House of Commons Hansard #145 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was price.

Topics

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Agriculture
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, November 2, 2005, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Pursuant to order made Thursday, October 27, 2005, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Government Business No. 20.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into committee of the whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 20, Hon. Jean Augustine in the chair)

Cross-Border Drug Sales
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek
Ontario

Liberal

Tony Valeri Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this committee take note of the sale of cross-border Internet drugs.

Cross-Border Drug Sales
Government Orders

6:30 p.m.

Vancouver South
B.C.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Minister of Health

Madam Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this very important issue.

The cross-border sale of pharmaceutical drugs is an issue of paramount importance to myself as Minister of Health and indeed to all Canadians.

With a series of initiatives now under development, Canada has an opportunity to address a practice that could threaten our access to a safe and secure supply of life-saving pharmaceuticals.

The initiatives will put Canada ahead of the curve where we are acting, not reacting, to serious challenges that we are facing. Canadians should expect no less particularly on such an important issue.

Cross-border drug sales are not an entirely new phenomenon. For a long, long time, American seniors have routinely visited Canada to purchase particular drugs, such as those related to arthritis. The Internet has greatly facilitated this practice. Americans living far from the border for a personal visit can now simply submit a prescription online. With a Canadian doctor co-signing the prescription, a pharmacy up here will dispense and ship the drugs to the patient. The process is both painless and popular. The sales figures reflect this reality. In 2002 cross-border drug sales were worth about $7 million a month. By 2004 that number had soared to almost nine times that amount.

The phenomenon is driven by a number of factors. The cost of drugs, however, is the paramount variable. Our Patented Medicine Prices Review Board sets the maximum allowable price for brand name drugs in Canada. No such limits are imposed in the U.S. Consequently, our drugs are on average 40% cheaper than they are in the United States. For American patients with chronic conditions, finding a Canadian supplier for their medicine is often well worth the effort.

We cannot allow a situation where Canadians will be deprived of life-saving heart medicines or indeed any other kind of drug we might need even on short notice. For example, with the prospect of a viral influenza pandemic hovering on the horizon, we need to protect our domestic supply of vaccines and anti-viral medications.

I do not want to suggest that Canadian drug suppliers are incapable of meeting the needs of individual Americans who may wish to buy one or the other type of medicine. We have, of course, world class manufacturing capabilities in Canada, but an important development is taking shape in the United States and we need to be vigilant to ensure that the health of Canadians is not jeopardized.

The U.S. Congress is considering several bills to permit the bulk purchase of Canadian drugs for distribution in the United States. Under those circumstances it is entirely conceivable that they might order up vast amounts of a particular medicine, quickly depleting the supply in Canada.

The Government of Canada recognized some time ago that Canadian interests were at risk through the cross-border sale of drugs. Either in the event of a catastrophic health event, like a pandemic flu outbreak or whenever bulk drug purchases are legalized in the United States, it was clear to us that we need a strategy to protect Canadians' access to a secure supply of much needed medicines.

As much as we support international trade and want to do what we can to help other nations meet their needs for safe and affordable medications, the primary responsibility of the Government of Canada is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Therefore, last summer we unveiled our cross-border drug sales strategy. The strategy has three principal elements.

First, it would establish a national pharmaceutical drugs network to give Canadians a more complete real time overview of our drug supply. By linking manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors, pharmacies and others, the network would allow us to gauge quickly and reliably the actual supply of any medicines at any given time. That way, if a sudden or unexpectedly large demand arose, we would know if Canada could meet it in whole or in part.

The second element involves export controls. In the event that our domestic supply of an essential drug was dangerously low, we would have the authority to preserve the supply for Canadian patients.

The third piece of the strategy speaks to the process involved in dispensing drugs. Under our proposed policy, prescriptions can only be signed by a medical practitioner who actually sees and treats the patient in question.

From a health and safety standpoint, it is self-evident that physicians should not be prescribing potent medications to somebody they have never so much as met. This is of concern to me as Minister of Health, and it is entirely unethical, in my view. Various regulatory bodies in Canada share this opinion. Simply put, this practice needs to be addressed.

These, in broad strokes, are the components of our proposed strategy to safeguard Canadian interests at a time of increasing cross-border drug sales. Because Canadians have such a direct stake in this matter, we want to hear from them. We have reached out to ensure the various opinions on this issue are heard.

On October 6, we launched public consultations soliciting consumer and patient feedback on our proposed strategy. We also have conducted extensive consultations with stakeholders, including the provinces and territories, health practitioners, pharmacists, the pharmaceutical industry, distributors and exporters. We are looking for an endorsement of our three key principles as well as input on how these principles ought to be implemented so as to fully protect Canadian access to a safe, secure and affordable supply of lifesaving drugs.

The issue of cross-border drug sales in person, over the Internet or through bulk export is of pressing importance to all Canadians. On the surface, it may appear like an economic issue or perhaps a matter of international trade. But it is, first and foremost, about health, the right of every Canadian to a secure and uninterrupted supply of affordable medicines, medicines that could save their lives either during an outbreak of a dangerous pathogen or simply for the daily management of a chronic condition.

We created the PMPRB so Canadians could access prescription drugs at reasonable prices. This mechanism was not intended to regulate or oversee Canadian drugs sold outside of the country. We must act now to safeguard that all important access.

In that context, I have said before that Canada cannot be a drugstore for the United States of America. That is why we intend to implement a comprehensive strategy that will furnish us with the information and tools. We need to act swiftly and decisively in the best interest of Canadians.

I will be tabling the legislation on this issue by the end of November. I encourage all Canadians to get involved in this process, to participate in public consultations and to speak up in favour of this very important initiative. I believe this is the right thing to do and I welcome and invite my colleagues to support this initiative.

Cross-Border Drug Sales
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James, MB

Madam Chair, a motion was passed by the health committee to have the health committee study this issue and a commitment to have that wish followed through.

The minister has made many misstatements in his comments. Cross-border drug trade is decreasing due to the appreciation of the Canadian dollar and the fact that many of these pharmacies are moving offshore. This industry has grown under the Liberal government's mandate. It is ironic then that, as the industry is in a decline, the Liberals have decided to take action.

The other comment I would make is in regard to co-signing our prescriptions. Due to Canada's geography there are many examples of where physicians do not actually meet the patient. What about nurse practitioners? Is the government going to go after them? What about people in remote communities?

Furthermore, is the minister saying that a doctor from the Mayo Clinic is not qualified to prescribe prescriptions? There are many unintended consequences that may result from this and it is very disappointing that the minister is going to take action without proper deliberation.

Cross-Border Drug Sales
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

Madam Chair, I must confess I find it very difficult to discern the hon. member's position from time to time on this issue. He has changed his position innumerable times. It would be very difficult for me to document that now, but I would be happy to go through Hansard and provide examples to the hon. member.

I believe it is incumbent upon us as government to act in as speedy a fashion as possible to ensure that the issue of bulk exports is dealt with right away.

Cross-Border Drug Sales
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

Steven Fletcher Charleswood—St. James, MB

Why don't you respect?

Cross-Border Drug Sales
Government Orders

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ujjal Dosanjh Vancouver South, BC

I know the hon. member is trying to heckle me. I welcome the heckling, but I would be happy to respond to all the concerns he has raised.

Let me deal with one issue at a time. He raised the issue of the sales levelling off. The fact is that sales in the last three or four years have multiplied many times. The last figures I checked several month ago, sales were about $1 billion a year through the Internet. I am concerned at this time about that issue, but more important, I am concerned about the issue of bulk exports.

There are several bills currently before the United States Congress and there is a very good likelihood of one of those bills being passed. When I visited Washington D.C. several months ago, Senator Vitter from Louisiana told us very clearly that it was their intent to ensure that our pricing regime, which provides affordable drugs to Canadians, was targeted. They want to dismantle and demolish that pricing regime.

Therefore, it is important for us to act. We have consulted on these issues. I understand from the hon. members present here that the committee has been engaged in some other adventures in terms of determining other issues while it could have been utilizing its time more appropriately, perhaps dealing with this issue on its own.