The meeting in Fredericton was planned to be conducted without Federal Health Minister Tony Clement. The federal Conservatives, reluctant to give any more than what was agreed upon two years ago, is giving no indication of help to pay for the initiative.
According to Robin Walsh, a spokesman for Mr. Clement, the meeting is for the provinces and territories "and the minister will be joining for part of it by teleconference."
Manitoba Health Minister Tim Sale said, "We're a little disappointed that Minister Clement has chosen not to come, he agreed to this meeting in Toronto when we met in May."
In September of 2004, the premiers and Paul Martin, the then Liberal prime minister, agreed to a deal that would transfer an additional $41-billion to the provinces over 10 years. As part of that accord, the first ministers established a national task force that was charged with developing and implementing a national pharmaceuticals strategy.
The task force was told to report on June 30 of this year. They were asked to look at several issues, including finding ways to accelerate the approval of breakthrough drugs, the development of a common list of medications covered in all jurisdictions, strengthening the evaluation of pharmaceutical safety and effectiveness, and obtaining the best prices.
Their primary goal was to ensure that all Canadians have coverage for catastrophic drugs which are certain expensive medications that could create financial hardship. While most provinces have found ways to pay those costs, the Atlantic jurisdictions have not.
While the deadline for the task force report passed last Friday, the provincial health ministers have finally agreed to meet to get it approved.
However as Mr. Sale said, 'We have worked very hard to have the report ready. But the federal minister decided, at a relatively late date, that this was not a priority for him to show up at this meeting. Which I think a lot of us are feeling badly about because we need the federal government as a partner.'
According to New Brunswick Health Minister Brad no national pharmaceutical strategy will be successful unless the federal government is a financial partner.
George Abbott, the British Columbia Health Minister, said, 'We have a very good pharmacare program but, like many other areas of health delivery, it is a remarkably expensive and demanding area of public policy.'
'And I do hope that we can get some federal participation in all the areas of national pharmaceutical strategy.'
While Mr. Walsh only mentioned that the progress report to be discussed today "is a joint report of federal, provincial and territorial health ministers to update the first ministers, he did not directly address whether Mr. Clement was willing to help finance a pan-Canadian drug strategy. He said, 'The minister will review it and consider the recommendations.'
But Michael McBane, National Co-ordinator of the Canadian Health Coalition, a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of the public-health system, said the lack of commitment is causing much concern at provincial levels.