Jagmeet Singh said if he's elected prime minister Oct. 21, Canadians would no longer have to worry about affording dental care.
With Collège Boréal's dental hygiene student lab as a backdrop, the federal NDP leader announced the party's “denticare” plan extending public dental care to the 4.3 million Canadians Singh says currently don't have coverage.
Dental care will be free for households making under $70,000, with a sliding co-payment for those who earn between $70,000 and $90,000.
He said the plan is a step toward realizing the vision of Tommy Douglas — the late former NDP leader widely credited as the father of universal medicare — to include comprehensive dental care as part of the Canadian health-care system.
The NDP said the plan would save a family of four at least $1,240 if they received the recommended dental examinations and cleanings in a single year, and if each child was treated for a single cavity.
“It is bold, it is exciting,” said Singh, adding the NDP would extend dental coverage almost immediately if elected.
“I'm kind of getting goosebumps when I think about it, because we can actually cover so many Canadians that don't have coverage. This is such an amazing step forward.”
Singh was joined at the early-morning event by several fellow NDPers, including Sudbury candidate Beth Mairs, Charlie Angus, the incumbent for Timmins-James Bay, and Nickel Belt MPP France Gélinas.
Stef Paquette, the NDP's candidate in Nickel Belt for the upcoming federal election, was not present at Collège Boréal.
“I have been hearing heartbreaking stories on the door every day on the challenges people in Sudbury are facing when it comes to affordability and the high costs of dental care,” said Mairs, who introduced Singh at the event.
“I hear frustrations about politicians who say the right things but are not doing them. But Jagmeet Singh is different. He's talking about how to really make things better here for people in Sudbury and across the country.”
Asked by reporters about denticare's cost, Singh said the plan was costed out by the parliamentary budget officer, and he expects it will ring in at $560 million the first year and stabilize around $860 million per year.
“It's about choices,” he said. “$860 million to ensure that 4.3 million Canadians have dental services is a priority for us.
“What's not a priority is what Mr. Trudeau did last year — cut corporate taxes. Basically he gave $14 billion to the wealthiest corporations so they could buy corporate jets and limos.”
Provinces already do provide some dental coverage for those not covered by private plans, including through the Ontario government's Healthy Smiles program.
But the Ontario Dental Association complains the program, aimed at low-income kids, is not being funded properly, and doesn't even cover dentists' costs.
Responding to a reporter's question, Singh said he's hoping his federal program will remedy this situation.
“Our program, it's going to lift the cost off of provinces in such a massive way that we want to negotiate to increase funding for the provincial programs that do exist,” Singh said.
“We don't have control over those provincial programs. They are good starts, but they don't go far enough.
“Healthy Smiles is a great example of a great program that doesn't pay enough in Ontario … We're hoping that will offset some of the costs so provinces can augment and increase the funding they do put in to programs like Healthy Smiles and other provinces that have similar programs.”
Twenty-four-year-old Melodie Bérubé, who was on hand for Singh's announcement, said she'd definitely take advantage of the NDP's denticare plan if the party is elected.
She said she's been diagnosed with gum recession, and needs gum grafts on two teeth, which would cost her $1,500 per tooth.
Bérubé, an outreach worker with the Sudbury Workers' Centre, currently doesn't have any private health insurance benefits.
“It's really just beyond what I can afford,” she said.
“Just for my regular cleanings it's about $200 every six months, about $400 a year, which is not terrible. I can manage to save up for that. But to manage to save up for a gum graft means putting away a lot of other plans.”
She said she's “incredibly happy” to hear about the NDP's denticare plan, adding there's people much less fortunate than herself that it will help.
“They're making harder choices like 'Can I even pay my rent, never mind my teeth?'” Bérubé said.