SURREY, B.C. — Canada is ill-prepared for the "demographic bomb" set to hit the health-care system, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said Tuesday as he highlighted commitments such as a plan to deliver universal, prescription drug coverage.
Mulcair is ramping up his health-care pitch in British Columbia, a province with an aging population where his party hopes to claim at least 24 seats.
It's the same province where the NDP unveiled a plan in mid-September to spend $1.8 billion over four years to help the provinces bolster care for seniors.
The NDP plan calls for an expansion of home care that it says will benefit 41,000 seniors, create 5,000 more nursing beds and improve palliative care services.
Mulcair held a town hall in Surrey on Tuesday, where he faced softball questions from supporters about wait times and affordable access to prescriptions.
"It's really easy in this election," Mulcair said. "Child care, health care, pharmacare, Mulcair."
The New Democrats hope their health message resonates in a province with a median age of nearly 42 years — about a year and a half over the national figure — according to the 2011 Census.
"We're just not getting ready for that demographic bomb to hit our whole health-care system," he said, as someone in the crowd shouted: "A senior tsunami!"
"The orange wave and the senior tsunami," Mulcair replied. "I love it."
The Liberals, who have pledged to negotiate a new health accord with provinces and territories and spend $3 billion over the next four years on home-care services, accused the New Democrats of making health care promises they can't keep.
"By adopting Stephen Harper's budget and rushing to eliminate the deficit in just six months, Mulcair can't possibly deliver on new health care funding," said Hedy Fry, the Liberal candidate in Vancouver Centre.
Mulcair also stepped up his attacks Tuesday on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, saying it threatens to hike prescription drug costs.
Drug companies will get eight years of protection from competitors for biologics — expensive medicines produced in living cells.
Critics say blocking competitors from making generic drugs means people who need the medication won't be able to afford it.
It's that patent protection afforded to the big drug companies that will lead to higher costs for life-saving medications, Mulcair said.
"It's going to become more expensive for Canadians to access generic prescription drugs. That is adding to the cost of medication for Canadians, at a time when we should be taking concrete action to reduce the cost of medication."
Mulcair also criticized Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announced $1 billion aid package to help the auto sector, calling it proof that Harper already knows the trade agreement will result in the loss of thousands of jobs from the industry.
But he warned that Harper should not be taken at his word that the money will be provided over the next 10 years, or at all.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation issued a statement criticizing the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats for pandering to voters by offering up millions of dollars in "corporate welfare."
Besides the $1 billion TPP compensation proposal from the Conservatives to the auto industry, the Liberals have pledged $400 million to invest in the production of clean technology and the New Democrats have said they plan to spend $400 million as part of their strategy for the auto and aerospace sectors.
"Make no mistake, these promises have nothing to do with sound economics or business decisions and everything to do with cynical political pandering," federation director Aaron Wudrick said in a statement.
Mulcair's campaign makes its next stop Wednesday in Edmonton.
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