Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak to what is a very timely motion on pharmacare. For the benefit of those listening who have not already heard what the motion reads, it is worth reading it into the record again:
That, given that millions of Canadians lack prescription drug coverage, and given that overwhelming evidence, including from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, has concluded that every Canadian could be covered by a universal pharmacare program while saving billions of dollars every year, the House call on the government to commence negotiations with the provinces no later than October 1, 2018, in order to implement a universal pharmacare program.
These kinds of common-sense initiatives are the reason I got into politics. It is about trying to help ordinary people in their day-to-day struggles with affordability, and it is good public policy. It is good public policy because it would deliver help to those who need it in a more effective way. It is be good public policy because it would also help save money.
I will be splitting my time with the member for Essex, who will have more to say on this, I am sure.
This is exactly the kind of public policy initiative the government should be looking to take, regardless of where it stands on the ideological spectrum. Nobody should be ideologically opposed to helping people out with the things they need to live a healthy life. I do not think anyone is ideologically opposed to doing that for less money.
The parliamentary budget officer's report is the most recent of a series of reports that have been published over the years. I am more familiar with the ones published in the last three years or so, but reports on pharmacare go back decades.
I hear the Liberals pretending that this is a new issue and that they need to know what is in the parliamentary committee's report to pass the motion. The motion only talks about beginning conversations with the provinces. The motion would not prejudge or preclude action on any of the recommendations in the report. It would simply signal a commitment by the government to actually do something about pharmacare instead of just talking about it in the House. I cannot really understand how the Liberals can get up in this place and make that argument and look at themselves in the mirror.
The need for pharmacare has been long-standing. I invite Liberal members to come to my riding and talk to seniors and young people who need medication to go about their day-to-day lives and who are struggling to afford that medication. They can tell them that it is too soon for a national pharmacare program, and it is too soon to start a dialogue with the provinces about how it would be paid for and what the details would be. Those are important, but the bottom line is that whichever governments end up paying for it, they are funded by the same people. They are funded by Canadian taxpayers. They are funded by the people who have to pay for those drugs.
We hear from the parliamentary budget officer that right now Canadians are paying around $24 billion a year for prescription drugs. By having a different level of government pay so that it is more coordinated, those same Canadians could be paying $20 billion instead. For those who struggle with the math, that is $4 billion less per year spent by Canadians on prescription drugs. I am baffled that the motion does not enjoy the support of the whole House, but particularly of a government that styles itself as progressive and as wanting to help people and help the middle class.
I want to raise a particular example of a young women from my riding named Kerri, who is part of the Faces of Pharmacare campaign. I would encourage people listening at home and members here to check out Faces of Pharmacare. They can Google it. It is stories of Canadians across the country who are struggling with prescription drug costs and are calling for a national pharmacare plan. Kerri says:
The four asthma medications I take keep me relatively healthy, and being diagnosed with severe ADHD in my early twenties, ADHD medication has been positively life-altering for me. My ADHD medication is not fully covered by [the Manitoba pharmacare program], but with assistance from other programs I am able to cover the full cost of the name brand medication as my doctor has prescribed.... This adaptation allows me to feel and function at my best, both in traditional employment scenarios as well as in self-employment. Without Manitoba Pharmacare, my prescriptions would have cost 24% of my income—nearly a quarter of an income which a totally “healthy” person would not have to pay!
A national pharmacare program could do more to assist Kerri and people like her who are struggling to afford the medications they need, as she rightly points out, to participate in the labour market. We are talking about reducing the sticker price of drugs, but there are other costs we are incurring economically, in terms of lost productivity, that are not measured by the PBO report but are very real when people cannot afford the prescription drugs that keep them going.
I have talked to a lot of seniors in Elmwood—Transcona as well. It is clear that seniors on fixed incomes who are just receiving CPP and are relying on the GIS are not able to afford their prescription drugs. Having a national pharmacare plan would make those drugs affordable for them and would take away one of the many pressures people who do not have enough income face. They face those pressures when it comes to housing. They face those pressure when it comes to food. One way we could help that is concrete and makes sense is to establish a national plan so that by virtue of coordinating our purchases in a different way, the money we are already spending on drugs would be less, which would mean more money for other things.
To the extent that a lot of the people who would benefit from a pharmacare program are those who do not have high incomes, that money would go back into their pockets, whether it was refunded by the federal government, provincial governments, or municipal governments, or there was a lower cost at the drug store for certain other drugs. However the money would go back to Canadians, we understand that at least $4 billion a year, and some studies say as much as $7 billion or $11 billion a year, would end up back in the pockets of Canadians. When we put money back in the pockets of low-income Canadians, it is money that is spent in the community. It is not money that goes off into a tax haven somewhere. It is not money that would not be captured because there is a CEO stock option loophole being taken advantage of. It is money that would go back into Canadians' pockets, and it would be spent at local grocery stores. It would be put back into the public transit service of the municipality they are in. Those are the kinds of things people are struggling to afford in Canada, and those are exactly the people that a national pharmacare program would help.
What are the arguments we are hearing against it from the other side? It sounds to me like the government has agreed that people are struggling with the cost of prescription drugs. It does not seem to deny it, although there was an allusion to the idea that maybe the PBO report is not authoritative or that they need to examine the study themselves and then pronounce on whether the parliamentary budget officer did a good job. Maybe he is off by $4 billion, in which case there is a net zero effect. I do not know. Liberal backbenchers would like to redo the work of the PBO. I do not know what kind of resources they have in their offices, but I am willing to take the parliamentary budget officer at his word.
Liberals say it is too fast. The Liberals were calling for this in 1993, and the NDP much longer. Canadians who are struggling with the cost of prescription drugs have been calling for this much longer. There is no way to implement a pharmacare program today, tomorrow, or a year from now that would be too soon. We are way past doing this too soon.
New Democrats want the government to support this motion. That is why the motion simply calls on it to convene a meeting of the provinces and the federal government within a year. That would give them a lot of time to prepare for that meeting and to get into all the details.
The Liberals are right. There are details to work out about this, but there are details to work out with respect to the legalization of marijuana as well. That is a complicated issue. That involves Canada's commitment under international treaties. That involves discussions with the provinces. That involves discussions about how much to tax it, where the revenue is going to go, and to whom, and how old people will have to be to smoke it in their provinces. That is something the Liberals said, in light of others who said it was too complicated and they were moving too quickly, was a question of political will, and they were going to get it done.
On an issue that has been decades in the making and that hurts seniors and others who are struggling to afford prescription drugs, I do not understand why the Liberals do not have the political will to start this discussion as soon as possible. They should bring the provinces around the table and get it done. They are doing it on other issues, and they ought to be doing it on this one.