Trudeau commits to working with provinces on paid sick leave

With the federal election about a month away, Canada’s political parties are rolling out their election platforms, making a host of promises to improve health care, employment insurance, the minimum wage and pension legislation.

If elected, the Liberal Party of Canada, New Democratic Party and Green Party of Canada are all promising to implement a national pharmacare program. The Conservative Party of Canada has yet to refer to pharmacare in its party platform.

Read: Industry responds to expert panel’s pharmacare report

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberals are committed to implementing a national pharmacare plan in response to the expert panel’s final report, which was released in June. The panel recommended the federal government establish a new drug agency to develop a national formulary and work with the provinces and territories to create a single-payer public system. The formulary would begin with essential medicines by Jan. 1, 2022 and expand to a “fully comprehensive formulary” no later than Jan. 1, 2027. The panel estimated the program would cost about $15.3 billion per year once fully implemented in 2027.

In its campaign platform, the NDP are pledging to work with the provinces immediately, targeting a late 2020 start date and making an annual $10-billion investment into a pharmacare program.

“Our plan will guarantee that every Canadian can get the medication they need,” the party said. “And it will mean big savings for employers who currently pay for employee benefits, helping to reward good employers and boost economic growth. It will also cost our system less overall as a result of pooling the purchasing power of the entire country.”

Read: What will PMPRB drug pricing changes mean for plan sponsors?

In addition to promising a national pharmacare program by 2020, the Green party said it would create a “bulk drug purchasing agency” and cut the drug patent protection periods.

Both the NDP and Green party also made promises around dental care. The Green party is proposing to make it available for free to low-income Canadians, while the NDP is pledging to update the Canada Health Act, which funds all medically necessary services for Canadians, to include dental care.

The NDP noted a third of Canadians don’t have dental insurance, and more than six million choose not to go to the dentist each year because they can’t afford it. “As jobs with extended health benefits become harder to find, fewer people will have access to extended health-care services.”

The party also intends to make mental health, eye and hearing care available to Canadians at no cost.

Read: Manitoba NDP, Liberals pledge to hike minimum wage

In other mental-health promises, the Green party is pledging to create a national mental-health strategy “to address the link between mental wellness and work productivity.”

As for wages, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said, if he’s elected prime minister, he’d immediately establish a $15 per hour minimum wage and grow it to a “living wage” within his first mandate.

The Green party made the same commitment, promising to establish a guaranteed livable income program to replace income supports, such as disability payments, social assistance and income supplements for seniors. The payments would be set at a “livable” level, which would differ across the country. “Unlike existing income support programs, additional income would not be clawed back,” the party said. “Those earning above a certain total income would pay the GLI back in taxes.”

Read: Distressed workers lose eight days a month in productivity: research

The party said it would work with the Council of Canadian Governments and Statistics Canada to set municipal minimum wages based on the differing costs of living across the country.

While the Liberals haven’t released a campaign platform, the party is touting its accomplishments over the past four years, including making enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan. It also said in September it would reform the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act on Nov. 1 to improve retirement security and protect pension plans, following on its budget 2019 promises.

Also in pension security measures, the NDP said it would keep pensioners at the front of the line if a company goes bankrupt and prevent companies from paying out dividends and bonuses when their pensions are underfunded. It also pledged to create a mandatory, industry-financed pension insurance program, protect defined benefit pension plans in the public sector and support efforts to improve Canadians’ retirement financial literacy.

Read: Budget 2019: Proposed changes to pension legislation, annuities, CPP

The party also intends to create a pension advisory commission to develop plans to enhance old-age security and the guaranteed income supplement and strengthen the CPP. It also wants to make OAS and GIS enrolment retroactive.

On the CPP, the Green party is calling for an “over time” increase of the target income replacement rate, from 25 per cent to to 50 per cent, and said it would mandate that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board divest from coal, oil and gas shares.

While the Conservatives have yet to release a platform, it said in August it would make employment insurance maternity and parental benefits tax-free through a 15 per cent tax credit for any income earned under those programs.

Read: Federal Conservatives propose tax-free EI maternity, parental benefits

“Parents should be able to put their energy toward those critical first few months and not have to worry so much about their bank accounts or their bottom line,” said Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

All Canadian families — including Quebec residents who receive maternity and parental benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan — would be eligible for the new benefit.

The NDP are pledging to support parents by creating a new special leave that would allow parents to take a shorter parental leave at higher income replacement rates and allow self-employed workers to opt into parental benefits at any time before they take leave. In addition, it’s aiming to increase the income replacement rate from 55 per cent to 60 per cent; create a low-income supplement so that everyone receiving EI regular or special benefits receives at least $1,200 per month; establish a universal qualifying threshold for EI benefits of 360 hours to make it easier for more Canadians to access the benefits; and restore the appeals system.

Read: A look at extended parental benefits one year on

The Liberals recently reformed the tribunal that handles appeals related to EI, CPP and OAS payments. Among the changes, the government said it will hire trained case navigators to support Canadians through the appeals process and allow people making appeals to introduce new evidence at second-level appeals that wasn’t present in the first level. Appellants will also have up to two years to gather information for a first-level appeal, up from one year previously.

The Green party said it would eliminate “loopholes” around taxing stock options and capital gains. Both employee stock options and capital gains are taxed at half of personal income. The NDP also said employee stock option deductions should be eliminated and are promising to increase the capital gains tax rate to 75 per cent.

The Liberals introduced legislation to impose a $200,000 limit on stock options taxed at the preferential rate, which would take effect next year if it passes.

Read: Feds update appeals process for EI, CPP and OAS