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Ontario, B.C. governments grilled on CETA and drug costs

Both the B.C. and Ontario Liberals were grilled this week on the connections between a Canada-EU free trade deal and drug costs in the provinces. Yesterday, Rosario Marchese, the NDP’s economic development and innovation critic, exchanged words with Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. On April 30, B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix raised similar issues related to intellectual property rights and drugs while also challenging Jobs, Tourism and Innovation Minister Patrick Bell’s comments to The Tyee that he, “Can’t make any comment on CETA. We are bound by a confidentiality agreement with the federal government.”

Both exchanges, which indicate fairly strong positions from B.C. and Ontario against any EU-proposed IPR changes that would raise drug costs, are copied here from the Hansard records.

ONTARIO, May 2 (From the Hansard record):

Mr. Rosario Marchese: My question is to the Premier. Experts across the country are concerned that Canada’s trade agreement with Europe will delay more affordable generic drugs from coming on the market, costing the province a fortune. Even the Drummond commission expressed concern, noting that the agreement “could cost Ontario dearly” and recommended that the province prevent the trade agreement from undermining its use of generics. Why is the Premier not taking an active role in keeping this costly proposal off the table?

Hon. Dalton McGuinty: To the Minister of Finance.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: The member opposite is correct. Ontario is at a side table at the negotiations going on with the European Union on free trade. There are a variety of issues related to access to foreign markets of Canadian-produced generic drugs.

I remind the member opposite that most generics are produced here in Ontario. They are marketed around the world. We’re proud of our generic drug industry. I hope the third party are not trying to prevent the export of generic drugs and at the same cost jobs in the generic job industry. That’s not much of a jobs policy, I say with respect to my colleagues.

Mr. Rosario Marchese: In February, researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto reported that if the pharmaceutical intellectual property proposals in CETA, the Canada-European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, are adopted, it could cost Ontario up to $1.2 billion annually. This would cancel out $550 million in savings estimated from generic drug price reductions and add $672 million to private sector and individual drug costs.

Minister of Finance, there is no empirical evidence that extending drug patents will have any benefits for Ontarians. Why is the Premier putting brand name drug companies’ profits ahead of the public good?

Hon. Dwight Duncan: We’ve reduced the cost of generic drugs some $600 million as a result of the good work of the Minister of Health and my colleagues on this side. Ontario obviously is striving for a fair as well as free trade deal with the European Union. That’s why we are at a side table in those negotiations, as was the request of the European Union.

I would urge the member great caution with respect to generic drugs. Ontario is one of the leading producers of generic drugs in the world. We export a good portion of those. They create good-paying jobs right here in Ontario. I would not want to jeopardize those jobs-

Interjection: Union jobs.

Hon. Dwight Duncan: Yes, they’re unionized jobs. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize those jobs because we have our head in the sand with respect to the importance of access to foreign markets. We will continue to negotiate in good faith to get the best deal possible for all Ontarians.

BRITISH COLUMBIA, April 30 (From the Hansard record):

A. Dix: My question is to the Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation – I got that right, hon. Speaker – with respect to the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with the European Union. This potential agreement has huge implications in provincial jurisdiction. I’m sure the minister will agree. The minister said last week: “I can’t make any comment on CETA.” He went on to add: “I’d love to do it, but you’d be talking to a new minister if I did.”

Now, as terrible as that prospect is for all of us to consider, I have happy news for the minister. The federal minister has said the provincial ministers can comment. Other provincial governments are commenting. So I wanted to ask the minister specifically on the generic drugs provision, on the prescription drugs provision of the CETA agreement, the proposed CETA agreement: has the minister or has the government of British Columbia taken a strong position against those provisions, which would hurt public health care in British Columbia?

On the prescription drugs provision of the proposed CETA agreement: has the minister, has the government of British Columbia taken a strong position against those provisions which would hurt public health care in British Columbia?

Hon. P. Bell: The nature of the question that was asked of me last week was whether I could comment on the state of negotiations. There is a confidentiality agreement in place by those that are participating in those discussions, and it’s not appropriate for us to talk specifically about the state of play with regards to the negotiations.

I can tell the member opposite that there are a number of issues that the province has represented a very strong position on. Pharmaceutical drugs would be one of those. Our position clearly is that we don’t want to see any increased costs that would come as a result of an agreement of this nature.

We do think that this agreement is very positive for British Columbia. It can translate into literally thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity. We’re hopeful that we’ll see a conclusion to this agreement and that it will work for all British Columbians.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a supplemental.

A. Dix: As the minister notes and will know, Don Drummond in Ontario has suggested that this agreement would wipe out any benefit to the changes made to generic drugs in that province. Those issues are otherwise before the House here, but I would also point out that we’re talking about billions in increased health care costs over the next number of years. Is the minister saying that he will not support the agreement if changes are made that will hurt health care in British Columbia?

Hon. P. Bell: The member opposite, I would presume, would know that this is a federal government to European Union negotiation. The provinces were invited to participate and to advise the federal government. That’s exactly what we’re doing. B.C.’s position on this issue is very clear. We don’t want to see any incremental costs that are associated with that.

What the member opposite is referring to are proposals that may have transferred from the European Union back to our federal government. That’s exactly what I am not permitted to discuss – the nature of those sorts of proposals. I’m happy to share with the member opposite the strength of our position as it relates specifically to pharmaceuticals, and there are some other positions that we’ve taken. I am able to share some of those.

However, the actual state of negotiations is under a confidentiality agreement, and I would not be able to comment on those.

Mr. Speaker: The Leader of the Opposition has a further supplemental.

A. Dix: Well, what we’re asking is the position of the government of British Columbia. The position of the government of British Columbia appears to be: “We don’t like it if they damage public health care, but we won’t do anything about it.”

K. Krueger: Baloney.

A. Dix: You know, we had a public policy contribution from other members of the Liberal caucus there.

In any event, I think this is an absolutely critical question for public health care, one that other jurisdictions are dealing with. The minister and the Premier have promised that consultations would take place in British Columbia with British Columbians. They made a specific promise for that.

Is the government waiting – since it’s not able to speak about anything here -until after the agreement is finalized and concluded before it starts to talk to British Columbians about something that could damage our public health care system?

Hon. P. Bell: The province of British Columbia has actually pulled together, from a number of different sources, the positions it’s taken with regards to this negotiation, one of those being on pharmaceutical drugs. The position that we have is very clear on this. We don’t want any new or incremental costs. We want to be able to manage our system, and that’s the position that we’ve taken forward to this negotiation.

The member opposite should know that under a governance model, the federal government has sole authority in negotiating with the European Union.

Now, I know the NDP opposed NAFTA when it was under negotiation. That’s a free trade agreement that has generated enormous incremental benefit to British Columbians over the years.

I think it is absolutely appropriate for B.C. to be at the table on this. I think it’s very fortunate that we have a federal government that wants to work with us on this. What I’d really like to know is whether the members opposite have changed their position on free trade agreements, or if they’d like to operate in a very small 4.4 million population silo.