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View Randall Garrison Profile
NDP (BC)
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on my party's opposition day motion on pharmacare. I have to say that my twentysomething self would be somewhat perplexed that I am actually doing this, and that is not just to think that as a gay man I might be an MP, but also that we still have not finished Tommy Douglas' dream of comprehensive public free health care.
Strangely, we have convinced ourselves we already have that. We seem, somehow, to be turning a blind eye to the gaps in that system. Tommy always thought it would be a step-by-step process, but that eventually we would get there. I think we have to ask ourselves how we have convinced ourselves for so long that pharmacare and dental care should not become part of our comprehensive public health care system.
I am very pleased to sit in an NDP caucus, led by the member for Burnaby South and by the member for Vancouver Kingsway on this important question of how to advance toward the goal that Tommy set so many years ago. It is a caucus that has put forward clear and achievable plans to fill those gaps.
When the Liberals proposed the so-called middle-class tax cut last December, we proposed in return that we limit the benefits of those cuts to those earning less than $90,000. With the savings from limiting that tax cut's benefits to the rich, we could in turn finance a dental care program for everyone earning less than $90,000 a year.
There is a practical step we could take and a way to pay for it, one that is clearly within our means and clearly doable. I am hoping, after we debate pharmacare, that we will move to that next stage of debating dental care in this Parliament.
As promised by our leader, our first private member's bill that is going to be brought before the House here will be by the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, Bill C-213. This lays out a specific plan for pharmacare, based on the principles of medicare. Once again, this is a program that is universal, comprehensive, accessible, portable and publicly administered.
My twentysomething self would also be perplexed about why we do not already have this. When Tommy Douglas set out his dream, first in the provincial campaign in 1960 in Saskatchewan, he knew it would be difficult, he knew it would be step by step. In 1962, when he tried to add doctors' visits to the existing hospital insurance plan, he had to face down a 23-day doctors' strike.
We know there will always be people who will step forward, who will say there are so many reasons why we should not take the path we know is the right path.
In 1965, B.C. joined Saskatchewan with a hospital and doctor visit insurance plan, and then in 1966, in Pearson's second minority government, we had a federal government that finally offered financial assistance to provinces that had such a universal plan. Sure enough, within 10 years, we had public health care plans established in every province across the country.
When Tommy moved to the federal level, he brought his dream with him. In 1961, he became the leader of the newly established NDP. In the first platform the NDP put forward, specifically, a proposal to have a pharmacare program on the same principles as a medicare program. Unfortunately, it has taken us a bit longer than I think Tommy thought it would to get an NDP federal government. I know that, because in his last term I had the great privilege of having Tommy as my MP.
Along the way there were other reasons to be optimistic about pharmacare. I guess I would have to admit that. First of all, as previous members have mentioned, we have had numerous commissions, advisory councils and studies dating back 60 years, probably to the first one that I saw, recommending a universal pharmacare program.
One would think we would get to this. Skipping over all that time, last June we had the Hoskins report from the Liberal government's own appointee. A Liberal from Ontario sat down and worked through all of the issues, and ended up recommending the same thing that we have all known we needed, according to the five principles of the Canada Health Act. It was something he judged we could implement by January 1, 2022.
Perhaps today's motion is the first step toward that date: January 1, 2022. I really hope it is. I am encouraged by the things I have heard from previous Liberal speakers, that they are going to support this motion. This motion commits the House to moving forward on pharmacare. It is not just an expression of opinion, as opposition day motions sometimes are. It is a commitment, if it is passed by the majority, that we will actually do something to get pharmacare in place.
I would hope that action would occur quickly. The NDP has offered that opportunity with our private member's bill.
However, we would not be disappointed if the government introduced a bill even before that and decided to move it through expeditiously as a government. I am not seeing that happen, but maybe today this opposition motion marks a change in direction toward finally getting this done.
Let me talk for a moment about why we should be doing universal pharmacare, and in doing so I could talk about savings to the health care system. The Hoskins report was very clear that overall expenditures on prescription drugs in this country would drop by about $5 billion a year. This would come from a number of sources. One is, of course, that we would get the ability to negotiate lower prices for drugs through strategies such as bulk buying of drugs, increasing generic substitutions and also eliminating administrative costs.
For those members in the House who like to go on about bureaucracy, let us look at the patchwork system we have across the country with literally more than 1,000 health care plans all being administered to accomplish the same purpose. The Hoskins report was very clear about the savings overall to the system if we adopted a universal, comprehensive and publicly delivered pharmacare program.
I could talk about the savings that would come to the health care system through better health outcomes. This goes beyond that $5 billion. What it would really mean is if we remove the barrier of cost for people to actually get the treatment they need, in terms of prescription drugs, they are going to be healthier. That would reduce the stress on our already overburdened health care system.
This would mean that we could do more with the same resources we have now if we did not have people who end up in the emergency room, in the hospital or ill because they could not afford their prescription drugs. That is an additional savings that would not show up in dollars, but it would show up in less stress on the dollars we are already devoting to our health care system.
I could also talk about savings to business. This may be a strange one for some people to think about, but there would be important savings to businesses here from adopting this kind of national comprehensive program. Right now, businesses and their employees jointly spend about $16.6 billion in expenditures on drug plans. What happens to that money? That money takes costs away from businesses and their employees and transfers it over to be shared by all of us through the taxation system.
Therefore it would reduce the burden that businesses have to carry, but also, and here is where I am going to be an advocate for small business again, a comprehensive universal plan like this would help level the playing field for employment in small business. Lots of small business owners tell me they have trouble getting the highly skilled help they need because the scale of their operation is not big enough for them to offer a good drug plan. If we have a comprehensive public plan, when it comes to hiring employees, small businesses can compete with the big companies that already have those benefit plans.
We can understand why people might prefer to work at a small business in the community they are from, but have to think about their family when it comes to drug protection. Maybe they would choose their second choice as an employer and go with a big company because of the drug plan that it offered, and the safety and security that it would appear to offer their families. There would be an important benefit for small business by this levelling of the playing field when it comes to prescription drugs.
I can also talk about equity. A good reason for a national pharmacare program that is comprehensive and universal is that the patchwork we have now means that the treatment people get in Canada depends on which province they live in, who their employers are and how big their wallets are. That is certainly something that I, as a Canadian, do not believe we aspire to in this country when it comes to the health of our citizens.
The real reason I believe we should have a public universal program for pharmacare is its impact on ordinary families. Let me take a minute to talk about what this really means in everyday situations.
One in five Canadian households reports a family member who in the past year has not taken his or her prescribed medicine due to its cost. This means more sick days in families and, in many cases, means earlier deaths in families because people were not taking their proper prescriptions.
More than three million Canadians per year report that they are unable to afford one or more of their prescription drugs, and there are the same outcomes. It is bad for families, bad for their health and bad for the health care system.
Almost a million Canadians reported that each year they cut back on food or home heating in order to pay for their medication. This is a cruel choice that we are forcing on Canadians who do not have prescription drug coverage.
Finally, Canadian adults are two to five times more likely to report skipping their prescriptions than those who live in a system which already has a comprehensive and universal public program.
Here in 2020, we are at a historic moment. The Liberals have a minority government. Universal health care came through a Liberal minority government. Well, here is another opportunity to move forward. We in the New Democratic Party have presented proposals consistent with the Hoskins report, which will help us get a detailed plan in place.
Today we have the motion from the member for Vancouver Kingsway before us, a motion that will commit us to move forward to where we all want to go in this country.
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