Friday, April 28, 2017

The ONDP's timid 'pharmacare' plan played right into Liberal hands

As another provincial election looms the price of the Ontario NDP's timidity and lack of a serious transformative focus is coming to the fore even earlier than one might have expected.

This past weekend Andrea Horwath made a highly anticipated announcement at the party's provincial convention telling the faithful that the ONDP would head into the next election in the summer of 2018 with the promise of universal pharmacare as one of its banner policies.

It was a move that was greeted by widespread rejoicing by members who are likely thrilled to see any sign of a shift away from the disastrous and reactionary "pocketbook populism" campaign of 2014 that contributed greatly to the unexpected victory of the Wynne Liberals. It even garnered praise from the Toronto Star editorial board which is ironic given how much New Democrats love to vilify the paper as an organ of the Liberal Party.

But, as is generally the case with New Democratic policy proposals these days, once you delved into the details of the plan as revealed on the Monday after the convention, what Horwath and crew were offering was not really universal pharmacare at all, but the promise to begin to make a start towards it in 2020.

The NDP are promising to cover, in full and for all Ontarians, the 125 generally most commonly used drugs starting that year, and to then include more on an as yet undefined timeline. This would cost, according to the NDP, about $475 million annually.

Shortly after the NDP released its not-pharmacare pharmacare plank, the Liberal government tabled its budget and, of course, not to be outdone it included a not-pharmacare pharmacare plank.

The Liberal plan would cover basically all drugs -- around 4,400 of them -- but only for those under the age of 25. It will also actually come into effect prior to the next election and will launch in January, 2018.

And this spells very serious trouble for the NDP's "big idea".

It is amazing how it is that if you come out with what is only a partial "pharmacare" platform, someone else can then implement a different vision of a partial "pharmacare" program and really throw off your whole platform plank.

Both of these plans are clearly inadequate plans. I think it is easier to make an argument for the NDP plan being the better one than the Liberal plan for a couple of fairly significant reasons, not the least of which is that the NDP plan -- as limited as it is and assuming that they would actually follow through on it -- makes far more sense as a transitional stage to real pharmacare than does the Liberal one. There is also the fact that relatively few of the 4,400 to be covered are actually used regularly by children and youth who tend to be in the best health of any demographic.

But here is the thing; the Liberal plan will actually be in place before the next election while the NDP's partial plan would not happen even in its present form for another three years and only if they were to be elected.

When Horwath waxed poetic about how "Seeing a doctor just doesn't mean much if you need a prescription, but you can't afford to fill it", the obvious rhetorical flaw is that her plan will not change that in a great many cases. Given that only the most common drugs will be covered most of the most expensive medications -- which are not that common  -- will not be, which means that those who face the greatest economic challenges due to a lack of coverage will not get any serious relief or benefit and will continue to face crippling costs and destitution.

As a result even Horwath had to acknowledge that they were only going to "start building universal pharmacare right here in Ontario" which is exactly what the Liberals can now also claim to be doing with the added bonus that people and parents in Ontario are going to start seeing the benefits very shortly.

In addition this means that the NDP will either have to expand their plan to include what the Liberals will have created with all of the associated costs (which would, of course, not be the full amount of the Liberal plan, but still a significant portion of it) or they will have to say that they would rollback the coverage for those under 25 to 125 medications.

I assume even the ONDP is wise enough to do the former -- perhaps not a safe assumption -- but yet again we see how easy it is for liberals to blunt the rhetoric and ill-conceived plans of 'social democrats' who continue to insist on playing the "responsible managers" card.

The clever move for the ONDP would have been and now would be to put out a serious, comprehensive timeline -- that will not take decades -- towards the implementation of total and actual universal pharmacare for everyone. This would be inspiring and transformative though it would almost certainly have to be backed by tax increases including personal tax increases.

I am not going to be holding my breath though and expect we will, instead, see the ONDP try to carry forth with what they have already laid out and then have to spend months defending one partial and inadequate plan against another, learning again that there is no milquetoast 'social democratic' chimeric concoction that a liberal cannot simply steal away by watering it down slightly.

See also: Liberals, social democrats and union leaders have to stop helping to normalize Trump

See also: When it comes to opportunistic hypocrisy on the environment, Rachel Notley is right up there with Trudeau

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