Ontario NDP unveils pharmacare pledge

The Canadian Press
Allison Jones

TORONTO–Ontario’s NDP is pledging to create a provincial pharmacare plan, appealing to the grassroots about a year out from the start of next year’s election campaign.
Leader Andrea Horwath announced the policy Saturday in a speech to about 1,000 delegates at the party’s convention.
“Seeing a doctor just doesn’t mean much if you need a prescription but you can’t afford to fill it,” said Horwath, who received the support of 89 percent of the delegates in a leadership vote.
“Just like Tommy Douglas started in one province and built Medicare step-by-step, we’re going to start building universal pharmacare right here in Ontario,” she pledged, prompting a standing ovation.
Horwath refused to divulge any details, saying she would announce those today, but a party official later said the cost of the plan is pegged at about $475 million.
The Liberal government is set to deliver its first balanced budget since the recession this week, and Horwath suggested she was open to plunging the province back into the red to pay for her plan.
“When necessary a deficit, but not necessarily a deficit,” she said after her speech.
The next provincial election isn’t until June 7, 2018 but Horwath said to be honest, the campaign already is underway.
“I believe leadership is about telling people what your vision is and what it is you plan on doing,” Horwath said later in a not-so-veiled shot at Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown.
Brown has come under fire for backing away from an earlier pledge to release his plan on hydro “soon,” and has been hesitant to make many grand policy pronouncements before his party’s convention this fall.
Horwath largely took aim at the Liberal government, saying Premier Kathleen Wynne denied there was a hydro crisis until it became a political crisis for her party.
Her speech was heavy on other NDP staples: public assets, a $15 minimum wage, worker protections, child care, and transit funding.
An NDP government would work with First Nations to improve education and ensure clean drinking water, proper health care, and safe housing–and then would send the bill to the federal government, Horwath said.
The NDP also has proposed to buy back shares of Hydro One–the government already has sold 30 percent and intends to sell up to 60 percent.
The party said it would buy back shares at a cost of between $3.3 billion and $4.1 billion, financed through the province’s share of its profit from Hydro One within eight years–assuming 70 percent of the roughly $700 million in revenue it previously has generated for the province.
The Liberals have said returning Hydro One to full public ownership wouldn’t take a penny off people’s bills.
The New Democrat hydro plan also proposes to end mandatory time-of-use pricing, reduce the delivery charge for rural customers, and renegotiate power contracts.