NDP pushing on issues that directly affect Canadians, say MP

Using political leverage

“Fighting for you.” It’s an expression that has made its way into some of my columns and not one I particularly like, given one of my key motivations for entering politics was to bring people together, to work together across party lines to make real changes to make lives better.

Still, the sentiment of “fighting for you” rings true in much that the NDP has accomplished. In truth, it looks more like pushing the (governing) Liberals to keep their promises, to put the interests of those who need help most before that of investors and donors.

It also looks like hours upon hours of committee meetings, negotiations, late-night debates, public pressure and often compromise too. It’s hard work. (The federal NDP) holds the balance of power in (the current) minority government situation, but instead of unproductive insults and accusations, my party has used that position to push a large body of policy specifically designed for one purpose—to help people.

Just days ago, the New Democrats used an Opposition Day motion to call on the government to take action on the devastation happening in Gaza and Israel. With help across party lines, we were able to find common ground and pass a motion for Canada to work toward a two-state solution, stop selling arms to the Israeli government, place sanctions on extremist settlers, and call on Hamas to lay down its arms and release Israeli hostages. No Conservative MPs voted in favour of the motion.

The list of what we’ve achieved through our position in parliament is long—a plan for pharmacare that includes coverage for contraceptives and diabetes medication and devices this year, a national dental care Plan, anti-“scab” (replacement worker) legislation to protect workers (during a strike or lock-out), laws that strengthen the Competition Act to boost competition and oversight of the grocery sector, a doubling of the GST credit, the Canada Disability Benefit, and major funding announcements for the Housing Accelerator Fund, which is a key part of our supply-and-confidence agreement with government.

New Democrats are not done. We’re fighting for real action on climate change, including a national firefighting force and a Youth Climate Corps, to create good, green jobs for youth across the country.

We need a national school lunch program and a fund to protect renters. We need to ensure proper investments in childcare continue until all families can enjoy $10 per day childcare. We need real investments in our health care system to ensure Canadians are getting the care they need.

In this sense, we’re still fighting, but we’re fighting for the things Canadians need, not against other Canadians. These days, I’m seeing far too many political messages that pit Canadians against each other. It’s similar to the politics we see to our south (in the U.S.) It’s dismissing credible media and attacking experts and evidence. Far too often it is deliberate misrepresentation in the name of garnering popularity.

We are facing considerable challenges on so many fronts and too many people are struggling to get by. These are the fights we need to take on, not against one another. There is much work to do and we can succeed if we continue to propose real solutions and identify the real sources of the challenges we face.

This is why I’m a New Democrat and why we’ve accomplished so much in these past months.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MP touts new Pharmacare Act as a health game changer in Canada

Pharmacare Act is needed

Last week Canada took another major step forward truly universal healthcare with the tabling of the (NDP-prompted) Pharmacare Act.

When fully implemented this legislation will allow all Canadians to use their health card to obtain their prescription drugs, just as they use it to see a doctor or use hospital facilities. It will also save Canada as much as $10 billion or more every year through the power of a single payer for prescription drugs and reduced health care costs because Canadians will simply be healthier.

Our present pharmacare system is a patchwork of coverage, paid for by federal and provincial governments, businesses and individual Canadians. There are more than 100 public, and tens of thousands of private, insurance plans. That means we have no bargaining power at all with big pharmaceutical companies and, not surprisingly, end up paying the second highest drug costs in the world.

Countries that have single-payer models pay much less. New Zealand pays one-tenth of what we pay for some common prescription drugs.

Why is that important? Well, for one thing, about 20% of Canadians simply can’t afford to buy medicines prescribed to them by their doctor because of high costs. That not only impacts their health directly, but it also clogs up our health care system as more people end up in emergency rooms and hospital wards. So it adds billions of dollars in health care costs that could have been avoided if people had access to free prescription medications.

The new Pharmacare Act also adds coverage for contraceptives and diabetes medications and devices. The contraceptive coverage copies what was brought in by the B.C. NDP government a month ago. The diabetes coverage is critically important to the 20% of Canadians who suffer from the disease, a number that has doubled in the last 20 years.

Diabetes causes 30% of strokes in Canada, 40% of heart attacks, 50% of kidney failure. It is also the leading cause of blindness. Most critically, about 7,000 Canadians, many of them young people, die every year as a direct result of diabetes. Many of these diabetic complications are caused by poor management of the disease because many Canadians cannot afford the devices and tests that are necessary, or even afford the insulin.

The new Pharmacare Act is a necessary step to implement a universal, public, single-payer pharmacare system in Canada. Like the universal health care coverage we’ve all enjoyed since Tommy Douglas’ (Saskatchewan government) first brought it into effect in Canada more than 60 years ago, it will require negotiations with the provinces, because they share responsibility for health care in our country.

This act is a framework for those negotiations. It sets out the ground rules for a national pharmacare plan in which the federal government will be the single buyer of prescription drugs. There will obviously be some spirited discussions with provincial governments, as there was with our original health care system. But pharmacare is such an obvious benefit for all Canadians and all provinces and territories, I’m sure we will see clear progress on that front.

We should see the plan in place with coverage for diabetes and contraceptives by the end of this year.

The big pharmaceutical companies, that have been gouging us for too long, may not approve, but for the rest of us, a universal, public pharmacare program will keep us all healthier and save us billions in the bargain.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

Climate change has devastating effect on fruit and wine industries in B.C.

Grape harvest lost

I’ve written several times recently about the costs of climate change.

Some of those costs are obvious, including the loss of homes, property, and infrastructure due to the increased severity of climate-related events such as wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornados. Home insurance costs are going up for everybody because of those events.

One sector that is at a very high risk of impact from climate change often goes under the radar, and that is agriculture—the sector that feeds all of us.

The Canadian Prairies have been dealing with drought conditions for the past few years, and last summer saw southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and parts of Manitoba report significantly reduced harvests of wheat and other crops. In addition, a lack of feed for cattle impacted the beef sector.

One of the biggest impacts of extreme weather hit the fruit and wine industries in the Okanagan and other nearby valleys in mid-January. A long, mild fall and early winter had orchard trees and vines with rising sap, ready for spring, and then suddenly the temperature fell more than 20 C overnight. In one orchard, the temperature went from 2 C to -23 C in 12 hours.

The rapid change, from warm, almost spring-like temperatures to record low temperatures overnight, resulted directly from a warming climate. The polar vortex and mid-latitude jet stream are driven by the difference in temperature between the Arctic and temperate air masses. When the Arctic warms more rapidly than temperate zones, as is happening with climate change, the linear jet stream weakens and begins to wander in big loops like a stream traversing a prairie. One loop will bring unusually warm air north, while the neighbouring loop brings frigid polar air southward.

So, while climate change is often described as global warming, it can produce extreme temperatures at both ends of the spectrum.

Soft fruits and grape vines can’t easily tolerate temperatures below -20 C, especially when they occur so rapidly the plants cannot adequately adapt to the freeze. A recent sampling study throughout the Okanagan found essentially no live buds on grape vines, indicating a complete loss of the 2024 harvest. The direct financial impact of this loss is estimated at $440 million. Fruit growers face similar losses, especially cherry and peach growers.

This loss comes on the heels of a similar event in December 2022 that cut the 2023 grape harvest in half. Many wineries were reeling from that event when this freeze came along, and many have no insurance for this type of event.

The wine and orchard sector is a huge part of the economy of the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. These crop losses will have knock-on effects throughout the region.

There are federal-provincial government assistance programs that can partially compensate for loss of income in farming operations and extraordinary costs that are necessary after a natural disaster.

I asked the federal agriculture minister in Question Period last week to take action to help save this industry. I’ve also talked to the provincial agriculture minister to make sure she knows the seriousness of the situation.

Over the next two days, I’ll meet with both fruit growers and wine makers to discuss ways to get through the immediate financial crisis of a total crop loss, and what can be done in the long-term to make the sector more resilient to these catastrophic events.

One thing is becoming clearer with every passing season, we are living the effects of climate change and must quickly adapt to them or face serious and often unexpected consequences.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.


MP extols virtue of building North America's largest electric vehicle recycling facility in Trail

Recycling EV batteries

Electric vehicle battery recycling at Teck Resources smelter in Trail

I wrote in a previous column about exciting developments in battery recycling in Trail. There, KC Recycling is one of western North America’s largest lead-acid battery recyclers and Cirba Solutions (formerly Retriev) is a major recycler of literally every other kind of battery. Both these businesses are important components of the circular economy we need to build for our critical mineral resources. And now they will hopefully be joined by a major initiative at the Trail smelter of Teck Resources—building western North America’s biggest electric vehicle battery recycling refinery.

Electric vehicle batteries require several critical minerals in their manufacture—including cobalt, lithium and nickel—and the production of most of those materials is controlled elsewhere in the world.

Much of that control lies with Chinese enterprises that dominate lithium-ion battery manufacturing around the globe. There has been much talk about how Canada could produce all these minerals to feed a rapidly growing value chain of battery production in North America.

The other challenge with producing large quantities of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles is what to do with those batteries when they reach the end of their useful life after 10 years or so of use. They are large, heavy, and constitute one of the most expensive parts of the vehicle.

Developing a workable ecosystem of recycling those batteries could be a game-changer—it would solve the problem of where those aged batteries go and it could provide an economic source of critical minerals, thus bringing down the cost of producing new batteries.

The Canadian government recently announced plans for several major electric vehicle battery plants in B.C., Ontario and Quebec, backed by federal investments in tax incentives amounting to billions of dollars.

The B.C. plant, in Maple Ridge, alone is estimated to produce 135 million batteries a year. Those plants will obviously require a reliable source of critical minerals.

Enter Teck Resources and its large lead-zinc smelter in Trail. Their site would be an ideal place to develop the large facility needed to process the significant—and steadily growing—quantity of batteries predicted to be available starting in the next few years.

It has the industrial site, refining expertise and a ready supply of hydroelectric power, combined with its existing supply chains for lead-acid battery recycling. It could create hundreds of good, family-supporting jobs and help sustain a community with an already talented workforce.

These batteries would be processed in dismantling facilities across the country, producing a material known in the industry as “black mass”, a valuable mix of cobalt, nickel and lithium. The black mass would then be shipped to Trail and refined to produce battery-grade minerals that would be sold back to the battery manufacturing plants we are beginning to build.

A large project such as this will require significant up-front expenditures by Teck and will need government investments to succeed. Investments like this will determine if Canada’s economy will not only thrive but also provide longstanding benefit to our workers and communities in the future.

I will discuss this project over the coming weeks and months with my colleagues in Ottawa to ensure this project is seriously considered for a share of the federal funding that has already been promised for the battery plants in Ontario and Quebec.

Once the facility is built and the supply chains are functioning well, it will certainly pay for itself—and be a critical part of the electrification of western North America.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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