Finance Minister faces accusations of conflict-of interest over pharmacare

Finance Minister faces accusations of conflict-of interest over pharmacare
OTTAWA—Finance Minister Bill Morneau is again fending off accusations he is in a “perceived conflict of interest” on a politically sensitive file — the newly-promised national pharmacare program — because of his previous ties to Morneau Shepell, a pension and benefits consulting firm.

After first winning plaudits for Tuesday’s budget announcement that the Liberal government is looking to chart the next steps towards a national drug coverage program, Morneau dialed back expectations on Wednesday .

Despite commissioning former Ontario health minister Eric Hoskins to come up with recommendations, the government is looking towards a “strategy . . . that deals with the gaps and that doesn’t throw out the system we currently have,” said Morneau.

The Canadian Federation of Nurses, Canadian Doctors for Medicare and the Canadian Labour Congress wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanding Morneau be removed from the file.

They said he has already decided it will not be a universal “plan” that covers all workers, merely a “strategy” to fill in the gaps for those who currently don’t have coverage — to the detriment of Canadians, and the benefit of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and, they suggested, Morneau Shepell.

They said it contradicts “overwhelming evidence” on the need for a universal program and undermines the work of Hoskins’ council before it begins.

“It is our hope that insurance industry and pharmaceutical industry interests will not play a role in the implementation of universal public pharmacare,” the letter to Trudeau states.

By Thursday Morneau faced fury in the House of Commons from the New Democrats who say Morneau has “sabotaged” and “vandalized” the plan for universal coverage endorsed at their national convention two weeks ago.

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau said “the dice is already stacked. The Liberals plan to go forward with a means-tested system.”

“Why do the interests of Canadian families take a rear seat to the interests of Morneau Shepell and the super rich?” asked NDP MP Peter Julian.

Morneau dismissed his critics, and shot back it was a “bizarre” question. He took a broader swipe at the NDP and Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, saying if they made policy, “we would have no expertise at all.”

Both Morneau and Health Minister Ginette Pettipas Taylor insisted the government intends to “listen to experts.” The health minister went out of her way to say the Hoskins’ report due in spring of 2019 will bring forward “recommendations” to be considered along with a report expected soon from the Commons health committee that has studied the issue for two years.
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