Skip to content

Council of the Federation: Health Care at Stake at Premiers’ Meeting, but Free Trade Agreements Could Also Undermine Public Health Care

After a poll by Nanos Research, sponsored by the Canadian Health Coalition, showed that 65 per cent of Canadians want the premiers to oppose Harper’s funding changes to health care, the Council of Canadians urges the premiers to push Harper to save and strengthen public health care. 

In particular, the Council of Canadians asks our provincial leaders to renegotiate the health accord, implement pharmacare, and protect health care from the EU-Canada free trade agreement.

Renegotiate the Health Accord

The premiers need to push Harper to renegotiate the health care accord. Currently, public health care faces a $36 billion cut over ten years by the Harper government.

“Like the majority of Canadians, we deplore the Harper government's refusal to renegotiate the health accord,” says Maude Barlow, Council of Canadians’ national chairperson. “This will reduce federal transfers to the provinces substantially. It will make it impossible for provinces to maintain health care. Most Canadians can see the writing on the wall: this is the makings of a two-tiered system.”

Implement Pharmacare

A critical source of drug costs to the public health care system is the rising cost of medication. Paying $900 per person, Canadians pay the second highest amount for prescription drugs in the world – just after the United States. It also has fastest rising drug costs in the OECD. A universal pharmacare program, proposed by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and Canadian Doctors for Medicare could save us up to $11.4 billion annually.

“This program would make access to medicines more equal – and would reduce the burden on medicare because Canada would have the bargaining power to resist drug cost hikes.  In the end, people will be healthier,” says Michael Butler, the Council’s health care campaigner in a recent article.

Oppose EU-Canada Free Trade Agreement

But the premiers must also look at another threat to public health care looming on the horizon: Canada’s free trade agreement with Europe. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) proposes increased patent protection for the drug companies, and could cost taxpayers between $850 million to $1.65 billion annually, according to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Here is a table of how much CETA would increase drug costs per province or territory:


$211.5 million

British Columbia

$249.1 million


$79.8 million

New Brunswick

$52.2 million


$46.4 million

Northwest Territories

$2.6 million

Nova Scotia

$95.0 million


$1.7 million


$1.2 billion

Prince Edward Island

$10.4 million


$772.6 million


$72.3 million


$1.9 million

Furthermore, under the investor-state provisions of CETA, companies can sue governments for laws they don’t like.  Already, under NAFTA’s investor-state provisions, Eli Lilly has sued Canada for $100 million for patent protection.  European drug companies could sue Canada for implementing a national pharmacare program or for the use of generics.

“There are the visible attacks to health care, the ones everyone can see: this government’s cuts, and the rising drug costs. But then there are the more insidious attacks by trade agreements. These agreements are not on the radar of most Canadians because they are negotiated in secret, and drowned in technical language,” concludes Barlow. “The provincial premiers and Canadians have to be aware of the dangers to our public health care system.”


CETA and health care