Ottawa – A new poll conducted by Ipsos Reid, and released by the Council of Canadians and the Canadian Health Coalition, shows that what would otherwise be high support for a Canada-European Union free trade deal collapses on the issue of pharmaceutical drug costs, with 69 per cent of Canadians opposing a deal that would lengthen patent protections for brand name drugs.

The two organizations are asking the provinces, whose trade negotiators are in Ottawa this week for another round of Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) talks, to insist on removing patent term extension and related pharmaceutical proposals from the EU trade deal. Failing to do so will not only be expensive for the provinces and the public, it will also frustrate efforts to contain drug costs through co-ordinated bulk purchasing of generics while putting a desperately needed national pharmacare program even further out of reach.

“Canadians recognize the importance of trade to our economy but they are obviously not comfortable with an EU trade deal that risks making prescription drug costs even higher than they already are in Canada,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “It’s hard to understand why CETA, which is supposed to be about competition and open markets, would hand Big Pharma even stronger monopoly rights to pad their wallets with Canadians’ hard-earned money.”

An authoritative 2011 study by Paul Grootendorst (University of Toronto, Faculty of Pharmacy) and Aidan Hollis (University of Calgary, Department of Economics) found that lengthening data exclusivity and patent terms for innovative drugs in Canada, as the EU is proposing, would increase the cost of public and private drug plans in Canada by at least $2.8 billion. The extra costs come from delaying the introduction of cheaper generic drugs by about 3.5 years. Canada’s brand name drug lobby, which represents many European and U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies, claims these new protections in CETA will encourage more investment in new drug research and development in Canada, but there are good reasons not to trust this claim.

“Canada’s so-called ‘research-based’ pharmaceutical companies have all but stopped doing research in Canada,” says Mike McBane, national co-ordinator with the Canadian Health Coalition. “In fact, over half of their gross expenditures on pharmaceutical R&D in Canada were tax subsidies and came indirectly from the public purse. The ‘innovative’ drug industry in Canada spends three times as much on marketing and promotion as it does on R&D. This federal corporate welfare program for Big Pharma must stop, which includes signing deals like CETA. It is being paid for out of our wallets and is draining provincial health budgets.”

Patent term extension and other new monopoly rights in CETA for brand name pharmaceutical companies are among the most controversial aspects of the Canada-EU trade deal, as the Ipsos Reid poll numbers reflect. The Council of Canadians and Canadian Health Coalition hope these numbers embolden the provinces to reject the EU’s proposals as a condition of their ongoing support for the CETA negotiations.

For the survey a sample of 1,008 Canadians from Ipsos’ Canadian online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100% response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what the results would have been had the entire population of adults in Canada been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

For full tabular results of the Ipsos-Reid poll, please visit www.ipsos-na.com.

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Emma Lui - Fraser River

Emma Lui

Emma Lui is an activist, writer and researcher. She is co-founder of the La Pêche Coalition for a Green New Deal and a member of Cooperative Biblioterre, the Ottawa Water Study/Action Group and the...