OTTAWA — The New Democrats have used their agreement with the Liberal government as leverage to push for more ways to save Canadians money in the next federal budget, leader Jagmeet Singh says.
When the budget is released later this month, Singh says he expects to see more dollars to expanddental coverage to teens, seniors and people living with a disability, which was part of the NDP's confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals.
"That's the big one. We want to see the commitment to the dollars necessary for it to roll out to that national program," Singh said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
He said he also wants to see the government extend the six-month boost to the GST rebate, introduced last fall, which temporarily doubled the amount people received.
"That's something that we're going to use our power on," Singh said, noting he has raised the topic with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"It's not in our agreement, but the agreement gives us the leverage to push for things like that."
The Liberals plan to release the next federal budget on March 28.
The Opposition Conservatives have said they want to see lower taxes, a cap on spending and a pledge to improve housing availability by freeing up land and speeding up building permits.
"They're proposing to increase the pain," Singh said of the Tories' priorities. "People are already going through pain. They're already feeling squeezed and hurt. And they're saying, 'Cut things to make it even harder on people.'"
Singh said the NDP's budget priority is to help Canadians find ways to save money through rebates or other cost-of-living initiatives, without contributing to inflation.
"Federal funding for school lunches is something that can help kids and families with the pressure of the costs of living and the cost of food," Singh said.
"There's some signals Liberals were open to it … but we want to see if we can continue to apply pressure to make it happen."
In November, the Liberal government opened up roundtable talks with teachers, parents, children and youth regarding a national school food policy, citing a 2018 World Health Organization survey that found one in five children in Canada were at risk of going to school hungry on any given day.
Other budget priorities for the NDP include reforming employment insurance and creating more affordable housing spaces.
The party has agreed to support the minority government in key votes, including the budget, until 2025 in exchange for movement on shared priorities.
Singh said he's "confident" the Liberal government will fulfill its promises in the upcoming budget.
Canadians can also expect to see a pharmacare bill this year, as stipulated by the agreement, Singh said.
But he said it is unlikely this year's budget will include any funding for prescriptions.
The bill would focus on creating a national framework for an eventual pharmacare program, similar to how the Canada Health Act sets up the administration of public health care, he said.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland recently stressed that the government is embracing fiscal restraint to avoid pouring fuel on the flames of inflation.
Even so, the budget is expected to include fresh measures to support Canada's move to a greener economy and compete with the United States on clean technology.
The document is also expected to account for billions in new spending on health care that will flow through bilateral deals with the provinces.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2023.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press