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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Four   September 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Time for a Canadian Pharmaceutical Industry

    Robin Mathews

    As the US policy of expansionism and world domination hurtles the planet towards its destruction, we see an equally calculated destruction of universal medicare by Canada's democratically elected leaders.

    The surge in oil prices (also the result of US policy) is pumping an extra $6 to $8 billion into Alberta's revenues. Ralph Klein--at the same time--is leading a diversionary attack upon the federal government with the sham proposal for an expensive drain on the federal coffers called the National Pharmacare Plan. Klein intends, with his supporters, like Gordon Campbell, premier of BC, to further disable universal medicare.

    Klein is not only betraying the voters of the nation; he is also selling-out in gigantic style to the US. Alberta--just reported--charges the US corporations who pump Alberta oil something like one-third to one-fourth the royalties asked for in, say, the US and other Western countries.

    It also means that Alberta could--if it wished to charge adequate oil royalties--pay for nearly all medicare in Canada and still be one of the richest provinces.

    Why doesn't that happen, and why is the whole national Pharmacare issue a sham?

    The answer lies in the tremendous pressure of actual lobbying, of tireless blandishment, and of the economic, political, and cultural imperialism of the USA, concentrated without let-up on the governments of Canada AND on particular people in office or seeking office.

    Why don't all the premiers and the Prime Minister, really work to make medicare the success it could very easily be? The answer to that is that political leadership in Canada more and more believes its first loyalty is to the US government and corporate capitalist interests.

    As a result, Canadian political leadership spends much of its time avoiding, falsifying, aborting and undermining policies and initiatives wanted by the Canadian people and perfectly available to them financially and structurally.

    The second part of the question concerns the provincial premiers’ advocacy of a national pharmacare scheme. Why is it a sham? Roy Romanow, former Saskatchewan premier and head of the federal health care commission, came as close as he dared, in a recent speech to doctors in Toronto, to naming the premiers' initiative a sham.

    But even Roy Romanow doesn't grasp the Pharmacare bull by the horns. It is a sham by its very structure (if implemented), for it means buying more and more increasingly expensive drugs from the abusive corporate pharmaceutical monopolies that are profiting monstrously and denying healthcare supplies to literally billions on the planet.

    Tragically (and perhaps intentionally) the premiers' Pharmacare proposal plays right into the hands of the very worst, largely US, anti-human corporations.

    A real national Canadian pharmacare plan would begin the production of pharmaceuticals in Canada under a federal/provincial cooperative operation. It would create employment as well as a growing independence in pharmaceutical policy.

    The government of Brian Mulroney ridiculously extended the patent time on pharmaceutical drugs to twenty years from ten. That "deal" has benefited the mostly US-based major drug monopolies by costing the Canadian medicare system billions of dollars.

    Is an independent Canadian pharmaceutical industry possible? According to a recent CBC interview with a Brazilian official, the Brazilian government set up its own laboratories and production facilities. It discovered that it could produce AIDS pharmaceuticals for a small fraction of the market cost--to no one's surprise.

    In addition, it made two more huge discoveries. Using its own laboratories, Brazil could match many existing medicines for prices hundreds of times cheaper than the monopoly pharmaceuticals. Secondly, it found it could develop pharmaceutical drugs for a dramatically cheaper expenditure than claimed by the pharmaceutical monopoly.

    In short, the cost of bringing new drugs and new therapies (and doubtless, further on, new diagnostic and surgical machinery) to general use is much less than the big pharmaceutical monopolies claim.

    A genuine Canadian pharmacare system built upon Canadian invented and produced pharmaceuticals (and technical machinery) would dramatically lower Canadian healthcare costs. In addition, making an end-run around the monopolies, Canadian production could bring profit to Canada from abroad even after slashing profit levels to a just measure.

    Equally important, Canada could become a lead producer of profit-free pharmaceuticals for desperate populations on the globe.

    A Canadian pharmaceuticals manufactory is a simple, proven idea. Canada--even more than Brazil--has the wealth, expertise and the eager young population to carry it out.

    Robin Mathews is a local freelance journalist and long-time public health care advocate.

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