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Clement: Federal attack on patents will hurt innovation

Hundreds of global pharmaceutical manufacturers have narrowed their sights on a vaccine or cure, which is a considerable undertaking in terms of cost.

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By speeding up the approval process for any vaccine or drug intended to treat Covid-19, Health Canada has shown that it can be responsive in this pandemic. But, not every decision the federal government has made has been for the better. Especially when it comes to amending the Patent Act and completely sidestepping the patent process in our country, which will have some serious negative externalities. 

In amending this law, the government has given itself the power to override patents for drugs, vaccines and medical equipment allowing for manufacturers to create generic copies of patented drugs, without having to negotiate or settle with the patent owners. Only after the fact will patent holders be compensated, at a rate unilaterally determined by the government.

While “sticking it” to Big Pharma may sound fashionable, it will actually end up hurting more people in the end. Suspending patents via compulsory licensing runs the risk of seriously hindering the innovation process that creates new drugs in the first place. Medical innovation is needed now, more than ever, under the threat of Covid-19, and we must pursue it at any cost. What regulators fail to see in their move is that innovation and intellectual property are intrinsically linked and people would suffer without them both. 

Hundreds of global pharmaceutical manufacturers have narrowed their sights on a vaccine or cure, which is a considerable undertaking in terms of cost. IP rights are what provide incentives for these manufacturers to create innovative treatments and get a return on their investment to create new drugs. Even modest IP protections ensure that manufacturers recover costs, which allows them to continue the process of heavily investing in research and development. That’s something we should encourage, not erase.

An example of a patented medicine saving the lives of hundreds of thousands, without compulsory licensing, can be seen in the vast expansion and availability of Gilead’s Hepatitis C drug. Under a very extensive partnership campaign, Gilead licenses out their drugs to local partner firms in middle and low-income countries, offering the drugs at-cost. What easily clocks in at $100,000 USD is sold for hundreds to ensure that patients have access – all without upending patents.

Outside of innovation, the federal government’s patent retreat may not even work in the first place. Upending intellectual property rights doesn’t all of a sudden mean that newly permitted manufacturers have the knowledge and resources needed to scale up production. A generic manufacturer, as a result of changes to the Patent Act, may have the formula for a drug, but that doesn’t mean they can simply flip a switch and produce that drug at scale. 

Many of these generic manufacturers will not have the proper supply chain infrastructure needed to produce these drugs, and won’t be able to access the active ingredients needed in the face of growing medical export bans. India, one of the world’s largest producers of ingredients for medicines, has already implemented an export ban for 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and products, further compounding supply chain problems for producers of generics. 

In that sense, suspending patents is a lot like giving producers of generics the blueprints without access to the tools, labour, or raw materials needed to turn a building plan into a finished product.

While it may sound good to suspend patents in a pandemic, it should be recognized that doing so runs the risk of severely hindering both present and future innovation, which are so desperately needed. Added to that, examples like Gilead’s partnerships in middle and low-income countries prove that upending patents isn’t required to ensure drug availability. Rather than shredding intellectual property rights and patents to respond to Covid-19, the Canadian government should focus elsewhere.  Easing the regulatory approval process, fast tracking drugs approved by health regulators in other OECD countries, and eliminating tariffs on medical equipment would have more of an impact. 

We all want medical innovation and for Canadians to have access to the care and drugs they need. Let’s not make it more difficult to achieve that with bad public policy. 

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center

Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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Opinion

LETTER: While Trudeau mislabels regular guns “military-style”, he is handing real assault weapons to the police

A reader says that Trudeau is militarizing the police while disarming Canadians.

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RE: Canada’s cops worried Liberal gun ban will hamper training

I enjoyed your article on the gun ban and how it will affect cops. A point of view the CBC would never share.

Perhaps another topic should be brought to the public is this: Although Justin Trudeau said there is no place for these weapons in Canada and Bill Blair said these  weapons have only one purpose – and that is for one soldier to kill another soldier – they gifted more deadly weapons to our local police forces through the Canadian Armed Forces., as was done recently in my hometown of St Thomas, Ontario.

What is the government’s agenda in giving true military assault weapons to the police and banning “military-style” (no legal definition) weapons from civilians. 

John Siberry
St. Thomas, ON

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