Freeland pledges pharmacare deal won't jeopardize federal finances

WARSAW, Poland — Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says pharmacare will not jeopardize Canada's fiscal standing as the federal government intends to abide by the spending rules it pledged in the fall.

The NDP confirmed on Friday that it reached a deal on pharmacare with the Liberals, which would allow every Canadian with a health card to access free diabetes medication and birth control.

The coverage is to be included in the first piece of a national pharmacare program — a key pillar of the supply-and-confidence agreement between the two parties — with legislation expected to be introduced in the House of Commons this week.

Speaking to reporters at a Polish military base Sunday, Freeland said she's "confident" a concrete agreement would be reached in the next couple of days.

She added the federal government is committed to striking the right balance between investing in people and minding fiscal constraints.

"For our government, it is very, very important to invest in Canada and Canadians ... and to do so in a fiscally responsible way," Freeland said. " We laid out in the fall economic statement some fiscal guideposts and we will meet them."

The Liberal government is facing pressure to not add to the federal deficit at a time when the economy is slowing and interest rates are still high.

In response to calls for more disciplined budgeting, the federal government set out a goal to keep deficits below one per cent of GDP beginning in 2026-27 and to maintain the current fiscal year’s deficit at or below the spring budget projection of $40.1 billion.

It's also aiming to lower the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2024-25 relative to the projection in the fall economic statement.

Health Minister Mark Holland has raised the cost of a future pharmacare program repeatedly as negotiations appeared to stall earlier this year.

A source close to the talks said the only outstanding issue at the negotiating table was what type of diabetes supplies should be covered.

Liberals made it clear they had about $800 million to spend for an initial program, said the source, who was granted anonymity because they aren't authorized to speak publicly about the details of the closed talks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2024.

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press