Letter to Telegram: Why was the Private Member’s Bill on Pharmacare defeated?
During the 2019 federal election the Liberal government promised to “take the critical next steps to implement national universal Pharmacare so that all Canadians have the drug coverage they need at an affordable price.” This came after a 2017 report from the Parliamentary Budget Office estimated that a universal Pharmacare system would save Canadians more than $4 billion a year.
On February 24th the Liberals appeared to renege on that promise by defeating a private member’s bill that would have introduced a legal framework to allow the federal government to begin negotiating arrangements with the provinces.
Newfoundland and Labrador consistently scores last among the provinces on measures of overall health. Given that reality, we find it hard to believe that our six Liberal MPs are not in favour of Pharmacare. Is it not much more likely that the Whip system was in play, as it so often is in Canadian politics? Canada apparently has the most rigid party discipline of any nation that uses the British Westminster system.
That discipline extends not just to the Whip. As MUN professor, Alex Marland, points out in his recent book “Whipped”, it goes right through party infrastructure. Politicians have described (anonymously) their role as “useless”, “that of a lackey on a leash”, “jack-in-the-box who pop up to vote” and “invisible”.
Our question is: Who whips the Whips? Because, if decisions and policies are being developed exclusively in the back rooms of the Privy Council and Prime Minister’s Office in conjunction with powerful corporate lobbyists, then our democracy has become a mere façade – a façade behind which lurks Big Oil, Big Finance, Big Pharma and other Bigs.
It’s one of the reasons we support Proportional Representation. PR is not a perfect system. Nevertheless, those coalition governments it tends to produce at least make it harder for corporate elites to influence policy to the extent that they do here in Canada.
As for our MPs, we feel for them. The travel inconvenience and career uncertainty are bad enough. But to then realize that your ideals and those of your constituents have so little influence in Ottawa must be profoundly discouraging. Pharmacare is probably just one of many disappointments.
This is not the way democracy is supposed to work.
The Avalon Chapter of the Council of Canadians.