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If Harper can’t be trusted on the fisheries fund, what about pharmaceutical drugs?

and Labrador premier Paul Davis outside the Prime Minister's Office on Friday night

Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul Davis outside the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday night. He says, “I leave here very disappointed. I can tell you it’s very clear to me that we cannot trust Stephen Harper, cannot trust this government.”

If it is “very clear” to Newfoundland and Labrador premier Paul Davis that “we cannot trust Stephen Harper, cannot trust this government” on the matter of the fisheries fund, then perhaps all premiers should be questioning another promise Harper made in order to secure their support for the Canada-European ‘free trade’ agreement.

In October 2013, Postmedia reported, “Canada agreed to stronger intellectual property protection that will eventually increase the cost of pharmaceutical drugs for [provincial] governments across the country… The Conservative government expects all provinces and territories to support the deal and says it will compensate jurisdictions adversely affected by the EU’s increased cheese access and the additional patent protection on pharmaceutical drugs. …Provinces have been worried that stronger [intellectual property protection] rules could cost them potentially billions of dollars more in pharmaceuticals and delay access to cheaper generic drugs. …[But] Harper said the government will compensate provinces for the higher drug costs, although there won’t be any impact for at least eight years.”

How much might this all cost? Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler has written, “It is estimated the changes to patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs will cost our public health care system anywhere between $800 million to $1.7 billion annually. …Internal documents from the federal government also estimated that the additional costs for patented drugs could be up to $2 billion, how they arrived at this figure and what it foreshadows is unknown.”

But perhaps this promise too was “never intended to be a blank cheque” as Harper is now saying about the fisheries fund.

The Telegram explains, “More than a year ago, in the wake of the Canada-Europe free trade agreement announcement, then-premier Kathy Dunderdale announced she had negotiated a $400-million fund for fisheries transformation. The $400-million fund was a condition of Newfoundland and Labrador dropping minimum processing requirements (MPRs) on fish bound for Europe as part of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). …Consistently over the past year, federal representatives have said the fund is ‘up to $400 million’ [but] this fall, cracks started to emerge in the deal. The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement following the meeting with Davis [on Friday evening], saying the money was always meant to be tied to ‘demonstrable losses’ as a consequence of the province dropping MPRs.”

Given this controversy over a $400 million fund, all premiers should be asking if a similar fate is in store for the up to $2 billion a year Harper has suggested would be compensated for the higher drug costs that will come with the Canada-EU ‘free trade’ deal.

In terms of next steps, CBC notes, “Upon his return to the province, Davis said he would meet with his cabinet to decide what direction government would take, and discussing their support of the free trade deal would be high on the agenda.” The Canadian Press adds, “Davis has threatened to pull his province’s support for CETA if the dispute cannot be worked out. He said late Friday he’ll meet with his cabinet before deciding on that or whether he’ll enforce the processing rules.”

The Council of Canadians calls on Premier Davis and his cabinet to defend the interests of Newfoundland and Labrador (and the constitutional right to minimum processing requirements) and withdraw their support for CETA. We also call on all provincial premiers to press Harper publicly on his promise of compensation to the provinces for increased pharmaceutical drug costs under CETA. We also believe that this issue should be high on the agenda of the next meeting of all premiers in the new year and at a First Ministers meeting should Harper ever agree to meet with the premiers.