Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I also rise to support the motion that we have brought forward.
At the outset, it is important to point out that, when my colleague brought forward the motion, he was very clear that we are calling on the government to begin negotiations with other orders of government. It would be nice if the government also talked to first nations, whom it has excluded from its tables up until now.
The member was reasonable in saying that the negotiations should begin in October a year from now. We are not saying immediately, although it would be nice if we had pharmacare today, but my colleague has given a reasonable timeframe. This is a reasonable proposition to the government.
I will give some information toward the end of my speech that will puzzle members on the other side as to why we, not they, had to bring forward the motion.
Many have said in this place that the Standing Committee on Health has been examining the issue of the access to pharmaceuticals to Canadians, the problem of rising costs and the fact that those who are not well endowed with dollars, and are seniors, are not taking the medicines that are actually prescribed to them.
Why was this study commenced by the committee? Why is this a critical issue that we should be dealing with in Canada?
Angus Reid did a survey in 2015, which found that one in seven, or 14% of Canadians, have reported that they or someone in their household did not fill a prescription. They were prescribed a medicine by their doctor but they did not fill it. One in 10 did not renew a prescription. One in seven, or 15%, did things to make a prescription last longer—in other words, took the pills intermittently or cut them in half. More than one in five, or 22%, reported that in the past 12 months they or someone in their household did not take their medicines at all because of the cost.
We have medicare in this country and many, including Tommy Douglas when he proposed medicare, have long called for it to cover everything, including medicines and dental care. I would like to share with this place an excerpt from a speech by Tommy Douglas in 1982, when he said:
Let's not forget that the ultimate goal of Medicare must be to keep people well, rather than just patching them up when they get sick.... It means expanding and improving Medicare by providing pharmacare and denticare programs. All these programs should be designed to keep people well—because in the long run it’s cheaper than the current practice of only treating them after they’ve become sick.
Those are very wise words by our former leader Tommy Douglas.
Who has echoed that study? It was the parliamentary budget officer for Parliament.
The parliamentary budget officer was asked to do a study by the health committee. The parliamentary budget officer set forth to determine if it would be more cost-effective if we had pharmacare or if we continued with this hit or miss system that we have now, where some people have private plans like Blue Cross and others have no plan all. If people are in the hospital they get the medicine, but when they come out they have to pay for it themselves.
What did the parliamentary budget officer determine, having done a very thorough assessment of the costs? This is what he found:
While spending on drugs has grown rapidly (5.1 per cent annually from 2004 to 2014), many Canadians are still unable to obtain necessary drugs because of their cost. This includes an estimated 2 per cent of Canadians who lack drug insurance coverage and 10 per cent of Canadians who have coverage, but lack the financial means to pay for their prescriptions.
There are many Canadians who are working hard and diligently to look after their families, some with two or three jobs, and still they cannot afford to pay for medicine for their family.
The parliamentary budget officer also said:
After accounting for pricing and consumption changes, PBO estimates total drug spending under a national Pharmacare program would amount to $20.4 billion, if implemented in 2015-16. This represents savings of roughly $4.2 billion.
It sounds like a fiscally responsible approach to take, so it would be reprehensible if those in this place do not support this. We have many calls for fiscal responsibility coming from our Conservative colleagues, and I am looking forward to their supporting the motion.
Where are we at in Canada?
As I reported, Angus Reid found that many Canadians, particularly seniors, one in five, were spending $500 or more on prescriptions for the household in the past year, and a total of 7% paid $1,000 or more out of pocket.
Many Canadians can barely afford to pay their rent. A senior approached me when I hosted a tea this summer. She said that her apartment building was being torn down and that she would not be able to afford to move into the new building. She gets the bare minimum of money from Canada pension. She says that she cannot find any place in Edmonton where she can afford to live, let alone be able to buy the prescription drugs she will likely need as she grows older.
Almost 90% of Canadians say that they would support the introduction of a pharmacare program. Canadians are calling for it. The Liberal government says that it is a populace government, that its believes in following what Canadians want to have happen, yet it is not moving forward.
I mentioned that I would share something in my speech about why I was puzzled that my colleague, our critic for health, had to bring this motion forward. The Liberal Party, at its 2016 convention, passed a resolution. The resolution states:
...that The Liberal Party of Canada urge the government of Canada to seize this unique opportunity for serving the public and all levels of government to:
reconvene the first ministers and the health ministers conferences that had this item on their agendas before getting unilaterally aborted by Mr. Harper in 2006;
capitalize on its leadership and widespread national support to have a national PharmaCare plan in place within its first mandate.
If the government supported the motion by my colleague, that this initiative would start one year from now, then it may well be that it could deliver exactly what the membership voted for. Presumably those members in this place who are Liberal card carriers also voted for the resolution.
What did the former minister of health have to say? On CBC's the fifth estate, she said:
There is no question that the current status is not fair, that it's not right, that we're paying much higher prices than other countries are and that's exactly what I'm working on.
She then said:
I've been a family doctor for over 30 years so you don't need to convince me that making sure Canadians have access to appropriate medications is absolutely essential.
Then, on May 8, the member for Oakville said this to the The Hill Times:
I wanted to make sure that we continued to have a strong universal health-care program, and there is a need to add a universal pharmacare program to that.
I rest my case, only echoed by Friends of Medicare, a credible organization in my province of Alberta, which fought diligently to protect medicare for Albertans and to fight against the former premier of Alberta's push for two-tiered health care.
We have two-tiered pharmacare in the country, those who are on corporate programs, or a government program where they get some level of subsidy, but the vast of Canadians do not have access to those. Therefore, we essentially have two-tiered pharmacare in this country.
Friends of Medicare have said:
Albertans need a pharmacare program that ensures everyone has access to affordable and safe prescription drugs.
Ensuring universal access to medically necessary prescription drugs is not only the ethical thing to do, it is also fiscally responsible.