senate approval is the final legislative step before the deal is officially ratified.
While there are some improvements in CUSMA, including the removal of the energy proportionality clause that required Canada to supply the United States with a steady stream of energy exports, and the removal of investor-state dispute settlement provisions that allowed corporations to sue the Canadian government, new problems were added. Changes were made to Canada’s supply management system that will hurt Canadian farmers, and new corporate-friendly forums that can remove regulations designed to keep us safe and healthy were added to the agreement.
Council of Canadians supporters helped draw attention to the problems with both the original NAFTA agreement and CUSMA and called for more transparency and accountability when new trade deals are considered. The Trudeau government recently announced measures that aim to provide more public transparency and accountability. This should help shift the balance of trade agreements being in the interest of corporations to being in the interest of people and the planet.
Pharmacare for all closer to reality
The Council of Canadians has campaigned for a national pharmacare program that is based on the principles of the Canada Health Act. As drug prices skyrocket, more people now have to choose between getting the medications they need and paying for their rent or food.
A publicly funded, universal drug coverage program – also known as pharmacare – would provide all Canadians with access to the prescription medicines they need. People would be healthier and many would no longer have the economic burden of paying for medications out-of-pocket. We also showed how employers would benefit from pharmacare by not having to include expensive drug plans in employees’ benefit packages.
Canada is the only country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t cover medication.
Even though study after study has shown the health and economic benefits of a national pharmacare program, successive federal governments have stalled its implementation.
The Trudeau government promised in the federal election to bring in pharmacare, but have not yet delivered. The NDP motion was meant to get broad party support and commitment to move forward with a national drug program.
Some provincial and territorial premiers have expressed hesitation about pharmacare, saying they would rather see increased funding to address things like hospital overcrowding and growing wait times. They say they want to be given the ability to opt out of a national program.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party plans to convince all premiers that a national program will be worthwhile for everyone. "The first step, I believe, to gain the confidence and to be able to undo some of that cynicism, is to end those cuts ... reinvest in health care, show the provinces that we're serious about health care, increase the investments in transfers to health care in general and then propose a national, universal program," he said.