Beyond the Ballot: Sector snapshot Health and Life Sciences
This is part of a series of regional updates by our cross-country team, who are in-jurisdiction experts regarding the on-the-ground dynamic of the Federal Election.
By: Nicole Storeshaw, Consultant
Photograph by Tbel Abuseridze
A recent Ipsos poll identified healthcare as the number one issue for Canadians during this election. Digging a little deeper, the top two health issues of those surveyed were wait times in hospitals and being able to afford prescription medication. It should come as no surprise then that most of the federal parties have tried to address these items, to varying degrees, in their platforms.
In the Liberals’ first term, large elements of their health agenda were focused on drug costs and building toward the potential implementation of national pharmacare. It was expected that pharmacare would dominate the health conversation during this campaign. However, beyond the various parties’ platform commitments, the issue has not received the attention people thought it would.
The Liberals also focused on advancing an ‘Innovation Agenda’ during the last mandate. In stark contrast to the 2015 platform and the last four years, the word ‘innovation’ does not appear once in their 2019 platform. Apart from the Conservative Party of Canada, the other parties have barely mentioned innovation in the life sciences sector.
Despite healthcare being the number one issue for Canadians, there has been very little day-to-day discussion about it, and even less about innovation.
For health, the Liberals have pledged a further $6 billion over four years to:
- Ensure Canadians have access to a family doctor
- Set national standards for access to mental health services
- Continue to improve access to homecare and palliative care
- A “down payment” on implementing national pharmacare, guided by the recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare
The Liberals have provided few details on the pharmacare pledge, with Justin Trudeau simply saying that the program would be designed through negotiations with the provinces. Total cost and implementation timelines have also not been provided. In a pre-writ interview, Trudeau was a little more definitive by saying that pharmacare may not extend across Canada due to “provincial opposition.”
Recall that in February 2019 following the Budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau stated that any national pharmacare program would be “fiscally responsible” and fill in gaps in coverage. More recently, following the release of the Liberal platform the Chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare, Dr. Eric Hoskins, stated that more money will be necessary to implement universal pharmacare. With such conflicting statements being made about this ambitious promise, it is difficult to know what any ultimate program may look like should the Liberals be re-elected.
Traditionally health issues have not been winning issues for the CPC. The party tends to strictly adhere to federal jurisdiction on health and is reluctant to wade into areas of provincial jurisdiction. The specific health-related commitments in the platform include a promise to improve access to medications for rare diseases by implementing a strategy that will encourage more orphan drugs to be developed in and brought to Canada. The strategy will include:
- Improve early detection of rare diseases and evidence-informed care
- Promote innovative research
- Maintain the $500 million per year commitment and work with provinces to ensure Canadians will rare diseases have the access to treatments they need.
Other health-related platform promises include:
- $1.5 billion to be spent in their first term on replacing and purchasing of MRI/CT machines
- Will increase Canada Health Transfer by at least 3% per year
- Expand eligibility for the disability tax credit
- Development of a National Autism Strategy initial investment of $50 million over five years
On the issue of pharmacare, Andrew Scheer has criticized the idea of a universal, single-payer system. He has taken the Liberals to task for implying that there is a possibility that a prospective federal pharmacare plan could replace current employee drug plans.
While not exclusively health-related, but will have an impact on the life sciences industry, the CPC is promising to appoint an expert panel to review Canada’s tax system. This will include a review of Canada’s innovation programs to make recommendations on improving Canada’s competitiveness to attract more jobs and investment. Programs like the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program (SR&ED) will be examined to ensure it supports Canadian companies that provide benefits, profits, and patents. The expert panel will also look at policies to strengthen Canada’s ability to capitalize on things like intellectual property, and improve incentives to encourage more businesses to patent their innovative ideas.
The NDP have long been supporters of a national, universal public pharmacare plan and have pledged to ensure it would be instituted rapidly by 2020 at a cost of $10 billion per year. The NDP also wants to include dental care within the Canada Health Act.
The NDP health platform also includes:
- Launching an investigation into the role drug companies into the roll played in the opioid crisis
- Work with provinces to support overdose prevention sites
- The decriminalization of drugs
- Mental health care available at no cost
- Prevent the sale of blood products
- Regulate natural health products under stand-alone legislation
- Develop national care standards for home- and long-term care
The Green Party proposes to base health transfers on demographics, replacing the current formula based on GDP growth. The Greens support national, public, universal pharmacare, promising $26.7 billion next year for implementation. A Green Party government would also look to create a bulk drug purchasing agency and reduce drug patent protection periods. Similar to the NDP, their platform also promises dental care for low-income Canadians.
Other promises of the Green platform include:
- Include in the Canada Health Act the expansion of mental health and rehabilitation services, and reduction of wait times
- Establish a national mental health strategy and suicide prevention strategy
- Declare a national health emergency on opioids and the decriminalization of drug possession
- Prohibit for-profit blood collection
People’s Party of Canada
While the PPC is not expected to form government, or even win many seats, it is worth noting their healthcare platform in the event they happen to either hold the balance of power or throw their support with other parties in a minority situation.
The PPC strongly believes that the responsibility for healthcare delivery is strictly provincial jurisdiction. As such, their healthcare platform focuses on healthcare funding from Ottawa. This includes:
- Replacing the Canada Health Transfer cash payments with a permanent transfer of tax points of equivalent value to the provinces and territories;
- Establishing a temporary program to compensate poorer provinces whose revenues from the tax will be lower than the transfer payments they used to receive;
- Creating the conditions for provincial and territorial governments to innovate. They will be fully responsible for health care funding and management, and fully accountable to their citizens for the results.