Madam Speaker, I am grateful to rise once again in the House to speak to Bill C-30.
These trade agreements have the potential to cause great damage to communities and to whole regions, as our experience with NAFTA has clearly demonstrated. We, in the NDP, believe that they should be undertaken with scrupulous attention to all potential consequences.
I am more than a little disappointed. The NDP had proposed a number of well-reasoned and good faith amendments to CETA, amendments that would have gone a long way to fix the major problems in the bill, amendments that were not just sought after by us but by a broad swath of labour and civil society groups throughout Canada and the European Union, and they were all rejected.
We had amendments on limiting CETA's controversial investment chapter so corporations could not sue the country that made a decision or action in its own best interests in the name of corporate profit, rejecting the increased threshold for mandatory foreign takeover reviews, and limiting changes to Canada's cabotage rules. Cabotage, by the way, is the transport of goods or passengers between two places in the same country by a transport operator from another country.
We also called for an economic impact analysis of CETA and an analysis of the impact of CETA on pharmaceutical drug costs. Sadly, in what has become a recurring pattern with the government, there was little to no debate on our amendments and, as I noted, they were all rejected. It appears that the government's election platform commitments to fair, open, and transparent government have gone the way of electoral reform.
As the government prepares to renegotiate sections of NAFTA with the new administration in the U.S., it is important that it does not rush into another deal before we have been able to study the changes that will soon occur to our agreement with our American cousins, as it is arguably one of the more important trade agreements to which Canada has been a party.
More important, I and all New Democrats continue to be seriously concerned about the ways in which these agreements hamstring the ability of future governments to establish important social programs. The hamstringing to which I refer is what American pundit, Thomas Friedman, once termed, a couple of decades back, as the “golden straitjacket”. It is very entertaining to me that a previous speaker, an hon. colleague from another party, mentioned the gold-plated agreement. I want to talk about the golden straitjacket with some irony here.
The golden straitjacket is supposed to work like this. As our country puts on the Golden Straitjacket, two things are supposed happen: our economy grows and our politics shrink. It is a straitjacket because it narrows considerably the parameters of the government's future political and economic policy options. It is golden, presumably, due to the economic benefits which would then follow.
However, flash forward a couple of decades and we see clearly that these supposed benefits were a little more than oversold. In fact, to say that the benefits of NAFTA were unevenly distributed is to engage in cruel understatement. Some sectors of the economy benefited, and others were devastated.
Members could ask anyone in my riding of Windsor—Tecumseh, the people of Hamilton or Oshawa, Ontario. We have absolutely no evidence that the economic gains of CETA will be distributed any more equitably than were those of NAFTA. In fact, CETA is likely to make it all the more difficult for future governments to address the very inequalities that we can feel certain will result from this agreement.
CETA will increase the pressures to privatize most government services. That is because the multinational corporate and financial interests, in whose interests this agreement was negotiated, view most government services not as fundamental provisions without which our lives and economy would suffer, but as potential revenue streams, as potential markets in which to make lots of money.
CETA can be rightly construed as part of what was an aggressive wave of trade deals designed to undermine the rights of Canadian governments to legislate public health policy if it threatened investor profit. Under these conditions, the likelihood of a national pharmacare plan becomes substantially more difficult, if not impossible. Such a plan could be viewed as a direct infringement on corporate rights and counterintuitive to the purpose of health care policies that put people first.
In keeping with putting people first and to maximize our resources in our universal health care system, a national pharmacare program has long been the priority of the NDP. Just about everyone who has ever seriously looked at this issue will know that there is broad agreement among researchers that a universal public drug program, with an evidence-based list of reimbursed drugs, a clear and transparent budget, and a strong ability to negotiate fair drug prices, would improve the health of Canadians. It would significantly lower the social cost of drugs and could be achieved with relatively small initial outlays by governments.
It is an idea that is a long time coming. A prescription drug coverage program was recommended as the next step way back in 1964 by the Royal Commission on Health Services. Canada has the fastest-rising drug costs per capita among OECD countries and is the only country in the world with a public medicare system that does not have a pharmacare program.
It is estimated that changes to patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs as a result of trade agreements could cost our public health care system anywhere between $850 million to $1.65 billion every year, according to the Council of Canadians. At approximately $900 a person, Canadian drug costs are already the second highest in the OECD, second only to the United States. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, France, and Sweden have all had some form of universal public drug coverage that results in lower costs, as well as lower drug cost growth rates. Consumption of drugs in these countries is equal or greater than in Canada, but expenditure is much lower.
Countries with pharmacare programs are able to suppress the inflation of drug prices, which directly result in people paying less for their medications. A true universal pharmacare program shows feasibility, sustainability, and effectiveness. Universal pharmacare programs in other countries currently are more advantageous in terms of costs than both private or public drug insurance plans in Canada.
Our current fragmented system means higher drug costs for everyone and huge profits for big pharma. Canada has a total of 19 publicly funded drug plans, 10 provincial, three territorial, and six federal. Eligibility, coverage, and benefit payment schemes vary in each of these programs. Again, the Council of Canadians makes the excellent point that one's postal code or socio-economic status should not dictate if one receives necessary medication, but in some provinces only people on social assistance, seniors, or those suffering from certain diseases are covered, while in other provinces people are covered based on an income assessment.
It is long past time for federal leadership on this issue. The proponents of a national pharmacare plan have won every argument. By every rational criteria, it is the smart thing to do.
Therefore, why does Canada not have a national pharmacare plan? I suspect that on this issue, like so many others, the Liberals will not venture such a thing without total buy-in from industry. Let us be as clear as we can on this. The pharmaceutical industry will never support a national pharmacare plan.
In fact, the industry is moving in the other direction. The pharmaceutical industry lobbied heavily for changes to intellectual property rules for pharmaceuticals under CETA and, as we can guess, got them. These changes are expected to increase drug costs by more than $850 million annually. Yet leading environmental, labour, and civil society organizations in Canada also lobbied for changes, changes which, as I mentioned earlier, were similar to those proposed by the NDP. Apparently, the Liberals did not find their arguments convincing.
The priorities of a government are laid bare, not through its public statements but through its actions. Insofar as CETA is concerned, one has to ask, “On whose behalf does our government work?”