OTTAWA — The New Democrats are putting affordability at the top of their federal budget wish list, pushing the government to invest billions of dollars into an expanded dental care program at the centre of their deal with the minority Liberals.
According to a senior government source, who spoke to the Star on the condition that they not be named, expanded dental care coverage is set to be a key piece of the upcoming budget, which is set to be tabled March 28.
“It’s a big number. It’s a good number,” the source said, declining to assign a dollar figure to the pledge.
An NDP source, who also spoke on the condition they not be named, told the Star that while they haven’t seen the document itself, the party has a “pretty confident expectation” that significant dental care funding is on the table.
As required under the Liberal-NDP governing accord — which sees the NDP prop up the Liberals in exchange for action on shared priorities — Ottawa launched an interim dental benefit last year for low-income youth under 12 who are not covered by private insurance. The Liberals committed $5.3 billion over five years in the 2022 budget to launch the national program, but that investment is due for a boost if the government plans to fulfil its promise to the NDP to expand that coverage to teenagers, seniors and people living with disabilities this year.
“That is going to be a commitment that’s measured in the billions of dollars and it’s something that we absolutely expect to see represented in the budget,” NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie told the Star.
“Our impression is that things are moving according to the pace that the agreement has laid out. It would be a surprise to us if that weren’t true.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh hosted a prebudget roundtable in Coquitlam, B.C. on Tuesday, speaking to seniors about the party’s focus on easing inflationary pressures battering Canadians.
“With everything costing more day by day, Canadians are having to make difficult spending choices,” Singh said in a statement. “We are focused on delivering dental care coverage for seniors so that loved ones don’t have to avoid fixing their teeth because they can’t afford it.”
But dental care is not the party’s sole focus over the next two weeks.
Extending the six-month doubling of the GST rebate — an affordability measure also born out of the deal late last summer — is also a top NDP priority.
“It certainly could be extended for another six months for the time being and then we can have a conversation longer term about the nature of the GST rebate and whether it’s adequate,” Blaikie said.
The party’s finance critic said the party will also be keeping a close eye on commitments to improving Indigenous housing and Canada’s response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act.
“I’m wanting to see Canada position itself to respond appropriately to that and ensure that there continues to be good union-paying jobs here in Canada in the new energy economy as it develops,” Blaikie said.
While a feature of the governing agreement requires NDP support on budgetary matters until 2025, Singh warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last year that the 2023 budget would serve as his next test of the deal — specifically on how well the document promises to aid the country’s embattled health-care system.
Some of those tensions eased with the Liberal government’s 10-year, $46.2-billion health-care funding offer to premiers in early February.
But there are still other health asks the NDP has been campaigning for, said health critic Don Davies.
One of those is a national school nutrition program — an area of common interest for both parties, Davies said, particularly due to an “astronomical increase in food prices.”
He’ll also be looking for funding to establish a Canadian Drug Agency, but said there’s no expectation for dedicated pharmacare funding, given that the only pledge under the deal is to introduce and pass a Canada Pharmacare Act by the end of 2023.
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