Mr. Speaker, this problem has been around for a long time. We have this problem because our country, like many others, has surrendered an essential aspect of public health to pharmaceutical companies, particularly generic drug manufacturers.
Canada is not a third world country. It is perfectly capable of producing drugs. It has the people, the know-how and the natural resources to do so. It has everything it needs for a drug shortage to be unheard of, yet here we are with a drug shortage. That is because, for too long now, we have allowed an industry that clearly does not grasp its public health duty to call the shots. In a civilized country, as we like to think of ourselves, we do not let sick people suffer because of a lack of drugs. This important aspect has obviously been forgotten.
There are many people we can blame for this policy. The important thing is not laying blame, but solving a problem that starts with drug production. Blaming the people who provide medical services or who produce a particular drug will not solve the larger problem, which is the drug shortage.
We can point accusatory fingers at some, but will that help us, as a country, to address this public health challenge? The answer is no. Perhaps it is time to overcome certain federal-provincial quarrels and certain internal parliamentary politicking to tackle this problem more seriously.
We are dealing with a generic drug industry that will do everything it can in the fight to destroy a competitor's patent, that will do everything and invest everything in order to be able to produce a drug without the patent and without having taken part in the research. This industry tends to be very generous in marketing its products to doctors and pharmacists. This industry invests more money in PR and advertising than it does in production or in building facilities capable of producing these drugs. This industry cares a lot more about the bottom line than it does about the shared goals of public health. This is nothing new, and it is every private company's prerogative to try to maximize profits.
At times, this industry has gone too far. It was called to order by the Commissioner of Competition, who rightly said that generic drugs are being sold at unacceptable prices in Canada. In response to that situation, the service providers got together to make bulk purchases at a lesser cost in order to lower their overall drug budget. We cannot blame the hospitals and provincial governments for lowering their costs, especially when the federal government is cutting transfer payments for health. They are doing precisely what they are being asked to do: making a concerted effort to reduce their costs.
They are successfully staying within their drug budget, but now they are being criticized. Perhaps we need to be more consistent. We could continue to try to find who is responsible. We are all responsible. We did not work together to put an end to this situation.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development said that it was time to work together to find a solution. That is a great idea, but we must find an effective solution that leads to concrete results, an observable change and a marked improvement. Essentially, the solution must put an end to drug shortages. We must develop a truly Canadian pharmaceutical industry that is able to respond to our country's needs. We must no longer depend on imports—rather like public charity from other countries—to address our drug shortages. We must attack the problem, not just draw attention to it. Everyone knows that there is a problem. We must find a solution.
It is true that the federal government is likely incapable of finding a miracle solution on its own. The federal government must co-operate with the provinces, hospitals and other who provide medical care. There must also be some co-operation with the pharmaceutical industry. I am sorry to say it and to insist so strongly, but the pharmaceutical industry must conduct a thorough review of its priorities.
The pharmaceutical industry's role is to manufacture drugs, not to pay for doctors or pharmacists to go on trips to Thailand. The industry's role is to produce inexpensive and effective drugs for all Canadians, not to have the biggest advertising budget. This is exactly where the problem lies. Their priorities are not compatible with the establishment of an effective public health care system.
Canada has the resources. It has the means. It is up to us to ensure that it has the intention. The intention of this government, of this Parliament, must be to guarantee public health, to ensure that Canadians will have absolutely guaranteed access to these drugs both now and in the future.
The NDP has proposed some solutions. Not only have we proposed solutions but we have also listened to the suggestions of other authorities: provincial governments, pharmaceutical industries, doctors' and pharmacists' associations, hospitals and even the government. The basic requisite is that these proposals must lead to solutions. The current solutions are no good. Asking these people who are too focused on profit to take care of public health is unacceptable. That is not their role; it is ours.
It goes without saying that I do not intend to abdicate this government's responsibility to private companies.