House of Commons Hansard #30 of the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was universal.

Topics

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague and neighbour for her excellent speech.

I completely agree that we need a national pharmacare plan right now. I want to ask another question that is in line with the one asked by my friend from Vancouver Kingsway.

Does the member know if the Liberal caucus plans to vote in favour of the motion, or is it just her intention as a member to vote in favour of the motion?

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Anju Dhillon Liberal Dorval—Lachine—LaSalle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague and neighbour. It is always a pleasure to be seated next to her. I learn so much from her.

I think that my colleagues will support the motion. As she mentioned, this system is very much needed to help Canadians, our constituents, and patients. I will be happy to vote in favour of the motion.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski.

In the days before medicare, we saw our neighbours suffer because they could not afford the health care they needed. We saw people lose their homes, their farms and their businesses as they struggled to pay their medical bills. We saw illness destroy entire families. Today, decades later, as we look across the country we see the pain of inaccessible and unaffordable health care once again.

Millions of families cannot afford to take the medications they need because they have no employer-provided drug coverage. The number of uninsured people forced to skip their medications is growing as more people work on contract, are self-employed or have jobs that just do not come with health benefits. Too many seniors are putting their health at risk because they do not have job coverage and cannot afford to pay out of pocket. One in five Canadians either has no prescription drug coverage at all or has inadequate coverage for medication needs. That is 7.5 million people.

I met one gentleman in my riding of London—Fanshawe who really highlighted this issue for me. He was injured on the job. Thankfully his employer had health benefits that would cover some of his recovery. He wanted and needed to get back to work even though he was not well enough, because he knew that he was up against the clock and his employer's health benefits would soon run out. He would have to make the impossible choice of going back to work, further risking his health and the health and safety of others, or paying out of pocket with money he just did not have, throwing himself into deeper poverty.

Sadly, this story is not anything new. That is why on clinical, ethical and economic grounds universal public drug coverage has been recommended by commissions, committees and advisory councils dating as far back as the 1940s. Health policy experts are clear: A U.S.-style, private patchwork approach will cost more and deliver inferior access to prescription drugs.

It is why New Democrats have always understood that health care must be a right in Canada, not a privilege. We have been calling for universal public drug coverage since our founding convention in 1961.

Today, Canada is the only wealthy country in the world with a universal health care system that lacks universal prescription insurance coverage. We pay the third-highest prices for drugs in the world and have to deal with a patchwork of programs and coverage, if we are lucky enough to have coverage at all.

For 10 years, instead of addressing the growing costs of drug coverage, the Conservatives made the problem worse by reducing health care funding to the provinces and undermining efforts towards a national approach to pharmaceutical pricing. Now, the Liberal government has spent four years stalling, promising lower drug costs but delivering delays and more of the same piecemeal system that is failing Canadians and costing us more.

We see the direct cost of this inaction in our hospitals and our communities. With people unable to get the medicine they need, they turn to our emergency rooms. When patients cannot afford their prescription drugs, they access provincial and territorial health systems more often as their conditions deteriorate. In 2016, about 303,000 Canadians had additional doctor visits, about 93,000 sought care in the emergency department and 26,000 were admitted to hospital after being forced to forgo prescription medication due to cost.

HealthCareCAN, the national voice of health care organizations and hospitals across Canada, estimates that between 5.4% and 6.5% of hospital admissions in Canada are the result of cost-related non-adherence to prescription medication, resulting in costs of approximately $1.6 billion per year.

One in five Canadian households reports a family member who, in the past year, has not taken a prescription medication due to its cost. Nearly three million Canadians per year are unable to afford one or more of their prescription drugs. With a system that still struggles with mental health supports, we see people on the streets and in our correctional systems when what they really need is help.

In London, Victoria Hospital of the London Health Sciences Centre has a significant overcapacity problem, with more mental health patients than beds for 179 of the last 181 days. The hospital's average capacity on any given night was around 111%.

We see the desperate need for a national, single-payer, universal pharmacare program. I believe my colleagues across the way believe that we need one too. I am so glad to hear that they will be supporting our motion today.

Why would Liberals keep promising to bring forward a national pharmacare program for the last 23 years? Why would Liberals propose study after study, after commission, after advisory committee if they did not see a need for pharmacare? That is, unless they are constantly studying the program to make it look like they are considering the issue and have no intention of implementing it. This is my great fear.

Liberals have been promising pharmacare since 1997, but I wonder how long they have been making promises to big pharmaceutical and insurance companies to secure their skyrocketing profits. We know that drug costs have increased every year the Liberals have been in power since 2015, and in that same time the Liberals have met with companies from the pharmaceutical and insurance industries more than 875 times.

New Democrats have a clear plan on how to implement pharmacare. In fact, our plan is laid out by the Liberals' own Hoskins report. We are so committed to ensuring this happens that, immediately following the last election, the NDP began working to draft a framework to make a universal, comprehensive and public pharmacare program a reality. It was the first private member's bill that my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, put forward and I thank him so much for his hard work. I thank my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, for the hard work he has done on this file, not only in putting forward this motion today but for his work on the health committee in the last Parliament.

The NDP's national pharmacare act is modelled after the Canada Health Act, again as recommended in the report of former Ontario Liberal health minister Hoskins. After all the studies and commissions, if we read the report, it lays out a very clear path on how to implement pharmacare. A plan should follow the same principles that are the bedrock of our public health care system: universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration.

What also comes out of the endless reports and studies is that, beyond the positive impacts on health and fighting poverty, pharmacare will save Canadians and businesses money. Universal, comprehensive and public pharmacare will reduce annual system-wide spending on prescription drugs by $5 billion through the negotiation of lower drug prices, increased generic substitution and use of biosimilars and other shifts in prescribing toward lower-cost therapies. It will stimulate our economy by reducing prescription drug costs for businesses and employees by $16.6 billion annually and reduce out-of-pocket costs for families by $6.4 billion, according to that same Hoskins report.

When we consider the average median household income in London—Fanshawe is under $60,000 a year, and $30,000 per individual per year, it is well below the Canadian and Ontario average and this would be a huge boost to people in my riding. I think of the many seniors in London—Fanshawe that I have talked to, either on their doorsteps or in my constituency office. They tell me about how the cost of everyday items continues to increase while their incomes remain the same. The cost of drugs continues to be the fastest-growing expense for people and for families. Average drug costs are increasing by 4% every year. On average, Canadian households spend $450 a year on prescription drugs and $550 on private health plan premiums, which is a combined average of $1,000. Private premiums have risen rapidly in recent years, thanks largely to escalating drug prices, and are taking a growing bite out of workers' take-home pay.

After decades of delay, we have a historic opportunity in this minority Parliament to finally deliver for Canadians. We can come together and deliver, lifting people up in a real way and at the same time creating a healthier Canada. It is time for this Parliament to have the courage to put forward this program, to strengthen our health care system, strengthen our economy and strengthen our communities.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:40 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, as the member knows, the Province of Quebec has demonstrated significant leadership on the whole pharmacare file, demonstrating exactly what a province can do. It is encouraging when we see that sort of leadership.

I often hear my New Democrat friends refer to a 1997 promise. I will let my New Democrat friend know, which hopefully she will understand and appreciate, that since this Prime Minister has been the Prime Minister, we have been pushing this file in many different ways. It has been advancing. From my perspective, the leadership, the caucus and the current makeup of MPs in the House is advancing it. Otherwise, I could ask members why, for example, when we have had 10 NDP governments in the past, not one of them ever looked at a provincial pharmacare system similar to the Province of Quebec. Rather, it is the Province of Quebec that has led the pack in Canada on pharmacare.

Would the member not agree that it is the makeup of the House of Commons today that is going to provide the opportunity for the motion to pass?

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure if the member was trying to shift the responsibility from the majority Liberal governments over all of those years. They certainly had every opportunity. Even in the last session when it had a majority, it was at a snail's pace. Liberals keep saying there was all of this advancement, but I know that people in my riding, having to decide between food on their tables or the medications they need to survive, are not really appreciative of the fact that it has taken those 23 years to move this forward.

I am happy that the government has decided to support this motion. I hope Liberals continue to support the bill going forward so we can get the supports people need in London—Fanshawe and across the country.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, throughout the day I have heard members talk about the price of drugs and how difficult it is for some individuals to gain access to them. I have given this example before.

Access is what we should be talking about, especially for patients with rare diseases. The system we have right now allows a quasi-governmental organization like CADTH to approve drugs, leaving provincial public insurers to reimburse the costs. I have constituents in my riding, like Joshua and Sharon Wong, who have a drug that is approved for use in Canada, but is not available for reimbursement by their public insurer.

This situation will get worse with a national pharmacare system. To control the costs of such a system a formulary must be introduced and it must be mandatory to stick to it, taking away the ability of patients and doctors to make decisions that are best for them. I do not believe a national pharmacare system will make it any better. The Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders has cautioned the government on this.

Could the member comment on that?

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have heard my colleague bring this issue up in the House today. I appreciate that he is advocating so fiercely for some of his constituents, which is wonderful to see.

As other members in the House have mentioned, bringing in a universal pharmacare program does not mean we are giving up on continuing to advance the need for specific medications for people with rare diseases. We can lift everybody up and work toward equal access, which we have do together. However, this is not about throwing one system out and replacing it with another.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Luc Thériault Bloc Montcalm, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to know what kind of regulatory framework my colleague supports for drug costs, which is a federal jurisdiction.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Lindsay Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member across the way has talked a lot about the importance of the Quebec system. The New Democrats are in full support. If Quebeckers want to negotiate higher transfer payments under the pharmacare program, they can do so. They have led the pack with respect to the provision of pharmacare.

It is important to look at our nation as a whole, look at the pharmacare program as a whole and look at what the bulk buying of those drugs can provide, not just to Quebeckers, or to Ontarians or to the people in Saskatchewan and so on, but to all Canadians. That is a really important part of the program.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House in support of our opposition day motion.

I want to acknowledge the important work of my colleague, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, who has worked tirelessly on this front. I want to reflect on the fact that the push for national universal pharmacare is core to who we are as New Democrats.

It is the NDP that has pushed for medicare, leaders like Tommy Douglas, other NDP leaders and activists across the country. National universal pharmacare is very much part of that legacy. It is incumbent on us as New Democrats, but also as Canadians, to see that legacy realized. It is desperately needed in Canada today.

What we are proposing is so important. On clinical, ethical and economic grounds, universal public drug coverage has been recommended by commissions, committees and advisory councils dating as far back as the 1940s. Health policy experts have made it clear that a U.S.-style, private patchwork approach will cost more and deliver inferior access to prescription drugs.

According to the Liberals' own Hoskins report, universal, comprehensive and public pharmacare will reduce annual system-wide spending on prescription drugs by $5 billion through the negotiation of lower drug prices, increased generic substitution and use of biosimilars and other shifts in prescribing toward lower-cost therapies.

Pharmacare, to put it bluntly, is an investment in our future. It will stimulate our economy by reducing prescription drug costs for businesses and employees by $16.6 billion annually and out-of-pocket costs for families by $6.4 billion, according to the Hoskins report. It will take pressure off our public health care system through improved health outcomes, as individuals no longer face cost-related barriers to treatment. This will provide long-term savings, along with greater stability and resilience to shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic.

We believe pharmacare should follow the same principles that are the bedrock of our public health care system: universality, comprehensiveness, accessibility, portability and public administration. This is core to our opposition day motion today. It is core to who we are as New Democrats. I believe it is core to the values of so many Canadians. That is why I hope the House will see fit to support this critical motion.

We currently have a Liberal government, albeit a minority Liberal government, that has all too often used the right words to speak to the priorities of Canadians. We have heard the Liberals talk about their commitment to the middle class. We have heard them talk about reconciliation. We have heard them talk about making life more affordable for Canadians. However, their actions do not follow their messages.

In fact, in many of these cases, the Liberals employ what some are now calling reconciliation washing. They employ a kind of language that makes us all feel good about what needs to be done, yet we go on to watch them do the exact opposite.

When it comes to pharmacare, they have used that word incessantly, a commitment to pharmacare. We have heard about it repeatedly in the last majority government. We heard them talk about in previous majority governments. Here we are with no national universal pharmacare plan in front of us, yet a dire need for it.

What we have also seen from the Liberals is some clear actions that serve to benefit not Canadians, but actually the wealthiest among us and particularly corporations. Big pharma is definitely part of that.

In a report that the CCPA put out in 2018, it indicated a crisis in the pharmaceutical world, but not a crisis of profitability.

In December of 2015, Forbes magazine reported net profit margins of 25.5% from major pharmaceutical companies, 24.6% for biotechnology firms and 30% for generics. Comparable rates for tobacco companies, Internet software and services, information technology and large banks were 27.2%, 25%, 23% and 22.9% respectively.

The CCPA report went on to say, “...the crisis in the pharma sector is in the escalation of prices for individual drugs, especially but not exclusively in the United States”, and that is also a reality here at home, “and the low number of new products that offer major therapeutic gains over existing medicines. The industry’s lavish profits make these deficiencies all that much harder to tolerate.”

We know that between 2006 and 2015, the 18 U.S. pharma companies listed in the S&P 500 index spent $465 billion on R and D, $261 billion on stock buy-backs and $255 billion paying out dividends. These companies are making a profit off the backs of everyday people in our communities. We know that big pharma has mobilized against the pharmacare plans that have been put forward.

I want to point to the work of the PressProgress. On March 10, it said:

The pharmaceutical and insurance industry is quietly preparing a campaign to stop a coalition of 150 Canadian organizations pushing the federal government to follow the recommendations of its own expert panel and bring in a universal, single-payer pharmacare system.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has launched an “action plan” on behalf “business stakeholders across the country,” namely “benefits providers” and “pharmaceutical companies.”

The Chamber of Commerce has the audacity to call it a “grassroots movement”, and it says that it will “advocate the preferred pharmacare model with federal, provincial/territorial and municipal leaders” and “focus on targeting key policymakers in Ottawa.”

This is a disturbing message. Canadians do not send members of Parliament here to make decisions to benefit the biggest and wealthiest corporations in our country.

Every one of us represents constituents who are struggling because they cannot afford life-saving drugs. Every one of us represents families that have to prioritize food and rent above the kind of medication they may need. Every one of us knows people who have ignored health issues and bypassed the drugs they need and have often ended up becoming much more serious.

I think of the many seniors in my riding who are struggling because they cannot afford the drugs they need. However, I am also increasingly thinking about young people, young people in my constituency who are working in jobs that a few years prior were covered with great pharmacare plans. In some cases, the jobs do not exist any longer and in some cases those pharmacare plans do not exist any longer. As more and more young people engage in precarious work, work that does not have the coverage necessary, we know the need for a national universal pharmacare plan is not theoretical. It is very much a reality and an urgent reality for so many.

These days, we need to deal with the pandemic of COVID-19, particularly in vulnerable communities like the first nations I represent. However, we also need to remind ourselves how critical it is to ensure Canadians are supported day in and day out and that they have the support so they are better prepared when a pandemic is around the corner. I think of the many people who are living with chronic illnesses right now. They are particularly worried about COVID-19. I think of people who are struggling to make ends meet, whether it is affording medicines or other essential goods. They do not know what a pandemic might mean financially to them. Let us make it easier for them.

As parliamentarians, as representatives, as people who have the power to change the lives of Canadians for the better, let us get behind a motion that pushes for universal pharmacare, that pushes Canada to do better when it comes to our health care system, which we are proud of, but it needs so much more support going forward. Let us be on the right side of history. Let us support this opposition motion and make national universal pharmacare a reality in Canada today.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

3:55 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, since five years ago, when the Prime Minister, cabinet and the government caucus first sat around and started talking about the important issues Canadians have to deal with, we have often been told to raise concerns from our constituents, to bring them to our caucus. Pharmacare is one of the issues that has been top of mind for many of my Liberal colleagues. I have done many different things to try to raise the profile of the issue. I do that because of the constituency I represent. I know full well the degree to which they want to see something happen on this file.

In the last five years, we have seen more progress on the pharmacare file than we had seen in the previous 20 years. There has been virtually no progress at the provincial level, with the exception of one or two provinces. The bottom line is that there is movement toward getting this accomplished.

Would the hon. member not agree that we have to continue to work with provinces to make the best possible pharmacare program a reality, that Ottawa cannot or should not attempt to do it alone at least until we have worked—

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have engaged in many conversations about how important pharmacare is. This is about action.

Right now we have an opportunity to support an opposition day motion directing the government to act on its own report, the Hoskins report, and ensure there is a national universal pharmacare program. The time for talk is over. It has been over for a long time. The needs of Canadians are only growing, given our demographics and, as I pointed out, given that increasingly many people, especially many young people, are not covered for medications by their work. We know that many people are in an increasingly precarious situation.

We have a moment in time to show leadership on this front. We can support broadening health care in our country and support our constituents. Let us take this moment in time; let us not waste any more of it. Let us get behind this opposition day motion. I implore the Liberals to do that today.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an interesting conversation we are having here today, because this is a provincial issue. Not all provinces and territories agree with this motion. Saskatchewan has a list of drugs that it prioritizes, as compared to Nova Scotia's, New Brunswick's or B.C.'s. We have not even had the courtesy in the House of Commons to bring our health ministers from every province together to have this discussion.

There are jurisdictions in this country that do not want this. I wonder if the hon. member from Manitoba would like to comment on this. We are not even sure if her province is in favour of this.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

NDP

Niki Ashton NDP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, MB

Mr. Speaker, we are here to show leadership for Canadians, not jurisdictions. We are here to show leadership for our constituents. I think we can all agree that many constituents are struggling because they cannot afford their drug costs. This is the way we can act going forward.

I am sure that a lot of the messages we are hearing today are reminiscent of the kind of opposition that Tommy Douglas and others faced in bringing in medicare. They stood up for Canadians in their time in the face of great opposition, and often that opposition was from monied interests that wanted to profit off sick people.

Let us learn from that moment in time and have the courage to stand up and fully realize the idea of medicare for all by bringing in national universal pharmacare and really defending constituents, the people who send us here, the people who share the heartbreaking stories of what they are facing.

We have that opportunity at this moment in time, right now. Let us be on the right side of history.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Argenteuil—La Petite-Nation.

I would first like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin people.

I am pleased to rise to participate in this important discussion on implementing a national pharmacare program in Canada.

Our government is committed to strengthening health care systems across this country and supporting the health of all Canadians. We know that Canadians are proud of our publicly funded health care system, which is based on need and not the ability to pay, yet we know that at least one in 10 Canadians cannot afford the prescription drugs they need. At a time when we are facing the crisis of a coronavirus pandemic, one only has to look at what is happening south of the border to see what happens in a country that does not have a public health care system. I am so glad I live in Canada where we are looked after by our government, and I think it is very important to carry this on into pharmacare as well.

When medicare was first introduced, Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, said at the time that he did not introduce it in Saskatchewan for 18 years because he wanted to make sure that his province could actually afford it. When he did introduce it, a lot of the push-back came from doctors, who felt they would not be making as much money. I am very pleased that when he was part of the Government of Canada after that, he talked with his colleagues opposite and together they passed medicare in Canada.

When medicare was first introduced, prescription drugs played a much more limited role in health care. Drugs used outside of the hospital were primarily inexpensive medicines used to treat common conditions such as high blood pressure. Now, with pharmaceutical advances, drugs play a vital role in health care and are helping to cure or manage previously debilitating or fatal diseases such as cancer, although we know that many of these drugs are still extremely expensive and unaffordable for some people.

With the rising rates of chronic disease and the growing number of conditions that can be treated by medications, Canadians are taking more prescription drugs each year. Globally, the drug landscape is also evolving rapidly. Specialty drugs to treat complex, serious conditions such as rare diseases are being developed at accelerated rates. These drugs are offering hope and improved health to many Canadians. However, many of these drugs are still not affordable, and Canada continues to rely on an incomplete patchwork of public and private drug plans offered by various provinces to provide this core part of health care, which, as I mentioned, is leaving a growing number of Canadians behind. That is why our government and I feel that the time for pharmacare has come.

Today, more than seven million Canadians lack adequate drug coverage, and many are unable to take their medications due to the cost. Every year, almost one million Canadians give up food and heat to afford medicines, and they often tend to be lower-income, working-age Canadians. Even individuals who have prescription drug coverage can face significant and prohibitive out-of-pocket expenses, often in the thousands of dollars, in the form of deductibles, copayments and costs that exceed their annual or lifetime coverage limits.

When Canadians cannot afford their drugs, their health often worsens, putting an even greater strain on our health care system. Roughly 25% of Canadians who report being unable to take their medications due to cost also report using a health service they otherwise would not have needed. This includes visits to doctors and emergency rooms, which place a huge strain on the system.

No Canadian should have to choose between paying for prescription drug and putting food on the table. However, we know that many are still forced to make this impossible decision.

In addition, Canadians face some of the highest prescription drug prices in the world. The average annual cost of the top-10 selling patented drugs in Canada grew from $2,200 in 2006 to more than $18,000 in 2017. Prices for drugs to treat rare diseases can start at $100,000 and go upwards of $2 million per patient per year, often over a lifetime. The result is that both the public and private drug plans that many Canadians rely on are feeling the strain.

Drug spending in Canada is high, reaching more than an estimated $40 billion in 2019. Drugs are now the second-largest category of spending in health care. This is unsustainable, and it is hurting Canadians every single day. The unaffordability of many medications leads to Canadians being less healthy and creates higher health care costs for us all.

That is why the Government of Canada is committed to implementing a national universal pharmacare system. This program would save Canadians $13 billion in drug prices over the next 10 years. However, it will not be easy. We need to work closely with provinces, territories and stakeholders to improve drug coverage so Canadians, including those suffering from rare diseases, can have access to the drugs they need.

I was pleased to be part of a government in Nova Scotia that went toe to toe with the pharmaceutical companies. We lowered our drug prices from 85% down to 35%, which was a huge help for Nova Scotia. This is the sort of thing we need to do across the country, even though we know there will be a big push-back from the pharmaceutical companies. We are already feeling it now. Certain companies are already trying to get the government to back down on pharmacare. Companies are getting the families of certain people with rare diseases to try to convince the government to back off, and this is not okay. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies are using a very bad situation, with desperate and vulnerable people, to try to lobby government on their behalf so that they will have more money in their pockets.

To help us chart our course forward, in 2018 the government created the advisory council on the implementation of national pharmacare. Chaired by Dr. Eric Hoskins, the council's mandate was to provide independent advice on how best to implement national pharmacare so it would be affordable for Canadians and their families, employers and governments.

After leading an extensive national dialogue, in its June 2019 report the council recommended that the federal government work with provincial and territorial governments to establish a universal single-payer public system of prescription drug coverage in Canada. Given the scope of the transformation required to achieve this, the council suggested that it would be practical to adopt a phased approach to implementation.

Guided by the council's recommendations, budget 2019 outlined three foundational elements to help Canada move forward on implementing national pharmacare: one, establishing a Canadian drug agency; two, developing a strategy for high-cost drugs for rare diseases; and three, working toward a national formulary.

A Canadian drug agency would talk a coordinated approach to assessing effectiveness and negotiating prescription drug prices on behalf of all Canadians. The development of a national formulary, a comprehensive evidence-based list of prescribed drugs, would promote more consistent coverage and patient access across the country. Both of these initiatives must be done in close collaboration with provinces and territories. To make pharmacare sustainable, we also need to continue to look for opportunities to improve pharmaceutical management in partnership with our provinces and territories.

I would like to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway for his motion on national universal pharmacare. I think we can all agree that it is critical for the government to work closely with provinces, territories and our political colleagues to determine how best to move forward on this important issue. The government looks forward to productive discussions this spring, and together we will continue to make the affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs a shared priority.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate my colleague on her very thoughtful and well-researched speech. I am very pleased to hear that she will be supporting our motion, and I am getting the feeling that my Liberal colleagues in the House will as well.

What is particularly gratifying is that the motion specifically calls for a commitment to deliver pharmacare through a single-payer system. Of course, there are good reasons for that. It was the recommendation of the Hoskins panel and of the Standing Committee on Health. In fact, every task force that has looked at this issue over the last 40 years has endorsed the idea of delivering pharmacare through our public system, because it is the cheapest, most effective and fairest way to do it.

I am wondering if my hon. colleague could elucidate why she believes pharmacare is best delivered through our public health care system, as opposed to through the private-public patchwork.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have always believed in universal medicare and universal pharmacare. I also believe we need to introduce dental care as well. Our mouths are part of our health, and I believe this is the only way forward for any civilized nation.

I look at our folks south of the border and I feel sorry for them at this moment in time. They are going through such a terrible time with the coronavirus, and they do not have a public health care system. In fact, in the United States they call it the health care industry, which speaks volumes to the difference in the way they look at things and the way we do here in Canada.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Tom Kmiec Conservative Calgary Shepard, AB

Mr. Speaker, the comment the member made about patient families being used by pharmaceutical companies when they are coming to Parliament Hill to advocate for themselves is an absolutely shameful comment to make in the House.

My family is affected by a rare disease. Being in the province of Alberta, my family is allowed to gain access to a specific type of medication that helps my oldest son with the condition he has. However, Quebec has made the decision on its formulary that one is not allowed to do off-label prescribing, which is Quebec's choice to make. The province should be allowed to make that decision, so if I were a resident of Quebec, I would be going to my MNA in that province and advocating for it.

Patient families are coming to Parliament Hill and advocating for access to medication, and the issue is access, not pricing. There are medications approved in Canada for rare disorders for which there is no reimbursement through the public insurer, the government. There are patient families trapped between two governments arguing over the price, when the issue is accessing the medications we need.

I do not have a question. It is a comment. It is shameful to say that patient families with rare diseases coming to Parliament are only doing so because pharmaceutical companies are pushing them to do it.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I never mentioned anything about families coming to Parliament Hill.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

An hon. member

Yes, you did.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

March 12th, 2020 / 4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

No, I did not. What I said was that I find there are some pharmaceutical companies, especially American ones, that have not even applied for their drugs to be sold or accepted in Canada yet. They are using the families of sick children to lobby the government to come up with a lower price when the time comes for them to negotiate with the government. I find that a shameful practice.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Charbonneau Bloc Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski and the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester for their speeches. They clearly have a lot of empathy and compassion for the most vulnerable members of our society and their constituents. The Bloc is also sensitive to the needs of our constituents.

However, does the member for Cumberland—Colchester acknowledge that larger transfers to the provinces would give each Canadian province and territory more latitude and freedom to spend money based on the individual needs of their citizens?

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Lenore Zann Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I did not really hear a question in that, but I would say to the member opposite that I agree that the provinces do need help, especially right now with COVID-19. They are going to be getting extra help to look after all our Canadian citizens. It is very important.

Opposition Motion—PharmacareBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

I would simply like to clarify that members may ask questions or make comments. Both are acceptable.

Resuming debate, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Seniors.