Canada is closer than it has ever been to a universal public drug plan. The Canada Pharmacare Act, introduced to Parliament in February 2024, will have its third reading in the House tonight. Once passed, the framework will offer immediate coverage for diabetes medication and contraceptives. The legislation creates a path to expand coverage to all types of essential medications to everyone in Canada.  

CUPE leaders and members joined NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and others from labour on the Hill in the lead-up to the vote.  

“We are now one step closer to truly universal health care thanks to decades of activism by unions and health care advocates, and it is the confidence and supply agreement between the NDP and the Liberals that has made it possible,” said CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “Let us remember, this is what happens when a Liberal government has to work with the NDP to retain power – we get things done. Let’s not forget the long history of Conservative governments tearing down social programs in this country. Even now  Pierre Poilievre is refusing to commit to keeping this plan if he is elected.” 

The Pharmacare Act will create a framework for a universal single-payer pharmacare plan. The immediate coverage of diabetes and contraceptive medications will make a big difference for people who use those prescriptions. Ten percent of Canadians aged 20 years and older has diabetes. Three quarters of diabetics use medication to manage their condition and supplies can reach $10,000 annually per person. Public coverage of diabetes treatments will put thousands of dollars back in people’s pockets.  

“At least 7.5 million Canadians can’t afford their medication, because either they don’t have insurance or the medicine their doctor has prescribed is not covered. That is unacceptable,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE National Secretary Treasurer. “Our access to medication should not depend on our jobs, employers or private benefit plans. This is a key equity issue – too many private drug plans exclude part time and low wage workers, who are more likely to be women, Indigenous, Black and racialized workers. Pharmacare should be a universal right under our public health care system.” 

For this plan to work, it is vital that the provinces get on board,” said Frédéric Brisson, CUPE Regional Vice-President for Quebec. “A fill-in-the-gap or hybrid pharmacare program like the one we currently have in Quebec keeps drug costs unaffordable for many. Maintaining a patchwork of public and private coverage keeps profits sky-high for insurance companies and big Pharma. We need a pharmacare plan that puts people before profits.” 

Getting coverage for two medications is a modest but important victory. Unions, workers and health care activists will have to keep up the pressure to make sure that the Minister of Health moves decisively to guide the expansion of the plan and the government commits to adequate funding. 

Tune in to watch this historic vote live at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time on CPAC.