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Mulroney says Harper will cave on Big Pharma demands in Canada-EU trade talks, urges lobbyists to march in the street for CETA

Will Harper follow Mulroney’s example on patent reform? (Source: Government of Canada)

CP reports that Brian Mulroney “is wading into the high-stakes debate over patent protection in the free trade talks with Europe, and he’s clearly taking sides.” According to the article, the former Conservative prime minister “is egging on brand-name drug companies to increase their lobbying of the federal government, suggesting they have fertile ground in the Harper administration — despite ferocious opposition from some provinces, the generic drug industry and other political parties.”

Mulroney spoke (read his speech here) at an Rx&D event last night celebrating the 25th anniversary of his government’s drug regime changes, which increased patent protection in return for promises of more Canadian investment by largely U.S. and European drug companies. Since then, actual investment by these firms has not lived up to those promises. They’re now asking for even more protection–longer patents, longer data exclusivity terms, another right to appeal the introduction of generic competition–by promising yet again to do more research and create more jobs in Canada.

On CTV PowerPlay, Mulroney said those who would get in the way of this campaign are “screaming like stuffed pigs.” That would include the provinces, which are asking for compensation from the federal government in the event that the intellectual property rules changes sought by the EU and brand name drug companies do, as expected, increase the cost of medication by almost $3 billion.

In his speech to Rx&D, Mulroney described how difficult it was to pass his pharmaceutical reforms through the House of Commons. The vote squeezed through the Liberal-controlled Senate with 27 yeas, three nays and 32 abstentions. “It is worth noting, perhaps, that this vote occurred shortly after a large demonstration by members of the pharma industry in Montreal outside a major Opposition fund-raising reception!” he said.

Then, as if encouraging them to do it again: “My most vivid memory, however, was seeing literally thousands of technicians assembled on the Hill, all in white lab coats, urging enthusiastically that the Senate approve the bill. That certainly helped. You do not see demonstrations like that every week in Ottawa.”

There have been less lab coats and more tweets in Big Pharma’s pro-CETA campaign. Do a search for #CETA and you’ll pull up at least 50 tweets from an account called Protect Healthcare Canada (@ProtectHCCan) on the Mulroney speech. They are a campaign created by Canada’s brand name pharmaceutical and life sciences firms. Paul Wells, the political editor of Macleans magazine, responded on Twitter that, “I am mystified by this PR offensive 2 years after original negotiating deadline.”

Clearly it is and will remain over the next few months a key battleground in the Canada-EU trade negotiations. As Mulroney recognized in his speech, the benefits don’t stop at CETA for Big Pharma. They’ll be able to use any gains to push for even more in the next deal, and the next, and the next…

“On concluding CETA, Canada will have the strategic advantage of being one of very few countries having preferred, Free Trade status with the U.S. and the E.U.,” he said. “Improvements or refinements on pharmaceutical patent protection under CETA will undoubtedly be a catalyst for better standards in many of the other trade negotiations contemplated by the Harper government.”

The former prime minister ended his speech on a feverish pitch bordering on insanity, linking the monopoly rights to knowledge and life of a handful of multinational companies to the very future of democracy nay to humanity itself.

“From the bloodied sands of Afghanistan to the snows and waters of the high Arctic – and everything in between – the Canada of 50 years from now will be defined by the leadership we are given today,” he said.

“If all of us remember that freedom and liberty are the very pillars of our national democracy – fuelled by a dynamic and growing economy – we can collectively made (sic) a contribution to the wellbeing of mankind that will bring honour to Canada and peace and prosperity to all her citizens.”


Now consider an alternative to this scenario proposed by Canada’s generic drug makers — a powerful enough lobby group in its own right but one that employs over 10,000 people across the country.

“It is estimated that for every one percent increase in generic drug utilization in Canada, Canadians save an additional $262-million. Private sector payers in Canada save an additional $140-million for every one percent increase in their use of generic drugs,” said Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association in a press release today.

“In the United States, generic drugs are dispensed to fill fully 80 percent of all prescriptions. If generic utilization in Canada was equal to US levels, Canadians would have saved up to an additional $3-billion in 2011.”

So increasing the amount of time it takes to bring generics to market by 3.5 years, which intellectual property changes sought by the EU and Rx&D are expected to do, will increase costs by as much as we would save by using more generic drugs in prescriptions. The choice seems pretty simple to me.

To send a letter to the Prime Minister demanding he not cave in to the EU-Big Pharma-Mulroney campaign for higher drug prices, see this action alert on the Canadian Health Coalition website.