Friday, November 16, 2007

Conservatives keep their distance from former PM

Not only is this interesting as showing the party "faithful" as avoiding contamination by the former Prime Minister and buddy of Harper--who probably helped him a lot during the last election campaign and since--but also because of the event. Mulroney is being feted for extending drug patent legislation, an extension that put billions in the pockets of the big drug manufacturers and also increased the cost of drugs for all of us. No wonder he is being feted.
I have appended part of another article on the high cost of drugs. In my next post I include an article on evergreeining by which drug companies extended their patents even beyond twenty years keeping out generic drugs even longer.

Friday » November 16 » 2007

Tories lose appetite for dinner with Mulroney
Conservatives keep their distance from former PM

Don Martin
National Post

Friday, November 16, 2007


MONTREAL -- Brian Mulroney huddled with wife, Mila, and a few faithful in a hotel suite on Thursday evening. When the dinner bell rang, the former prime minister shook hands with his "true friends" before heading for his first Quebec appearance as a Conservative outcast.

As featured recipient of the Rx&D Health Research Foundation's Medal of Honour for his former government's 1987 legislation to extend drug patent protection, the Mulroney drawing card had sold out the 500-seat gala weeks ago.

But dozens of empty chairs for the speech reflected his startling reversal of fortunes, now that his business affairs with arms dealer Karlheinz Schreiber are heading for a public inquiry.

At some tables, a third of the chairs weren't taken. Several guests confided to me they were last-minute invitees and didn't really know why they'd been chosen, except to squish a seat cushion.

This is what a boycott looks like when a current prime minister erects a firewall between his government and a former prime minister.

Just one week ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper imposed a government-wide Mulroney isolation order until unproven allegations of a cash-for-planes deal are cleared up.

Ottawa organizers, who had promoted the Mulroney salute as a rare opportunity to mingle with the government caucus, confided that 17 Conservative MPs, including Health Minister Tony Clement's office, had backed out or simply not turned up.

The only Conservative of any parliamentary stripe recognized from the podium was former party bagman Senator David Angus. Mulroney loyalists tried without success to cajole a few words of praise from him for the record, but he looked over at me like I was a drill-armed pain-fetish dentist.

Even Grits seemed squeamish at the thought of being recorded as having shared the same physical space as Mulroney. Former Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon ran for the washroom at the sight of me waving a notebook in the air.

The no-contact rule eliminated all parliamentary support staff who traditionally fill in for busy bosses. Politically sensitive lobbyists or industry reps joined the no-show parade, fearing they'd be caught in a published photo with the guest of honour.

It all smacked of excessive precaution and pettiness. One conference official was upset with Clement for giving the event a pass without a doctor's note. "This is about a billion-dollar health research industry, not a political grudge match," he said.

The Mulroney speech, which opened and closed to a standing ovation, was a defiant display of bravado and vintage blarney. The beaming former prime minister acts like there are only blue skies over a 14-year political afterlife that will be re-examined in microscopic detail for cloudy behaviour.

"I was thinking about the good things about political life," Mulroney said. Pause. Grin. "I had to think hard."

There's no disputing Mulroney's mastery of the microphone, a skill that will undoubtedly surface on the witness stand for the days, if not weeks, he's in front of the inquiry.

That's undoubtedly the queasy optic that convinced Harper to put a barge pole between his cabinet and the former prime minister, even though the allegations come from a story-changing, probable deportee sitting in a Toronto jail.

Insiders insist this family feud will not break the Conservative party into Mulroney and Harper camps. The two factions will be bound together by the "discipline of power" and the pursuit of long-term government control, one cabinet minister told me.

But Harper's no-talk, no-touch edict has infuriated Mulroney, who believes he has been betrayed and found guilty despite the expected presumption of innocence.

In the long run, an internecine showdown between a proud former prime minister and the cautious current one would still seem possible. But if any illustration is needed of how quickly relationships sour (and arguably become restored) in politics, one need only refer to Thursday gala's guide.

There, on the first page, Mulroney was hailed as a "visionary" who had the "courage to adopt sound and visionary public policy" in health research.

"I am proud to say that our government carries on the legacy of prime minister Mulroney," noted this high-profile fan.

The person praising and pledging to follow this Conservative pariah? Why that would be none other than ... former friend Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Copyright © 2007 CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.

This is from this site.
CHA stands for Canadian Health Act services.

The increase in the cost of non-CHA services has become particularly pronounced in the case of prescription drugs whose share of health care costs almost doubled, from 7 percent in 1987 to 12 percent in 2001. The disproportionate rise in prescription drug costs among all items of health care expenditures over the period 1987-2001 alone accounted for about 53 percent of the rise in the share of resources allocated to the health care sector. Since 1997, drug costs (prescription and non-prescriptions) have exceeded expenditures on physicians by a growing margin. In 2003, spending on drugs represented 16.2 per cent of the total health expenditures in the country, up from 9 per cent in 1984.

It is often argued that higher drug costs pay for themselves because they provide hospitals with more effective therapy. However, according to a recent of study of 1035 new drug applications that received approval by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States for the twelve year period from 1989 to 2000, in 85 percent of the cases the new drugs do not provide significant improvement over current therapies. According to the National Institute for Health Care Management, drug manufacturers have capitalized on perverse incentives in new patent laws and advertising regulations to flood the market with new products (known as “evergreening” in the industry). Joel Lexchin tells us that of the 455 new patented drugs introduced into Canada from 1996-2000, only 25 (just over 5%) were major improvements.

Successive Tory and Liberal administrations have rewritten patent laws and regulations extending the period of patent protection and restricting access to lower priced generic drugs. The extension of patent protection was justified on the grounds that we needed to encourage the multinational drug companies to do more of their research and development in Canada. In other words, the cost of higher drugs would be offset by the multinationals’ willingness to increase Canada’s role in the “knowledge” economy. But if these new drugs drive costs up without improving our health or saving resources, this is the equivalent of paying corporations to dig holes and fill them in again.

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