Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I have a few words to present AQPP. If you don't mind, I'll do it in French. I'm sure you have translation.
The AQPP is a professional union representing the 1,800 owner pharmacists in Quebec.
Being a pharmacist is a prerequisite to owning a pharmacy in Quebec. In the case of large chains such as Shoppers Drug Mart/Pharmaprix and Jean Coutu, pharmacists are not owners, but rather franchisees.
The AQPP's mission is to consider and defend the economic, social and professional interests of its members. We carry out our mission primarily by negotiating agreements with various levels of government, such as the provincial government in the case of Quebec's public health care plan. The AQPP has also entered into a partnership agreement with the federal government that covers several programs.
At one time, the AQPP had an agreement with Citizenship and Immigration Canada. That was back in the 1990s. For reasons unbeknownst to me, that agreement was never renewed. In spite of that, refugees have continued to receive services. Pharmacists also never encountered any problems when it came to being reimbursed until about four years ago.
That is when problems first surfaced. Changes were introduced and rules were set, in our opinion, in a somewhat arbitrary manner, either by FAS or by CIC. Pharmacists no longer knew which medications were covered under the program, how much they would be reimbursed and the circumstances and terms under which their claims would be reimbursed.
All of which led to the problem we have today. Pharmacists decided that if they were not going to be reimbursed, they would either steer patients elsewhere or invite CIC to discuss a new agreement with the AQPP. For the past three years, we have repeatedly invited CIC to sit down and discuss an agreement, but unfortunately, our efforts have been unsuccessful.
Without an agreement, pharmacists who provide services to refugees have no way of knowing exactly which products are covered, what the level of coverage is, or the circumstances and terms under which their claims will be reimbursed. Each transaction carried out by the pharmacist therefore becomes problematic under the circumstances.
The AQPP is at a loss to explain the resistance it has encountered, despite the numerous invitations extended to CIC to negotiate a contract. The problem may be a lack of understanding. As I mentioned earlier, the AQPP already has agreements with the federal government covering first nations, with Health Canada, the RCMP, the Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada. The AQPP entered into this agreement with the federal government on the recommendation of Auditor General Sheila Fraser who had invited various federal agencies to come together to negotiate agreements.
So then, there is already an agreement in place. As we see it, CIC could take the exact same agreement and adjust the coverage to meet its needs. That would be a viable option. This approach has worked well with all of the other groups.
Since my time is almost up, I would like to wrap up by saying that we met early this week with CIC officials. We agreed on a temporary solution. We will restore service temporarily, even though it was never interrupted as such. We will ask our members to serve refugees, as per the program. That said, we still believe that the AQPP needs to negotiate an agreement with CIC quickly to resolve any outstanding issues and to set out all of the terms, conditions and coverage for refugees once and for all.
I hope that I have been able to give you an overview of the situation.
My colleagues and I will be happy to answer your questions.