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View Daniel Blaikie Profile
NDP (MB)
View Daniel Blaikie Profile
2020-03-12 12:32 [p.1997]
Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Victoria.
Today, I am rising in the House once again to address the issue of pharmacare. It is unfortunate, frankly, that we are still only addressing this issue through opposition day motions. It is a testament to the fact that the government has not brought anything to the House that would advance the cause of a national pharmacare program. It is something that we know we need. We have made these arguments many times before, and Canadians themselves have a real and intense sense of the need.
In a telephone town hall in my riding, we held a straw poll of the several hundred people on the call. We asked how many people, either themselves or people they knew, close friends or family members, were cutting their pills in half, choosing to go without food, struggling to pay the rent or going without their prescription drugs because they had to choose between food and rent. We asked how many were dealing with the consequences of not being able to manage their illnesses, and it was about a third of people in Elmwood—Transcona. That is consistent with national polling that says a lot of Canadians are in this boat. Why are they?
If we look at international drug pricing, we know that Canada pays among the highest prices for drugs. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, earlier in this debate, said we need to figure out why it is that Canada is paying among the highest prices in the OECD. We know why. It is because we are one of the only countries without a national pharmacare plan. It is not a puzzle or a mystery. We know exactly why. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health was talking about how they are working at the problem around the edges and wondering why they are not having any success.
We know from report after report, going back to the 1960s, that the way to make serious progress on this issue is to cut right to the heart of the matter and have a proper national, universal, single-payer public pharmacare plan. If we were to do that, we would see Canada's standing on the OECD drug price list go down significantly. It is not a mystery. The only mystery is why a party that promised this 23 years ago in its election platform, and has had a number of majority governments since, has not been able to get it done. It is charitable to call it a mystery. It is a mystery if we do not give what I think is an obvious explanation to those who are not in a charitable mood, which is that drug company and insurance lobbyists clearly have a lot of influence on the government, and that is why we are not able to make headway on this important issue.
What we hear from the Liberals is that the NDP wants to move too fast, that it is in such a hurry. When we talk about a policy proposal from the 1960s, and a Liberal promise from over 23 years ago, I hardly think that New Democrats are moving too fast. That would be like saying that somebody who took out a 25-year mortgage on their home was moving too quickly and the person should not have amortized the home over 25 years, but longer. We can do a lot in 25 years. People have died waiting for a national pharmacare plan, and I hope there will not be any more. The evidence and the research is there. We hoped we had the conditions in this Parliament to make it happen.
Earlier in the debate today, there was talk of establishing medicare across the country and how that was a function of collaboration between a Liberal minority government under Pearson at the time and the NDP in the 1960s. New Democrats had hoped that there was the willingness on the part of the Liberals to make a bold policy move. The circumstances today are the same as then, and we are willing to work with the government.
We have drafted legislation that provides a framework and put forward the motion today. The research is already out there. Not only is it out there by the Parliamentary Budget Officer and a number of civil society and academic groups that have studied the issue, but the government commissioned its own report from the last Parliament that recommended exactly what we are proposing. The research is done. The conditions in Parliament have been obtained.
If the Liberals need somebody to blame, they can tell the insurance and drug companies, “We were trying to look out for your profits, but those bloody NDPers just would not give us a break and we had to do it.” Liberals can blame us, that is fine. We do not mind looking bad in the books of insurance and pharmaceutical companies if it means getting a win for Canadians struggling to pay for their drugs. They can blame us. That is how we have gotten a lot of good stuff done in this country.
The problem is that the government does not want a deal, and it does not want to move forward. I think the frustration here is that a lot of Canadians felt if we got a Parliament that looked like this one, we could move forward on a common-sense policy proposal.
Often when we talk about helping people out, common objections that come up are what it is going to cost and where we are going to find the money. The fact of the matter is that we can afford to not only maintain the existing level of service, but expand it to everyone and save billions of dollars at the same time. The money is already being spent. In fact, we are already overspending on prescription drugs in Canada. We have the research. We thought we had the political conditions to be able to get this done.
Part of what is happening, if we look at this and the reluctance of the Liberals to use this Parliament to make significant gains, is a little like outdated conventional wisdom. This is not grandpa's Liberal Party. It has not been the same since 1993, but there is still an image in the heads of a lot of Canadians. They think back to constructive minority Liberal governments that worked with the NDP to get good things done, but today it is like putting butter on a burn. That was something that people used to do because it seemed like a good idea.
However, when we look at the evidence that we have so far in this Parliament, and from the Liberal majority governments from 1993 onward, we can see that it is becoming a dated notion. The evidence disproves the claim that Liberals are here to do real progressive work and are willing to sign on to innovative new social policies that not only save money but also expand service for Canadians. I think that is a message that Canadians should take seriously.
There was a lot of talk in the last election about what a minority Parliament could produce, and I know that for people not just in Elmwood—Transcona, but right across the country, there was a real hope that we would be able to get this kind of collaboration. This is a starting point, as I have said. We have done a lot of work in order to make it as easy as possible for the Liberal government to move ahead. It is something that we desperately want to see. It is something that, when we look at the potential benefit to Canadians in their everyday life, is huge, and it is rare that we get that kind of benefit while saving money at the same time.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, we are talking about over $4 billion a year that we are already spending that we would not have to spend. Members can look at some of the other studies. They talk about $6 billion, $8 billion or $10 billion a year that we could be spending. I think the PBO report is universally acknowledged as being quite conservative in its assumptions.
Here we are. We have the political conditions. We have the research. We can get it done. That is exactly what we need to do, and we are waiting for that to happen.
An hon. member: You have to call for split time again. They did not hear you.
Mr. Daniel Blaikie: I know.
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