OTTAWA – Experts came from as far away as France, the United Kingdom and even New Zealand. Politicians from both the NDP and Liberals were there, as well as academics and policy-makers from across Canada. But Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Federal Minister of Health, couldn’t travel the few blocks from Parliament Hill to Ottawa’s National Hotel to participate in a national forum on pharmaceutical policy.
She might have been excused had her schedule not allowed her to come, but her letter to organizer Michael McBane stated “the subject matter of this conference has to do with health care delivery, which is a provincial and territorial responsibility.”
The question is, why is Aglukkaq so blatantly misrepresenting the Federal government’s responsibilities around both health care and pharmaceutical policy?
As we pointed out yesterday, the Federal government is the fifth largest direct provider of health care in Canada. They have a constitutional responsibility for health care to both First Nations and Inuit communities. They also have a responsibility to provide health care to specific groups within society, including veterans, refugees claimants, federal inmates, the Canadian Forces and the RCMP.
Forgetting even all of this, the Federal government also has a very specific role around pharmaceuticals, including approval and labeling of new prescription drugs as well as patent rights. They also regulate prices.
There is a sign here on Wellington Street that tells visitors the distance to both war and civilization, a reference to the two major museums. War is closer. Had the conference been about the war on drugs, rather than how to make civilization with a national Pharmacare program, the Feds might have actually been here. While the Federal Minister shows no interest in the savings that could be reaped from a national drug plan, the Federal government has been active in sending support to Mexico to fight the war on drugs.
This is not the first major conference on Pharmacare Aglukkaq has absented herself from. Representatives from industry, patient groups, labour, and even the Conservative-friendly National Citizen’s Coalition were in Vancouver earlier this year to discuss how we could better coordinate a national strategy to provide universal coverage to Canadians for prescription drugs.
Guess she had something else to do that week too.