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

Red Deer RCMP investigate second failed ATM theft attempt

This is the second attempt to steal the ATM from Eastview IGA in less than a week

Get your scare on at the annual Zed Haunted House

The haunted house opens tonight at 6833 66th St.

UPDATE: Red Deer RCMP don’t believe Coronation Park death is suspicious

Male is being transported to Calgary for autopsy

Mellow opening to B.C.’s only legal pot shop

About five people lined up early for the opening of the BC Cannabis Store in Kamloops.

B.C. high school teacher faces sexual assault charges

A Mt. Boucherie teacher has been charged with child luring, sexual exploitation and sexual assault.

Fashion Fridays: You can never have enough shoes

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Migrants, police mass in town on Guatemala-Mexico border

Many of the more than 2,000 Hondurans in a migrant caravan trying to wend its way to the United States left spontaneously with little more than the clothes on their backs and what they could quickly throw into backpacks.

Trump: ‘Severe’ consequences if Saudis murdered Khashoggi

Pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak on Wednesday said it had obtained audio recordings of the alleged killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Feds dead set against ‘ridiculous’ quotas to replace steel, aluminum tariffs

Donald Trump imposed the so-called Section 232 tariffs — 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminum — back in June on national security grounds.

Campus brawl leads to charge against B.C. football player

Takudzwa Timothy Brandon Gandire, a 21-year-old defensive back from Vancouver, is charged with assault causing bodily harm.

Stadium vendor seen in pizza spitting video pleads guilty

The 21-year-old’s sentencing is Nov. 15. His lawyer has said he understood what he did was wrong and was remorseful.

Jury finds Calgary couple guilty in 2013 death of toddler son

Jeromie and Jennifer Clark were found guilty of criminal negligence causing death

Most Read