An NDP motion calling for the federal government to cover the dental-care costs of most Canadians was voted down in the House of Commons on Wednesday, due in part to its rejection by almost all Liberal MPs — who are part of a government that’s promised to explore the idea of universal dental care.
Because there was no debate held before Wednesday’s vote, Liberal members didn’t get the chance to say in the House why they voted against the motion. During debate of the bill in June, Liberal MPs Soraya Martinez Ferrada and Mark Gerretsen said they believed greater study was needed of how taxpayer-funded dental care would work.
Most Conservative and all Bloc Québécois MPs also voted against the motion. Green MPs voted with the NDP in favour. Thirty-six members voted in favour of the motion, and 285 voted against.
M-62 was introduced in the House of Commons by NDP member Jack Harris in May.
In a statement shortly after the vote, Harris expressed disappointment in how the Liberal MPs voted.
“The government had an opportunity to show some real leadership, by working with us to improve people’s health and their quality of life,” Harris said. “Instead, they’re claiming that they just haven’t gotten around to collecting enough data on the situation. The need is urgent, and there is a cost to doing nothing.”
M-62 sought to have the House indicate its support for a federal plan to cover the cost of dental care for Canadian families earning less than $90,000 per year, and whose dental costs aren’t already covered by another plan, such as through insurance or their employer, until “full dental care” is included in Canada’s taxpayer-funded health-care system.
The motion was non-binding, meaning that, even if MPs had passed it, the government wouldn’t have been compelled to proceed with it.
Introducing a national dental-care program such as the one Harris proposed would cost taxpayers $1.5 billion a year, the independent Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) said in a report last October.
In the last election, the NDP and Greens both ran on platforms that included promises to include dental care in health-care coverage.
The Liberals’ 2019 platform did not include that promise. Both before and after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s re-election — but before the COVID-19 pandemic — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said dental coverage was one thing the Liberals had to adopt in order to keep the NDP’s support in the minority Parliament.
In the mandate letter Health Minister Patty Hajdu received a few months after the election, Trudeau directed her to work with Parliament to “analyze the possibility of national dental care.” The governing Liberals and Parliament have not done that, for which the pandemic is partly to blame.
“The Liberals, we fought with them to start to consider this,” Singh said Wednesday. “They mentioned it in the throne speech, after our fight to say this is a priority, but, like many things, they talked about it (and) haven’t delivered on it.”
The Liberals have instead shown that expanding other social programs are their priority.
In their April budget, they laid out plans to spend almost $30 billion over five years to lower child-care costs to an average of $10 per day, per child.
Both of Hajdu’s mandate letters, one of which was assigned after Parliament reset after being prorogued, tell her to proceed with developing a federal pharmacare system that would shrink the up-front drug costs Canadians pay at pharmacies.
Before Wednesday’s vote, Singh said that, regardless of its outcome, the NDP would continuing pressing and campaigning for publicly funded dental and pharmacare.
“We are the ones consistently committed to improving our health-care system,” Singh said. “And we’ve seen time and time again that neither the Liberals, nor the Conservatives, or, frankly, the Bloc, care about improving access to these universal social programs.”
More from iPolitics