Ottawa – Nearly two-thirds of Canadians (65 per cent) oppose longer patents for prescription drugs in the proposed Canada–European Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), according to an Environics poll commissioned by the Council of Canadians. Even among people who otherwise “strongly support” the idea of a free trade agreement with the EU, more than half (54 per cent) oppose a deal that extends patents on brand name drugs.
“We already pay more for prescription drugs in Canada than in most other parts of the world, and we should be looking for ways to bring that cost down,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “Instead, the Harper government says it’s almost ready to sign an EU deal that is sure to make prescriptions more expensive for patients and provincial health plans. This makes no sense, and our poll shows there is very little support for it.”
The survey confirmed the results of past polls showing generally high support (73 per cent) in Canada for the idea of a trade deal with the EU. Respondents were then told that CETA “will also extend patents on brand name pharmaceutical drugs by up to two years” and that “it’s estimated this may increase the overall cost of drugs in Canada by over a billion dollars a year by delaying the introduction of cheaper generic versions of drugs.”
This cost estimate is based on a federal government assessment of the potential impact of new patent protections in CETA, as well as a recent study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which suggests additional drug costs of $800 million to $1.65 billion. Recognizing the new costs these changes will create, the Ontario government asked for compensation from the federal government, but this simply transfers the costs from provincial to federal taxpayers, which of course are the same people.
“No matter how you cut it, the public will be paying for longer patents – with our money going straight into the pockets of rich, multinational pharmaceutical companies,” says Trew. “Canada’s intellectual property rights regime already meets or exceeds global standards, and the public clearly doesn’t want any changes.”
The poll also asked if the federal government should have to hold public hearings across Canada before it can sign and ratify the deal. A full 80 per cent of respondents agreed, with strong support for hearings across the political spectrum.
“The Harper government and provinces cannot hide behind general support for an EU deal while ignoring how people feel about what’s in CETA,” says Trew. “The federal and provincial governments must give the public a chance to review the text and to make changes before CETA can be signed.”
The Environics telephone poll, conducted between November 14 and 20 among a national random sample of 1,003 adults, has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.