Alistair MacGregor column: It’s time for a national pharmacare plan

The Liberals have lacked the political will to get the job done.

By Alistair MacGregor

Nearly 21 years ago, on May 20, 1997, the Liberal Party of Canada committed to “develop a national plan and timetable for introducing universal public coverage for medically necessary prescription drugs” (Liberal Red Book, pg. 7 and 8). Since then, the Liberals have held power for 11 years, enjoying a majority in the House Commons for nine of them. They have had ample opportunity to create good public policy to benefit all Canadians on prescription drugs, but they have lacked the political will to get the job done.

Fast-forward to today, and we see the current finance minister, Bill Morneau, advocating for a public-private pharmacare system — an idea haphazardly lifted from the NDP platform, but which, under his vision, would just exacerbate inequality. For many, that means not getting the life-saving medications they need to sustain a healthy, comfortable, dignified life.

A national pharmacare plan has been studied many times over the last few decades. However, what level of investment did the Liberal government commit to in the 2018 federal budget for a universal, national pharmacare plan? Precisely $0. This unfortunately paints a picture of the announcement adding up to more rhetoric and empty promises.

Canadians cannot wait for the federal government to get their act together. That’s why my colleague MP Don Davies, the NDP critic for health, tabled a motion last fall to implement a national pharmacare plan. Out of 157 Liberal MPs present for the vote that evening, only four of them voted in favour of the motion (Vote No. 364, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017).

Meanwhile, the Liberal-dominated Standing Committee on Health is flirting with the idea of recommending a national pharmacare plan, the details of which should be available in the coming weeks, following yet another study. So, where is the cognitive dissonance between promises made and public policy implemented? It lies in the lack of political will to do what is right.

Pharmacare is a prime example of a universal social program that would go a long way in making Canadians’ day-to-day lives easier and more affordable. The cost of prescription drugs is a major obstacle for those who live on fixed incomes and are not covered by an employer plan. Millions of Canadians are having to spend less on food in order to afford their prescriptions or are skipping their medicine altogether. And yet, while we hear a lot of talk on the subject, we rarely see the concrete action that protects Canadians who are most in need.

This is a time when we need to have the courage to get the job done. Canada remains the only major country that offers universal health care without a national drug plan, a perplexing situation from both a health and fiscal perspective.

Evidence has been clear for decades that universal pharmacare would expand coverage and improve outcomes, while reducing costs for Canadians. Estimated savings from universal drug coverage for Canadians is measured in the billions, and every health practitioner knows well the negative health impacts on patients who skip medicine because of cost.

It’s time for leadership from all levels of government to ensure that every Canadian has access to the health care they need, when they need it.

Alistair MacGregor is the Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.

Just Posted

Drivesmart column: Electronic monitoring pilot projects already underway

Our current system of trying to change driver behaviour largely consists of traffic tickets

Robert Barron column: Hats off to humanitarian workers

Saurazas didn’t seem to be fazed very much by the peril she was exposed to

Cowichan Valley jazz graduate wins prestigious scholarship

Bassist Brock Meades and drummer Graham Villette get $2,000 Fraser MacPherson Scholarship

Sarah Simpson Column: Getting antsy at the Duncan Days Parade

This story isn’t about bugs although there is totally a bug component.… Continue reading

Duncan Grande Parade draws a crowd

Entries old and new enjoyed by a big audience

Japanese Canadians call on B.C. to go beyond mere apology for historic racism

The federal government apologized in 1988 for its racism against ‘enemy aliens’

B.C. VIEWS: NDP pushes ahead with Crown forest redistribution

This isn’t the time for a radical Indigenous rights agenda

Two dead in two-vehicle crash between Revelstoke and Golden

RCMP are investigating the cause of the crash

Ottawa fights planned class action against RCMP for bullying, intimidation

The current case is more general, applying to employees, including men, who worked for the RCMP

Alberta judge denies B.C.’s bid to block ‘Turn Off the Taps’ bill

He said the proper venue for the disagreement is Federal Court

Canadian high school science courses behind on climate change, says UBC study

Researchers found performance on key areas varies by province and territory

Six inducted into BC Hockey Hall of Fame

The 26th ceremony in Penticton welcomed powerful figures both from on and off the ice

Most Read