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View Niki Ashton Profile
NDP (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.
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