Ottawa (22 March 2022) — With this week’s agreement between the Liberals and the NDP, we may finally get action on issues that matter to working people. The agreement, Delivering for Canadians Now, A Supply and Confidence Agreement, covers a number of areas where action is urgently needed, but progress has been slow.
These include dental care, pharmacare, long-term care, labour rights, just transition and tax fairness. The agreement also includes provisions intended to ensure that money for areas like child care and affordable housing is spent in ways that will do the most good.
Agreement sets timelines for action on pharmacare and dental care
Under the agreement, a dental care program for Canadian families with incomes of less than $90,000 is supposed to start in 2022. Children under 12 will be covered in the first year. In 2023, children and teens under 18, seniors and persons living with a disability are supposed to start receiving coverage.
There is also a requirement that a Canada Pharmacare Act be passed by the end of 2023. Provisions in the agreement dealing with additional funding for health care and a Safe Long-Term Care Act don’t have timelines attached.
Recognizing that public, non-profit child care is better for children
One of the concerns about the national child care program is that new child care spaces would be owned and managed by for-profit corporations. This would mean that some of the funding for child care would be going towards corporate profits, leaving less money available to care for children. The agreement responds to this concern by calling for “long-term protected funding that prioritizes non-profit and public spaces.”
Directing housing funds to where they are most needed
The agreement calls for changes to the Rental Construction Financing Initiative to make the rents for housing units built under this program easier for people to afford. A significant increase in funding for Indigenous housing in 2022, and giving control over how funds will be spent to First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are important steps forward.
10 days of paid sick leave and ban on scabs part of agreement
There are 2 provisions in the agreement to improve labour rights. Starting in 2022, workers in federally regulated workplaces will have 10 days of paid sick leave. By the end of 2023, the use of scabs will be banned during both strikes and lockouts in federally regulated industries.
The ban on scabs in both strikes and lockouts is a major step forward. During the last federal election, the Liberal Party was only willing to ban the use of scabs during lockouts. That would have meant that scabs could still be used when workers were forced to take strike action. Under the agreement, scabs will now be banned in all circumstances.
While these measures will only apply to federally regulated industries, this provides a foot in the door to push for them at the provincial level.
Publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry will help with tax fairness and fighting crime
The Liberal and NDP commitment to implement a publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry by the end of 2023 is an important step in addressing problems with tax avoidance and money laundering. Those moving money illegally have been taking advantage of the fact that it is very difficult to find out who really controls companies registered in Canada. A publicly accessible registry of beneficial owners will change that.
Governance agreement not an anomaly in Canada
While Conservatives and rightwing commentators cry foul, this kind of isn't new in Canada, especially at time with minority governments. Minority governments must rely on the support of other parties in Parliament to pass legislation and get work done.
"We expect our elected leaders to work together in the best interests of the country and its people," said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. "This is what is happening with the governance agreement. Child care, climate change, labour rights, health, dental and long-term care — these are all issues that need urgent attention, and we're cautiously optimistic that under this arrangement there will be progress."
More still needed
In it's submission to the Budget 2022 Consultations, NUPGE pointed out that building back better after the COVID-19 pandemic will require the federal government to undo the damage done by years of underfunding of public services and inadequate action to respond to problems like climate change or the lack of affordable housing. The measures in the agreement between the Liberals and the NDP are a major step forward, but far more is needed to address problems like climate change, income inequality, and the gaps in our social safety net.
When steps are taken to implement what is in the agreement, we will have to take a long hard look at the details. It is not uncommon for governments to exaggerate how much the measures they are introducing will accomplish. If that happens with measures in this agreement, we need to speak out and make it clear that, if the agreement does break down, we will hold responsible those who tried to weaken what is in it.
We are encouraged to see that the parties will continue to cooperate and create new priorities through an oversight committee. We hold steady in our commitment that dental care, long-term care and pharmacare be brought fully under the Canada Health Act and will be encouraging further steps towards this goal. This agreement must not inadvertently create a 2-tier health care in Canada and expansion of our public health care system is the way to ensure this does not happen.
Labour and civil society victories
We believe that this agreement would not have happened without the tireless work of advocates and activists in labour and civil society. We are also aware that those who oppose these priorities will be working harder to undermine these commitments. The agreement spans 4 budgets giving enough time to ensure significant investments and clear timelines are implemented to back up the promises. This agreement provides an opportunity to chart a path forward at a time when many Canadians are concerned about the future. It is critical that we redouble our engagement and scrutiny to ensure these promises are fulfilled.