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Will Clement raise the veil on Canada's secret drug strategy? 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:45 p.m. February 22, 2006]

OTTAWA  —  The government may have changed, but Ottawa is expected to continue its participation in a national drug strategy that some stakeholders say has been shrouded in secrecy. 

At the 2004 health summit, Canada's premiers, who had wanted to create a national pharmacare program, agreed to a National Pharmaceutical Strategy. 

Since then, federal, provincial and territorial health ministry officials have been developing the elements of the strategy. 

Officials are expected to report on their progress in June. 

The question for the new health minister, Tony Clement, is whether the Conservative government will make the discussions surrounding the strategy more open and transparent. 

Clement was not available for comment, but a department official "replying on behalf of the minister" released a statement to PoliticsWatch.

"Access to safe, effective and affordable drug therapies is important to Canadians, and the Minister will be looking at how best to advance this objective . . . Clearly, the Minister will need to consider, in collaboration with his provincial/territorial colleagues how best to engage stakeholders going forward."

Some stakeholders have complained about a general lack of information about the work being conducted by the National Pharmaceutical Strategy Project Task Group and meetings regarding the new strategy that are taking place without their knowledge. 

"The fear is that if this is going behind closed doors and you're not involving stakeholders in the process, it's because you have something to hide," an industry source told PoliticsWatch last year. 

With pharmaceuticals being the fastest growing component of the health-care system with expenditures in Canada increasing by almost $1 billion annually, the national pharmaceutical strategy will have major implications for health policy.

And any exercise involving changes to drug patents would be a potential political hot potato. 

There are also questions surrounding whether the public will have the right to know under Access to Information about the workings of the group. 

Health Canada has told PoliticsWatch last year that "all records under the control of Health Canada (regardless of source) are subject to the Access to Information and Privacy acts.

"Sections 13 and 14 of the Access to Information Act refer specifically to information, the source of which is a provincial/ territorial government."

However, Health Canada was unable to confirm to PoliticsWatch whether the Act will apply to documents not in possession of the federal government but with the task force at the project level. 

As well, since first reporting on the story, PoliticsWatch wrote to Health Canada's Access to Information division requesting any documents pertaining to the drug strategy's task force meetings. 

Such requests are supposed to take 30 days under the Access to Information Act, but in August Health Canada asked for a 60-day extension. 

Six months after PoliticsWatch's original request and three months after the extension deadline has passed no documents have been received. 

The case is the subject of a complaint with the Information Commissioner's Office. 

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