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CETA and Health Care: A Lesson in Lobbying

Okay, you may have heard this one before, but three organizations walk into Queen’s Park: the CHC, OHC, and CofC to meet with the Ministry of Finance (MoF). The CHC asks: “how will health care be carved out of the CETA deal to protect our public system?”, and the MoF answers: “I don’t know. That’s not my portfolio. You should ask someone else.” So the OHC asks: “how will you protect seniors and their ability to afford prescription drugs and have access to generic pharmaceuticals?” And the MoF answers: “I don’t know. That’s not my portfolio. You should ask someone else.” So the CofC asks “when will you consult with Ontarians and show them your provincial offer?” And the MoF answers: “I don’t know. That’s not my portfolio. You should ask someone else.” So all three organizations say: “we’ve been asking for months who to meet with and we were told to meet with you. Who would you suggest we go to next?” And the Ministry of Finance answers: “I don’t know. That’s not my portfolio. You should ask someone else.”

Been there? Us, too.

Yesterday the Council of Canadians trade and health care Campaigners (Stuart Trew and Adrienne Silnicki) met with the Canadian Health Coalition’s (CHC) Mike McBane, Ontario Health Coalition’s (OHC) Natalie Mehra, and several OHC board members who also represent seniors groups to lobby the Ministry of Finance on health care and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) being negotiated by Canada and the European Union.

In an effort to mobilize health care activists on CETA, the three organizations armed with lobby kits and a wealth of information sat down in a board room to ask a Ministry of Finance representative about the provincial health care implications of signing CETA. It’s been tough to navigate the provincial/territorial chain of command with CETA. No one seems to have all the answers we’re looking for. The Ministry of Finance staffer listened to our concerns, asked us a few questions, but was unable to give us much information. In the end he referred us to the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and has promised to request that they met with us.

We’re filing the outcome of this meeting into the “lessons learned/ experienced gained” folder. One thing that I’m learning as a new health care campaigner is that testing out your ideas before encouraging chapter activists and Council members to try them for themselves is always a good idea. We decided that the lobbying materials need to be tweaked, the questions aren’t quite right yet, and we want to provide lobbyists and ministers with a little more background information. Overall, it was a valuable test-run and will hopefully lead to a more positive outcome with the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade.

Want to know another thing I’ve learned? Sometimes the best meetings are the informal kind. During our debrief session after the Ministry of Finance meeting, we began discussing how to step up our CETA and health care campaign work. It’s clear that the Council is not alone in its concern about CETA and health care. All of the groups present were very concerned about the implications that CETA may have on our health care system: higher drug costs ($2.8 billion per year) because of a patent exclusivity extension for big brand pharmaceuticals, compensation claims from the EU (similar to previous US claims under NAFTA) if we were to expand our public health care services into areas such as a national pharamacare or homecare program, an increased in public-private partnerships (P3s) which could lead to the loss of “local benefit”, and commitments to the EU regarding our private health insurance (critical to the Canadian health care system).

The CHC, OHC, labour unions, and senior’s groups have been terrific partners and allies on the health care and CETA work. We’re looking forward to continuing working with them, especially as we rev-up our campaign in anticipation of several upcoming provincial elections. We hope to inspire other activists and Council members to join us in this work. Like the MAI, CETA is also stoppable, we just need your help!