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Poilievre won’t commit to keeping new social programs like pharmacare

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre delivered a fiery speech Thursday that depicted the government's latest budget as a threat to the country's future while suggesting a number of new social programs will get a second look if he's elected.

Conservative leader claims pharmacare would 'ban' private plans — health minister says he's 'lying'

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, Wednesday, April 17, 2024 in Ottawa.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre delivered a fiery speech Thursday that depicted the government's latest budget as a threat to the country's future, and suggested a number of new social programs will get a second look if he leads the next government.

He also claimed Ottawa's push into pharmacare could dismantle private drug insurance and leave Canadians with inferior coverage and higher taxes to pay for it all.

Health Minister Mark Holland, meanwhile, accused the Conservative leader of trying to whip up fear by raising "fake boogeyman" to distract from a program that makes contraceptives and diabetes treatments more affordable for everyone.

While he attacks the Liberals' spending plan, Poilievre is under pressure to explain what he'd cut to fulfil his stated promise to "fix the budget" if he's elected.

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Poilievre was noncommittal on whether child care, dental care and pharmacare would be dismantled by a government led by him — but he raised questions about the programs' effectiveness.

Poilievre said many Canadians already have access to drug coverage through workplace plans that may offer better benefits than those the NDP-backed Liberal plan eventually could offer.

A 2022 Conference Board of Canada report found that about 24.6 million Canadians are already enrolled in private drug plans.

Poilievre claims pharmacare bill would 'ban' private plans

Millions more people — mostly low-income earners, children and seniors — have access to provincial programs.

Speaking to CityNews on Thursday, Poilievre claimed the pharmacare bill would "ban" private plans "and require you move over to a federal government plan."

"That will make you worse off at higher cost to Canadian taxpayers," he said.

There's no such ban in the pharmacare legislation.

While it's promising to expand the program at some point, the government is only offering to cover contraceptives and some diabetes treatments in provinces and territories that sign agreements with Ottawa.

The government says it will strike a committee of experts to advise it on how to eventually establish a universal, single-payer program.

If a single-payer system for drugs is ever implemented, it would call into question the future of private plans — but that's not what Ottawa is doing with Bill C-64, the Pharmacare Act.

Holland said Poilievre is "lying" about the pharmacare program because he "doesn't want to have a conversation about contraception."

"He makes up these fake arguments about displacement of insurance. It's dishonest. He creates fake boogeymen. He tries to scare people," Holland told reporters.

"He makes up a fake argument because he wants people not to hope they might be able to get the medication they can't afford, or the reproductive medicines they need … Don't try to create fake issues and hide in the shadows."

WATCH: Holland on Poilievre: 'It's the dishonesty to me that is so reprehensible'

Holland on Poilievre: 'It's the dishonesty to me that is so reprehensible'

6 hours ago

Duration 1:12

Federal Health Minister Mark Holland accused Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre of creating 'fake boogeymen' to try to scare people.

Poilievre also questioned whether two of these programs — pharmacare and dental care — will be up and running any time soon.

Pharmacare covers drugs for only two conditions and many dentists have said they won't participate in the government's dental care plan.

Asked what he'd do with the roughly 1.6 million Canadian seniors who have signed up for the dental plan, Poilievre said they've only signed up — there's been no government-covered service yet.

"How many teeth have been cleaned? Zero," Poilievre told Radio-Canada host Patrice Roy, discussing a program that was only launched in December.

"Lots of costs, not many results. We'll see what we'll do with that."

"What we have is a promise that it will eventually exist and we don't know when or if that promise will be fulfilled. We already know there's many dentists who are refusing to participate because the program is so badly run," Poilievre said later in the House of Commons on Thursday.

In response to slow uptake among dentists, Ottawa announced Wednesday it would tweak the plan to allow dentists to directly bill the government's chosen provider, Sun Life, for eligible dental treatments.

As for the proposed national school food program, Poilievre told CityNews that "you can't cut what doesn't exist. There is no school food program. There's a school food press release."

The government has promised to spend $1 billion over five years to deliver school meals to an additional 400,000 children per year.

Poilievre says budget means money for 'wealthy bankers'

Poilievre delivered an hour-long rebuttal to the Liberal government's budget Thursday.

He was particularly critical of the budget's projection that Ottawa will run deficits for the foreseeable future, with no plan to return to balance — a program that will push the national debt to $1.4 trillion.

Ottawa will spend more to service that debt — $54.1 billion — than it will on health care this year, and the debt charges will continue to grow as the government rolls over some of that debt at higher interest rates.

"More money for those wealthy bankers and bondholders who own our debt and less money for the doctors and nurses as we sit for 26 hours in the emergency room," Poilievre said in the Commons.

"We do not want to live in a country that passes on a ballooning debt to our children but, after nine years of this prime minister, that is exactly the country we live in.

"This budget, just like the prime minister, is not worth the cost and Conservatives will be voting no."

WATCH: Poilievre cites debt concerns in rejecting Liberals' budget

Poilievre cites debt concerns in rejecting Liberals' budget

7 hours ago

Duration 1:37

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre on Thursday cited his concerns about Canada's debt as a reason he is not supporting this week's Liberal budget tabled by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has defended her budget as a plan to restore fairness and make homes available to young people who have been priced out of a red-hot housing market.

The budget's $8.5 billion in new housing-related spending has been praised by some observers as a "home run" that will meaningfully improve housing availability.

In addition to direct spending, Ottawa is also lending billions of dollars to jump-start affordable home construction.

WATCH: Breaking down the budget's plans for housing

Breaking down the federal budget’s housing promises

2 days ago

Duration 4:34

CBC’s senior business correspondent Peter Armstrong breaks down the housing announcements in the 2024 budget that could make a difference for Canadians and how those plans will get paid for.

"As we invest with purpose for the benefit of our younger generations and those who love them, we continue to stick to a responsible economic plan," Freeland said after tabling the budget, citing her commitment to fiscal "guardrails" like keeping the deficit below $40 billion and ensuring the debt-to-GDP ratio declines over time.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused Poilievre of standing with the "ultra wealthy" by opposing a budget that also hikes capital gains taxes on some higher-earning Canadians and corporations to help pay for programs to benefit millennials and Generation Z.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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