This summer the federal political parties will be hard at work trying to get your vote (yes, an election is not too far away) and to convince you they are the party best suited to form the next government. Early in the race, the party platforms were, shall we say, a bit thin. That’s where Your Workplace comes in and fills the gaps. We drilled down deep, speaking to representatives from each major party to discuss their workplace and labour policies.
Specifically, we spoke with Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP; Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party; Patty Hajdu, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour with the governing Liberal Party; and John Barlow, labour critic for the Conservative Party.
One of the most important issues facing the HR community (and frankly all Canadians) is the high cost of prescription drugs and benefits plans. Of the four parties, two — the NDP and the Green Party — are calling for a national pharmacare program.
“What we’re proposing is our Medication For All plan, which is fully costed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and it’s found that it would [allow] employers to provide drug benefits [with] over $1 million savings,” Jagmeet Singh says.
He adds: “So we would lower the costs for businesses, and it would remain lowered, not one of those things that’s a one-time savings. We would actually develop a plan that would ensure that there’s one negotiator with the buying power of Canada negotiating the best prices possible, which would keep prices from rising uncontrollably.”
Singh notes that pooling resources is the better way to get cheaper prescription medicines. “That’s the findings that the Parliamentary Budget Officer found. In fact, he found it would be $4 billion of savings to cover everybody if we pool what’s already being spent compared to if you look at what provinces are spending on medications because they’re already buying for patients in hospitals … And if you look at what employers are spending and what people spend out of pocket, you pool that together [and] it was $4 billion. And then the Parliamentary Budget Officer looked at different plans that exist throughout the world where … governments bought medication at a federal national level and found that they could deliver drug coverage for everybody for $20 billion.”
May of the Green Party comes at the issue by saying her vision of a national pharmacare program can save even more money. “We want to have [a] national pharmacare program, universal pharmacare. It will reduce the cost to society by about $9 billion, according to research done by Steve Morgan [Canadian health economist at UBC].”
The Liberals discussed it, but their most recent budget fell short of such a program. In its last budget earlier in 2019, Ottawa pledged $35 million to work with the provinces, territories and industry stakeholders to create a “Canadian Drug Agency” over the next four years. The agency would assess new drugs in Canada, make a national list for medications that are covered and use its bulk-buying power to negotiate lower prices for those drugs on behalf of coverage plans.
Details like which jurisdictions and drug plans would participate are yet to be determined, but the budget predicts that creating this new agency could lower Canadian drug spending — already among the highest in the world — by $3 billion a year.
The budget also pledged the federal government will start spending $500 million a year in 2022 on a strategy to lower the cost of expensive medicines used to treat rare, life-threatening diseases.
“We agree that drug costs are unaffordable, not just for employers but certainly from the Canadian individual perspective,” says Patty Hajdu, Minister of Labour. “You know, when Canadians, especially Canadians that are living in poverty or on low income, are having to make the decision about whether or not they buy groceries or buy pharmaceuticals or prescription drugs, that’s untenable, and we know that we need to do better as a country. That’s why we’ve taken some steps already to try and reduce the cost of drugs, in general. One of them is joining the pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which is going to help Canada save $2 billion annually, proposing major reforms to the patent and medicines regulations, which will obviously help protect Canadians from high prices. But I think the other thing, and you saw this in budget 2018, is we have a council right now that’s studying national pharmacare and what a model might look like that would be affordable for Canada.”
Not surprisingly, the Conservatives’ view on prescription drug costs is seen through the lens of taxation. Says Conservative labour critic John Barlow: “[A] national pharmacare program is not something the Conservative Party has embraced in the past. I think it’s always something we have to be open to, but I think our number one strategy would be to lower the tax burden on our small-to-medium enterprises and corporate Canada to ensure that they do have the funds in hand to support, whether that’s benefit programs or other initiatives for their employees.”
He adds that, “We have to find ways for businesses to be able to grow and expand easier, and when they’re successful and they have a lower tax burden or lower regulatory burden, they are able to better afford expanded benefit programs for their employees. Their employees are happy. Business owners are happy. And I think that’s definitely an example of what we want to do.”