As Liberals meet before Parliament returns, broad coalition of unions and progressive groups says pharmacare extremely urgent

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A pill bottle that has round pills spilling out and text that reads, Pharmacare Act Now.

OTTAWA – As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet gather in Hamilton for a three-day retreat, a broad coalition of unions and progressive groups says that implementing a comprehensive pharmacare program must be a top priority for the Liberal government. The cost-of-living crisis has significantly increased cost-related obstacles to Canadians’ access to prescription drugs, while high drug prices are draining billions of dollars from hospitals’ budgets.

A public, single-payer pharmacare plan that offers comprehensive drug coverage to all Canadians, as recommended by the Advisory Committee on Implementing National Pharmacare in 2019, will make life more affordable and improve health care for Canadians. These are two of the objectives being discussed by Trudeau and his cabinet this week.

Pharmacare is projected to save billions per year in drug costs, freeing up public funds needed for a massive reinvestment in Canada’s health care system. Prime Minister Trudeau and the provincial premiers are currently negotiating a major, ten-year health accord.

The Trudeau government must introduce legislation for a Canada Pharmacare Act as soon as possible – by the spring at the latest. The Liberal government has committed to passing legislation on pharmacare before the end of 2023, as per the confidence-and-supply agreement with the New Democratic Party.

Pharmacare is supported by nine out of ten Canadians, polls have repeatedly shown. The Canadian Health Coalition, its members and allies are preparing to mount a major campaign in the coming months to mobilize that broad public support and win pharmacare.


Kelly-Anne Orr, Assistant to the National Officers, Unifor:

“Canada is the only developed country with a universal health care system that has no universal prescription drug coverage. The time to act is now! The federal Liberal government must introduce legislation and enact pharmacare equitably for everyone regardless of income, age, or where the person works or lives.”

Nikolas Barry-Shaw, Trade and Privatization Campaigner, Council of Canadians:

“Big Pharma is terrified that a national pharmacare plan will allow Canada to bring down drug prices, which are the third-highest in the OECD world. But what might be a nightmare for the pharmaceutical giants is a dream for Canadians, millions of whom struggle to afford their medications. We need public, single-payer pharmacare and we need it now.”

Linda Silas, President, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions: 

“Access to prescribed medicines should be a right, not a privilege. With the cost of living rising and our health care systems on the brink of collapse, universal access to prescriptions is a no-brainer. Canada’s nurses demand urgent action toward implementing a national universal public pharmacare program in the coming session of Parliament.” 

Joel Lexchin MD, Associate Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of Toronto:

“I worked as an emergency physician in downtown Toronto for nearly 35 years. Almost every shift we had to reach into the hospital’s supply of medicines because someone couldn’t afford the prescription that was necessary for their health. This kind of charity needs to end. It’s time for pharmacare for everyone.”

Rowan Burdge, Provincial Director, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition:

“As a type 1 diabetic, I know firsthand the brutal out-of-pocket costs of life-sustaining medication, and the financial and emotional stress they cause. Healthcare is a human right, and in a country as wealthy as Canada the burden of paying for medication should not be on individuals and families already encountering health challenges.”

“It’s time for a fair, universal, public pharmacare system – we all benefit when our neighbours, families, and friends have access to the care and medication we need to thrive. Canadians support universal pharmacare – let’s make healthcare about health again instead of profits for Big Pharma.”

Chris Gallaway, Executive Director, Friends of Medicare:

“The vast majority of Albertans support a universal, single-payer Pharmacare system because they know that it is the correct move. The inadequacy of our prescription drug coverage is laid bare by the fact that one in five Alberta households are experiencing financial barriers to accessing their medications, and that one-third of working Albertans currently have no drug benefits. It is clear to us that Albertans need Pharmacare. Now, we need to see federal leadership with the government taking the bold step of implementing their long promised universal Pharmacare program.”  

Bill Swan, Founder, Faces of Pharmacare:

“If any part of a health system excludes just a single person to make a buck, that system is wrong. Canada’s mirroring of the U.S. system for pharmaceuticals means sick Canadians are excluded from drug coverage, lose jobs due to high-cost illness and leave young people in the gig economy out-of-luck. True national public Pharmacare can right these wrongs.”

Pauline Worsfold, RN, Chairperson, Canadian Health Coalition:

“People are suffering. They can’t go without their medications and it’s leading to early deaths,” said Pauline Worsfold, RN, a registered nurse and Chairperson of the Canadian Health Coalition. “Filled prescriptions mean empty emergency rooms, and a universal single-payer pharmacare program not only saves money, but more importantly, saves lives.”

Dr. Melanie Bechard, Chair, Canadian Doctors for Medicare:

“There’s no excuse for further delays. The evidence is clear that pharmacare will improve patient outcomes, reduce health care costs and enhance health system sustainability. With our health care system stretched to its limits, the government should be doing everything it can to alleviate strain on our emergency rooms and system-wide. Implementing pharmacare will do just that.”

Bert Blundon, President, National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE):

“NUPGE stands firmly in favour of implementing a universal pharmacare program in Canada. The Hoskins’ Report provides a blueprint to implement pharmacare. Pharmacare would secure patient access to the medications they need, while dramatically lowering prescription drug costs. Pharmacare would free up desperately needed resources which could be invested in our public health care system.”

Mark Hancock, National President, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE):

“Too many people can’t afford to fill their prescriptions, and then end up in hospital as a result,” insists CUPE National President Mark Hancock. “Bringing drug and vaccine research, development and production back into the public sector won’t just save money – it will save lives. That’s why it’s so critical that we finally create a national pharmacare program to cover everyone, regardless of their financial circumstance.”

Shawn Haggerty, President, UFCW Locals 175 & 633:

“Universal pharmacare would mean equitable access for all to medications that could save lives, treat chronic illnesses, and allow people to have a better quality of life. All of this would ease the strain on our healthcare system and bring much-needed relief to the millions of people struggling as costs of living continue to rise. How long do Canadians have to wait?”

Thomas Linner, Provincial Director, Manitoba Health Coalition:

“Manitobans and all Canadians need a national and universal public pharmacare program. Pharmacare is health care and as such should be a right for every Canadian under our public health care system. Too many families, especially low-income and racialized families, have been deprived of equal access to the medications they need. That’s wrong. Let’s take real steps to make our public health care system truly universal with a public pharmacare program, now.”

Mary Boyd, Chair, PEI Health Coalition:

“Wait times for healthcare are a big problem in Canada, including the huge wait for access to affordable and necessary medications. This is one wait problem that can be easily and quickly solved in the next session of parliament by establishing a universal Pharmacare program. It’s an issue of justice and is long overdue.”

Alexandra Rose, Provincial Coordinator, Nova Scotia Health Coalition (NSHC):

“Nova Scotia’s small and aging population along with continuously rising costs of living are perfect examples of why the need for universal Pharmacare has never been so urgent. The NSHC supports creating a public national Pharmacare program so all Canadians have adequate and equitable access to the prescription medications they need. A national universal Pharmacare program is the next step to expanding and strengthening the public healthcare system.”

Bea Bruske, President, Canadian Labour Congress (CLC):

“Canadians are struggling with the high cost of living and Canada’s unions have been urging the government to throw a lifeline to families. More people are facing impossible choices, whether to put food on the table, pay rent and heat or buy the prescription drugs they need.

Back in 2019, the government’s own Advisory Council provided a road map to implementing universal public pharmacare. Investing in programs like this one will help alleviate some of the costs families face, ultimately helping reduce the impacts of inflation.

It’s time for the government to put people first and bring in universal public pharmacare now!”

The Council of Canadians brings people together through collective action and grassroots organizing to challenge corporate power and advocate for people, the planet and our democracy.

For more than 35 years, the Council has fought for values based on fair and sustainable trade, clean water, climate justice, democracy and stronger public health care.

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Sara Birrell

Media Contact

Hamid Osman

National Communications Representative