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Ottawa keeping its distance as opposition to Ontario drug plan grows

[PoliticsWatch Posted 4:30 p.m. May 18, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Opposition to the Ontario government's new drug plan is growing but federal officials are keeping their distance as the row intensifies.
  
Last month, Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman introduced Bill 102, a new pharmaceutical strategy for the province's drug plan that would make it easier for patients to access lower-cost generic drugs when a brand name drug is available, a so-called "generics first" policy.

The change is aimed at reducing drug costs for the province, but the brand-name drug industry estimates it will cost them $1.5 billion in revenues over the next three years.  

Critics of the plan are charging that Smitherman's plan is going to cost jobs in both Ontario and Canada. 

This week, the Coalition of Ontario Pharmacy, which describes itself as a non-partisan group of pharmacies, pharmacists, patient advocates and health care groups, sent a letter to Smitherman's boss, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, to complain about a recent meeting they had with Ontario's director of the drug system secretariat. 

"During the meeting, your director admitted that the government expects
some pharmacies to close as a consequence of Bill 102," wrote Allan Rajesky of the coalition. "He said that there are currently too many pharmacies in the province."

Concerns about job losses from pharmacists come after the brand name drug industry made similar comments last month. 

In April, Paul Lucas, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline Canada said in a speech in Mississauga, home of Pill Hill where 400 life science companies are located, that Bill 102 would put research and innovation jobs at risk.

"Make no mistake, if the ministry's policy moves forward unchanged, over time, Pill Hill will deteriorate," Lucas said in his speech.

Smitherman later reacted to Lucas' comments saying the drug industry should "tone down their rhetoric."

Meanwhile, the Conservative government in Ottawa is keeping its distance from the opposition to Smitherman's plan and the threats of job losses. 

Industry Minister Maxime Bernier's office would not comment on the matter, saying the Tory government wants to respect the jurisdiction of the provincial governments and the matter is clearly in provincial jurisdiction.

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