Letter to PM Trudeau: The need for universal pharmacare is URGENT


November 24, 2020

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Health


Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister Freeland and Minister Hajdu,

Following the September 23 Throne Speech, we once again commend you for your ongoing commitment to a universal national pharmacare program and your plans to “accelerate steps to achieve this system.”

Now, more than two months later, we believe it is time for you to demonstrate this commitment through concrete action. We are calling on you to clarify these commitments in the forthcoming fiscal update and through a line item in the 2021 Federal Budget.

Taking into account the recommendations from the final report of the previous Liberal government’s Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, and your government’s pledge to being guided by these recommendations, there is a responsibility to set into motion the actions necessary to provide universal access to essential medicines in the months ahead.

As per the timeline in the Advisory Council’s final report, a national formulary of essential medicines should come into force by January 1, 2022. Considering the growing and urgent need for universal pharmacare – with hundreds of thousands of people having lost access to employer-sponsored drug plans in recent months – we are calling on you to expedite this process, so that essential medicines can be made available on a universal basis by July 1, 2021.

In the midst of COVID-19, we cannot delay access to essential medicines any further. Hospitals are overwhelmed with patients across the country, and the risk of airborne transmission of the virus has been firmly established. To avoid unnecessary hospital visits that result from a lack of access to prescribed medications, we urgently need universal access to a list of essential medicines.

We recognize that pharmacare cannot move ahead without the participation of the provinces and territories. As was the case with Medicare, when jurisdictions see the benefits of the program, we are confident they will sign on. We are encouraged by your government’s Speech from the Throne commitment to work “…with provinces and territories willing to move forward without delay”. What is required now is a concrete plan, along with stable long-term funding to demonstrate to all provinces and territories that your government can be relied on as a partner in broadening access to vital medications to everyone in Canada.

It is incumbent upon your government to be truly guided by the Advisory Council’s final report and hence cover the incremental costs for implementing the program. If the provinces and territories are assured that any added costs will be assumed by the federal government in order to implement the program, and that substantial savings for its citizens, businesses and health care system will result, it will be very hard to resist its adoption.

We call on your government to dedicate $3.5 billion toward universal coverage for a list of essential medicines – as recommended by the Advisory Council’s final report – in the 2021 Federal Budget. We also call on your government to usher in this program by July 1 to speed up access for those in need.

On July 1, 1958, the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostic Services Act came into force, and on that day in 1968, the Medical Care Act came into force. Having a list of essential medicines accessible to all people in Canada by July 1, 2021, would begin the fulfillment of an essential yet missing piece of Medicare. And it would do so on the most fitting of days – marking 153 years since Confederation – for our country’s most cherished achievement.

We look forward to working with you to accelerate the implementation of a national, universal, public and single-payer pharmacare program.


Linda Silas
President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions

Pauline Worsfold, RN
Chair, Canadian Health Coalition

Marie Clarke Walker
Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Jerry Dias
President, Unifor

Danyaal Raza
Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare

Anita Huberman
CEO, Surrey Board of Trade

Mike Parker
President, Health Sciences Association of Alberta

Doug Roth
CEO, Heart & Stroke

Mark Hancock
National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees

Sandra Azocar
Executive Director, Friends of Medicare

Bill Chedore
President, Congress of Union Retirees of Canada

Ken Neumann
National Director for Canada, United Steelworkers

Larry Brown
President, National Union of Public and General Employees

Tim Guest, RN
President, Canadian Nurses Association

Rick Smith
Executive Director, Broadbent Institute

Steve Morgan, PhD
Professor of health polciy at UBC and Founder of Pharmacare 2020

Bill VanGorder, Chief Policy Officer
Canadian Association of Retired Persons

Christina Warner and Ravi Joshi,
Co-Executive Directors, Council of Canadians