New Democrats have been fighting for a national pharmacare program since Tommy Douglas introduced public Medicare in 1947.

New Democrats refer often to the amazing vision that Tommy Douglas had – and his vision of a social system that is accessible to all. His fundamental belief guides us still today. It is a belief that “we are all in this world together, and the only test of our character that matters is how we look after the least fortunate among us. How we look after each other, not how we look after ourselves”. And that, no matter what, people should get whatever health services they require irrespective of their individual ability to pay.

Tommy Douglas never intended for such an incongruous gap in Canadian health care coverage to exist. Prescription drugs and other services were always meant to be integrated into a system of comprehensive public coverage, along with hospitals and physician services.

Canada is the only developed country in the world with a universal health care program that doesn’t include a universal prescription drug plan. This means that our multiple-payer system has resulted in the second highest prescription drug costs in the world.

Our patchwork prescription drug system is inefficient and expensive. It has left Canadians with wildly varying prescription drug coverage and access and many people are actually paying different rates for the same medications.

More than one-in-five Canadians report that in the past 12 months they or someone in their household did not take their medicines as prescribed, if at all, because of the cost.

Specifically, this includes 14 per cent who report that they or someone in their household did not fill a prescription at all because of the cost; one-in-ten who did not renew a prescription; and one-in-seven who did things to make a prescription last longer, such as skip doses or split pills.

What New Democrats believe, what I believe and what I wish to emphasize, is the fundamental belief that people should not have worry about whether they can pay their hydro bill or they can pay for their medications.

New Democrats are not alone in our belief for national pharmacare. An overwhelming majority – 91 percent – of Canadians believe our public health care system should include a universal prescription drug plan. The PBO estimates that roughly $28.5 billion was spent on prescription drugs in 2015. Of this, just under half was paid for by public insurance plans, followed by private insurance plans ($10.7 billion) and individuals ($4.7 billion).

And the PBO estimates that a national pharmacare plan would result in a net savings of $4.2 billion per year for Canadians.

Several national health care commissions have also recommended the same, along with the Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, Canadian Doctors for Medicare, Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Canadian Health Coalition, Council of Canadians and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Evidence has been clear for decades that universal pharmacare would expand coverage and improve outcomes, while reducing costs for Canadians.

One would think that after all of this overwhelming evidence, a government would be foolish not to immediately implement a national pharmacare program. Also interestingly, Liberals used to agree with this policy. In fact, in the 1997 Liberal election platform, they talked about introducing pharmacare. The Liberals held government for more than 12 years, so why didn’t they follow through on their promise? And better yet, why after their past commitments and all of the overwhelming evidence, did the current Liberal government, in their most recent budget did they announce they would further study pharmacare? And why did the Minister of Finance immediately backtrack on this promise only days after he read his budget speech in the House of Commons?

New Democrats will continue to advocate for this essential national program. We believe that it’s not fair that access to medications depends on where you live or how rich you are. It makes no sense that someone can get free medical care from their doctor, but if you need medicine to heal, prevent illness or improve your health, you may not get it – if you can’t afford it.

Universal drug coverage would make sure access is based on need instead. Federal leadership can reduce drug costs for provinces and businesses offering drugs plans.

We have to do this now – fully. Not in a half measure. Canadians deserve more than more empty promises and political rhetoric. We need National Pharmacare for the health of all Canadians. Tommy Douglas knew it more than 50 years ago and New Democrats have known it for decades. This needs to happen today – we simply cannot afford to wait