Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 2, 2021 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

When officials at the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board were brainstorming a while back about how to sell the Trudeau government’s proposed new drug-price regulations, they could hardly contain their contempt for the pharmaceutical companies they counted as adversaries.

“Industry has been sucking Canada for decades,” Tanya Potashnik, the PMPRB’s director of policy and economic analysis, wrote in a late 2019 e-mail to colleagues recently obtained through an Access to Information request by Conservative MP Tom Kmiec.

The e-mail chain and other PMPRB documents posted to social media in recent days by Mr. Kmiec portray a regulatory agency that appears bent on sticking it to Big Pharma and obsessed with discrediting the board’s perceived adversaries, including some patient advocates.

Story continues below advertisement

Why is Justin Trudeau cutting off his nose to spite Big Pharma?

One such advocate was so incensed by what he saw that he wrote last week to MPs on the House of Commons health committee studying the drug-price proposals to express his indignation: “The PMPRB is a quasi-judicial body that needs to be impartial and objective,” wrote Chris MacLeod, chair of the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society. “It is not the voice to be challenging patient groups. Its role is to administer regulations that are developed and promulgated by government, not to undertake lobbying and advocacy strategies.”

With only days to go before the new regulations are to take effect, the battle has reached a climax as opponents of the reforms seek to derail Ottawa’s plan to lower the maximum price that drug companies can charge for new medicines. The pharmaceutical industry and advocacy groups for sufferers of rare diseases warn the new rules will lead to fewer new drug launches and less research and development in this country. Supporters of the reforms accuse the industry of blowing smoke in order to protect juicy profit margins. But is Ottawa really prepared to call Big Pharma’s bluff?

The Trudeau government unveiled the proposed rules in 2019, just as it began laying the groundwork for the national pharmacare program that was part of its election platform that year. Forcing pharmaceutical companies to slash prices for prescription drugs was a critical part of the plan to reduce the tab for pharmacare. But critics accused the government of failing to conduct a thorough analysis of the potential consequences of the new price regulations.

The COVID-19 pandemic drove home their concerns. Burdensome regulations and an unattractive investment climate had already led multinational drug companies to reduce their activities in this country in the two decades leading up to the pandemic. Canada has found itself entirely reliant on COVID-19 vaccines manufactured abroad. And the hostile relationship between Big Pharma and the Trudeau government was one reason Ottawa was in such a weak bargaining position as it negotiated vaccine deliveries early this year. It has taken a lot grovelling since then to change that.

The pandemic led Ottawa to twice defer implementation of the new drug price regulations, which are now slated to take effect on July 1. But the absence from April’s federal budget of any firm commitment to implementing universal pharmacare suggested the Trudeau government was having second thoughts about the new pricing rules. The budget included $2.2-billion in funding to boost Canada’s life-sciences sector, a goal Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne has made a top priority. He has also made it a mission to rebuild bridges with Big Pharma.

Mr. Champagne is from Quebec, whose government has historically relied on the pharmaceutical industry as a major driver of R&D in the province. Quebec’s provincial drug plan has also traditionally favoured brand-name drugs over generics.

The Quebec government has joined Big Pharma in challenging Ottawa’s new rules in court, arguing that the federal government cannot use its power over patent law to regulate drug prices. “Federal jurisdiction over patents cannot be used as a Trojan horse to regulate a particular industry or to interfere with the management of public services under provincial jurisdiction,” the province’s lawyers wrote in a May 14 submission to the Quebec Court of Appeal, where the case is being heard.

Story continues below advertisement

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott also called on Ottawa to back off. “As the pandemic has helped us all identify gaps in Canada’s biomanufacturing sector, we are even more concerned that [the new price regulations] may be at cross purposes with our collective efforts to secure domestic capacity in the face of potential future pandemic threats,” Ms. Elliott wrote in a May 31 letter to Mr. Champagne and federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu, asking them to “consider pausing” the new regulations.

Whatever the outcome of this battle, relations between the pharmaceutical industry and the agency that regulates drug prices will have been sufficiently poisoned to warrant an overhaul at the PMPRB. The credibility of Canada’s public service hinges on the neutrality and professionalism of the bureaucrats in its employ. The folks at the PMPRB obviously never got that memo.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies