Andrea Horwath's NDP unveiled its platform for the 2022 election campaign on Monday, with health-care and pocketbook-related commitments forming the core of a sweeping set of promises.
Among them is a plan to provide prescription drug coverage for all Ontarians through universal pharmacare, as well as accelerated implementation of a dental care program and a freeze on income tax for low and middle-income residents if the party forms government after the June 2 election.
You can read the full platform document at the bottom of this story.
The pitch to voters on pharmacare emphasizes affordability, particularly for people who don't have drug benefit plans and have to pay for their medications. It would at first cover a baseline of 125 medications, including birth control as well as cancer drugs.
Various polls suggest the rising cost of living will be a defining issue in Ontario's election.
"Too many Ontarians must choose between filling their prescriptions or paying the bills," reads a portion of the party's platform.
"The Ontario NDP will act immediately to accelerate pharmacare ensuring all Ontarians have prescription drug coverage faster," says the platform, which puts the net cost of the program at $475 million.
At least 2.2 million Ontarians have no prescription drug coverage, according to provincial government figures, with out-of-pocket spending on medications totalling $2.5 billion annually.
Currently, the province's Ontario Drug Benefit program covers the cost of prescription medications for all seniors, regardless of income, as well as for people receiving Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program funding.
The previous Liberal government brought in prescription drug coverage for everyone under 25 back in 2017. Premier Doug Ford's government rolled that back in 2018 shortly after taking office, so the province's coverage for children and young adults now only applies to those without private insurance benefits.
Horwath released her party's platform at an event in Toronto's Distillery District this morning. The NDP is the first party to do so. A total estimated price tag for the list of promises is not included in the document, but the party says one is coming before election day.
Party officials said they need to see the government's updated budget — set to be released on Thursday ahead of an expected election call — before finalizing their own fiscal plan.
Pandemic exposed weakness of health-care system, NDP says
The NDP's platform frequently criticizes the Ford government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ties those critiques to a far-reaching set of health-care commitments.
The New Democrats promised to hire 10,000 personal support workers and give them a raise of at least $2 an hour.
The Progressive Conservative government raised most PSW wages by $3 an hour during the pandemic, and the NDP says they would increase that even further, to $5 an hour compared to pre-pandemic levels for all.
New Democrats also pledged to hire 30,000 nurses, expedite credential recognition for 15,000 internationally trained nurses and create new jobs for late-career and recently retired nurses who can mentor and supervise.
The party says the goal is to shorten wait times for patients and help health-care workers avoid burnout.
Another health-care promise is a commitment to raise funding for hospitals, including increasing base operating funding by 3.5 per cent, something the Ontario Hospital Association has asked for and costed at $735 million.
The platform also included a series of pandemic-related promises, including the intention to hold an independent inquiry into COVID-19, expand available sick days for workers and establish a plan for business supports in the event of future public health restrictions.
There's also a promise to support Ontarians who are experiencing long COVID by ensuing they are supported by primary care providers and funding research into the condition.
NDP promises $20 minimum wage by 2026
Monday's platform release also updated a previous NDP announcement on housing, and now targets building 100,000 social housing units for $493 million annually, and 60,000 supportive housing units for $100 million annually.
There's also a pledge to freeze income taxes on low-income and middle-income households for four years — though there were few details on that aspect of the platform — and a promise to reintroduce rent control for apartments.
Other aspects of the NDP's platform have been already been detailed in the lead-up to the campaign, including plans to cover mental health care under OHIP and phase out for-profit long-term care ownership.
The party also promised to raise the minimum wage to $16 per hour in 2022, rising to $20 in 2026.
On the issue of electoral reform, the NDP is proposing to create a "mixed member proportional voting system" that will be designed by an independent group and supported by experts members of major provincial parties.
None of the other parties have indicated when they will release their full campaign platforms, although Steven Del Duca's Liberals and Mike Schreiner's Green Party have each unveiled several key promises.
Meanwhile, Ford and his cabinet ministers have made billions of dollars worth of government announcements in recent weeks, and many of them can be expected to form part of the Ontario PC Party's re-election platform.