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There are obstacles, but we can win pharmacare!

In May 2017, Council of Canadians North Shore chapter activist Berta Gaulke delivered our pharmacare campaign materials to the office of Bill Casey, the Liberal MP who chairs the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health that last month recommended a single-payer universal public prescription drug plan.

While the Trudeau government appears to be promising that a universal single-payer public prescription drug plan may be around the corner, it’s still not here – and we’re not likely to see it at least until 2020. What are the obstacles to winning pharmacare and how can we ensure that we will see it implemented?

1- Empty rhetoric

The Huffington Post has reported, “NDP Parliamentary leader Guy Caron grilled the government for not expediting legislation to implement universal drug coverage. Caron called the Liberals’ flirtation with pharmacare nothing short of ’empty rhetoric’. He noted how the Grits had campaigned on the idea during the 1997 election.”

2- Broken Liberal promise

The Liberals are known to break promises, most famously the explicit promise that the 2015 federal election would be the last federal election under the first-past-the-post voting system. In February, the Toronto Star reported that the Liberals had appointed an advisory committee “to explore options for a national program to cover the cost of prescription drugs and report back in 2019 — ensuring pharmacare becomes a key election campaign issue.” That means that pharmacare isn’t likely to be implemented before the October 2019 election, but rather that it will be a campaign promise.

3- Conservative election win

The National Post has reported, “Liberal, Conservative and NDP members [of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health] agreed on the need for improvements to drug coverage in Canada. But in a supplementary report, the Conservatives expressed concern about the cost of a universal program and the impact on private insurers. …Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu [has stated] that many Canadians who currently have private coverage may not want a public plan. ‘I’m not convinced yet that the 80 per cent of Canadians that have coverage want to switch’, she said.” While single-mandate majority governments are rare, the Liberals have been slumping in the polls.

4- Provincial opposition

The Winnipeg Free Press editorial board has commented, “Given the hand-wringing and finger-pointing that have accompanied federal-provincial discussions regarding carbon-tax pricing, marijuana legalization and health-care funding formulas, it’s easy to imagine a future in which efforts to extend Ottawa’s pharmacare effort from coast to coast might run headlong into roadblocks at several provincial borders.” We will be looking for policy statements from Manitoba premier Brian Pallister, Ontario PC leader Doug Ford, Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe, and Alberta UCP leader Jason Kenney on pharmacare.


A study by Joel Lexchin (York University) and Marc-André Gagnon (Carleton University) found that the extended patent provisions for pharmaceutical drugs under the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement could cost up to $1.65 billion annually. And Steve Morgan (University of British Columbia) and Ruth Lopert (George Washington University) have commented, “In its efforts to repeal Obamacare, the current U.S. administration is willing to drive up health care costs [and it could] attempt to coerce Canada to do the same to Canadians by way of NAFTA provisions that would prevent implementation of an equitable and sustainable universal pharmacare system.”

6- Corporate opposition

The Financial Post has reported, “Any move to change how the country regulates drug pricing has been greeted with .. warnings from the drug manufacturing industry that cutting costs too deeply could impact research and development, and future access.” Andrew Jackson has also noted, “We can expect the large drug companies and the private-insurance industry to oppose major reforms.” And Healthy Debate has cautioned, “Private insurance companies would almost certainly lose, since a lucrative portion of their business would shrivel up if national pharmacare were to be introduced.”

How do we counter this? As always, by organizing, mobilizing, and educating in communities across this country!