Federal budget fosters pharmacare, pot-based drugs

Advisory council to come up with options on how to create a national pharmacare program

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, left, receives an ovation after delivering the federal budget in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The federal Liberals will ask a group of advisers, led by Ontario’s former health minister, to explore options for a national program to cover the cost of prescription drugs and report back in 2019 — ensuring pharmacare becomes a key election campaign issue.

The measure forms a part of a trinity of major drug initiatives in Tuesday’s federal budget, the other two being a $231-million package of steps that aims to confront Canada’s escalating opioid crisis, including $150 million in emergency funding, and tax changes for cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

READ MORE: B.C. welcomes Ottawa’s help on rental housing construction

Former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins will head up an advisory council to come up with options on how to create a national pharmacare program — a program that the parliamentary budget watchdog has warned could cost $19 billion a year.

The work will include consulting with provinces, territories and Indigenous groups about what drugs should be included, and the costs involved for “whatever model that we choose,” Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said after the budget speech with Hoskins at her side.

Hoskins won’t have to deliver a final report until the spring of 2019, setting the stage for the Liberals to make pharmacare a centrepiece of the party’s election campaign and take a key talking point away from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

Following Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s speech, Singh seemed unfazed by the prospect, noting that the Liberals were only promising to examine the issue. He even dared the government to steal his party’s proposal and implement a national pharmacare plan.

“What the government is proposing is not a plan. This is a fantasy,” Singh said. “We want to introduce a program now.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said “Canadians should brace themselves” about what might come, because a former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister shouldn’t be trusted to craft “any kind of plan, never mind one in the health care field.”

In the meantime, the Liberals say they won’t apply new sales taxes to cannabis-based pharmaceutical products that can be obtained with a prescription.

Nor will taxes be applied to oils that contain low amounts of THC, the primary psychoactive element in marijuana, that are used by children with certain medical conditions.

But those medications represent a minority of those used by patients, according to one group. Canadians for Access to Medical Marijuana also questioned the wording behind a budget promise to consider retroactively reimbursing patients an unspecified amount for taxes already paid on cannabis-based pharmaceuticals.

“Exempting a small minority of patients does not address the affordability issue and implies some patients are more legitimate than others. Looking into a reimbursement program implies patients can afford to pay for their medicine in the first instance. They can’t,” director Jonathan Zaid said in a statement.

The Opposition Conservatives have chided the government for moving too fast on legal pot, suggesting there are outstanding public safety issues that need to be addressed.

The budget outlines $62.5 million over five years beginning this year for public education programs around cannabis use, and a further $20 million over five years for research by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

The Liberals are also spending $80.5 million over five years starting this year to reduce tobacco use, particularly in Indigenous communities, and raising taxes on cigarettes by $1 per carton.

On opioids, provinces and territories will receive $150 million in emergency funding this year to deal with a crisis that is projected to claim more than 4,000 lives this year.

The balance of the $231.4 million will go towards public education campaigns, better access to public health data and new equipment and tools to allow border agents to better detect dangerous opioids like fentanyl before they enter the country.

— With files from Geordon Omand and Lee Berthiaume

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Ferry connecting Port Hardy and Bella Coola expected to set sail this summer

Its first in-service route will sail in central coast waters on May 18, 2019.

BC Parks Student Ranger Program accepting applications for 2019 season

12 crews of four student rangers will work in regions throughout the province including Bella Coola.

Over $650,00 given to rural communities thanks to Rural Dividends

Five communities, including Williams Lake, are receiving $10,000 for project grants

Pregnant Cariboo firefighter tries to save own house from blaze

Julia Flinton and Anthony Sellars both worked on the 2017 wildfires

Road report for Highway 20

Fog patches and slippery sections; Drive BC

New Canada Food Guide nixes portion sizes, promotes plant-based proteins

Guide no longer lists milk and dairy products as a distinct food group

B.C. legislature managers accused of excessive travel, personal expense claims

Clerk Craig James, security chief Gary Lenz call allegations ‘completely false’

Auto shop apologizes after B.C. employees disrespect memorial convoy

Mr. Lube staff members suspended after incident Sunday in Nanaimo

One-third of pregnant women think cannabis won’t harm their baby: UBC

Review of six U.S. studies found doctors didn’t communicate health risks of pot use

China demands US drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

China detained two Canadians on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng

Hollywood announces 2019 Oscar nominations

Netflix has scored its first best picture nomination, something the streaming giant has dearly sought

B.C. man fined $10,000 after leaving moose to suffer before death

Surrey man was convicted last week on three Wildlife Act charges

‘Blue Monday’ isn’t real, but depression can be

CMHA encourages people to prioritize their mental health

Anti-pipeline group wants NEB to consider impact of emissions, climate change

Stand.earth filed NEB motion asking to apply same standard to the project as it did with Energy East pipeline

Most Read