Not your father’s minority government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government is not like his father’s. When Pierre Trudeau won minority government in 1972, he didn’t have the support of opposition parties. The government only lasted 1 year, 221 days. His minority government introduced the unpopular Petro-Canada Crown Corporation that reminded Albertans of the despised National Energy Program. Petro-Canada’s reddish-coloured headquarters in Calgary were tagged “red square.”

P.M. Lester Pearson. Image by Nobel Foundation, Associated Press

Given the bluster from the United Conservative Party of Alberta, you wouldn’t think that the Liberals have any support from the Conservatives until you consider that they both want the Trans Mountain pipeline built.

Consider the following, suggests my Calgary friend:

“I think the conservatives and liberals are not that far apart on the pipeline issue. If the liberals make good on our 4.5 Billion dollar investment in the TMP they will get no support from the NDP or the BLOC but the conservatives would be foolish not to support it.”

Wouldn’t that be something to behold? If the NDP or the Bloc Québécois opposed a pro-pipeline bill, how could the Conservatives not support it without appearing hypocritical? And the NDP and Bloc could then wash their hands of the project that offends environmentalists.

Justin Trudeau has consistently said that he is going to build the Trans Mountain pipeline. He repeated that goal after the October 21, 2109, election.

While reactions to the federal election have focused on a divided country, I see Justin Trudeau’s Liberals offering something for everyone.

The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois can work together on social policy and the environment. The Bloc Québécois has made it clear that they intend to support this Liberal minority government. BQ Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that the Liberals should do “what it takes” to make Parliament work. He added there’s a law stating that government mandates are supposed to last four years. I’m not sure that’s true for minority governments but Blanchet’s support is clear.

Who knows, if successful, Trudeau’s minority government could be re-elected as was a minority government in 1965, one before Pierre Trudeau’s.

The NDP and the Liberals have the common goal of implementing Pharmacare. Both parties campaigned on bringing the much-needed plan into reality.

Canada is an anomaly among nations. We are the only industrialized country with a universal public health care system but no Pharmacare. Every study of Canada’s health care has identified the lack of Pharmacare as a major gap in our system. Medicare without drug coverage doesn’t even make sense. What good is a health care system that prescribes drugs but doesn’t cover them?

Justin Trudeau’s minority government should look to the accomplishments of minority governments before his father’s. Lester Pearson’s Liberals implemented universal health care with the cooperation of the NDP. And his minority government was so successful that it was re-elected as a minority government with back-to-back Liberal minority governments following elections in 1963 and 1965.

How fitting is it that this minority government complete the Medicare program started by minority governments, a goal not attempted by his father.

Let’s finish the job and implement Pharmacare

Medicare is a good idea but incomplete without Pharmacare. Let’s finish what we started in the 1960s. The plan was always to finish our health care system but realization of that dream got lost in perennial federal-provincial squabbling.

image: Green Party

Canada is an anomaly among nations. We are the only industrialized country with a universal public health care system but no Pharmacare.

Every study of Canada’s health care has identified the lack of Pharmacare as a major gap in our system.

Medicare without drug coverage doesn’t even make sense. What good is a health care system that prescribes drugs but doesn’t cover them?

What we now have is a mess. Drug coverage in Canada consists of a patchwork of 100 public and 100,000 private insurance plans. Some working Canadians are covered by employer-funded private plans. Seniors and those on social assistance are covered by publicly-funded provincial plans. Indigenous people, military members, federal inmates are covered by federal plans. Low-income Canadians struggle. In B.C. they have to pay up to the deductible amount.

Studies show that some low-income Canadians go without prescribed drugs because they have to buy groceries and heat their houses first. Women typically suffer more than men. Nearly two million Canadians reported not being able to afford one or more drugs in the past year. Unfilled prescriptions result in an additional burden on our health care system –patients end up going back to their doctor or to the hospital.

What we have is a mess and it’s ridiculous. When I go to the hospital, prescribed drugs are covered by Medicare and dispensed from the hospital pharmacy. When I walk out the door of the hospital, I’m on some other plan if I’m lucky, no other plan if I’m not.

The model of Medicare provides a good template for Pharmacare. While Medicare is universal in that it covers everyone, it is not universal in that it covers everything. This is especially true for Pharmacare as technology offers ever more expensive remedies. Pharmaceutical companies are coming up with new, expensive, drugs. Some are only marginally better, some no better than generic drugs. Pharmacare should not cover every conceivable pharmaceutical.

Drug spending in Canada has grown significantly over the past few decades, from $2.6 billion in 1985 to $33.8 billion in 2017, and the share of GDP spent on drugs has more than tripled from 0.5% to 1.6% over this period.

Pharmacare will reduce the amount we pay for drugs. Canadians pay among the highest prices and spend more on prescription drugs than citizens of almost every other country in the world. Among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member countries, only the United States and Switzerland spend more per person each year on prescription drugs and pay higher patented drug prices than Canada.

The bickering between the federal government and the provinces over Pharmacare must stop. Now’s our chance. The federal government has opened a dialogue. What do you think? You can answer the questionnaire and make a submissions until September 28.