MP Jati Sidhu speaking at his townhall on Pharmacare in Agassiz Thursday. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer) {Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP Jati Sidhu Pharmacare August 22 2019]

Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon MP talks pharmacare in Agassiz

Jati Sidhu was holding town halls throughout the area on the Liberal’s plan to provide drug coverage

Local MP Jati Sidhu and two of his constituency assistants were ready to talk pharmacare at the Agricultural Hall Thursday (Aug. 22), despite the fact that hardly anyone showed up.

The town hall meeting saw a grand total of three community members attend, including Kent mayor Sylvia Pranger and councillor Duane Post.

According to Sidhu, the goal of the meeting was to begin to gauge his constituents’ thoughts on the Liberal government’s plan to bring the country into a national drug coverage plan, that would see families pay a maximum of $100 a year on prescription drugs. He had held a similar town hall in Abbotsford Wednesday, as well as one in Mission just after the Agassiz meeting.

“My reason today is that I need to be prepared when I go back on the hill in November, hopefully, to know what my constituents want and how they want this to go forward,” Sidhu said during the meeting.

RELATED: Expert panel recommends Canada implement single-payer pharmacare plan

Although the Abbotsford meeting was well-attended, Sidhu said, practically no members of the public came to the Agassiz one, resulting in the meeting being more of a discussion on Sidhu’s support of the project and how it could be financially feasible.

Sidhu spoke at length about the benefits of the plan, the basics of which could be implemented as soon as 2021. The full plan would likely not be realized until 2027, when it would cost the federal government an additional $15.3 billion a year from general revenue.

The basis of the plan, Sidhu said, would see residents paying between $2 and $5 per prescription, to a maximum of $100 a year for families. There would be a narrowed list of covered prescriptions.

The plan would be funded by the federal government, but implemented by the provinces and territories.

“It was the Liberal party that back in the ’60s introduced health care,” he said. “Even at that time, Canadians were very concerned about how we were going to pay for that. Look at today, can we do without it?”

“We are pretty optimistic going forward with this report.”

The first question of the town hall was actually from constituency office manager Seamus Heffernan, who asked Pranger and Post whether they had heard anything from their own constituents about pharmacare concerns.

Pranger’s response: this hasn’t come up at all.

RELATED: Health experts urge federal leaders to commit to national pharmacare

Pranger and Post did have some questions about the plan, largely around the funding for it.

The proposed plan, which is modelled off a pharmacare plan undergoing a pilot project in Ontario, currently estimates a $15.3 billion increase to taxpayers, although Sidhu said they can expect savings of around $13.5 billion. (Employers are expected to save about $750 per employee every year, based on reductions to prescription drug plans, Sidhu said.)

Heffernan said the federal government is expecting an initial cost of around $3.5 billion in 2022 to get it off the ground.

When Pranger asked if any cuts would be expected to help pay for the proposed increase, Sidhu was adamant they wouldn’t.

“No, no, no,” he said. “We don’t believe in cuts by the way.”

Heffernan, speaking after Sidhu, was more cautious with his follow-up answer.

“The short answer is the government hasn’t decided what, if anything, will be changed in terms of general revenue,” he said. “We know in principle we want to go ahead with the pharmacare program, but it’s still very early doors, so to speak.”

Other potential issues with the pharmacare plan were considered, including what would happen in exceptional cases where someone requires a significant amount of expensive drugs, and whether we are doing enough to cover drug costs as it is.

“Our costs for prescription drugs are way cheaper than the United States,” Post said, pointing to the influx of prescription-tourism from parts of the United States to Canada. “What I’m saying is we are already doing much better than the American model.”

RELATED: U.S. to set up plan allowing prescription drugs from Canada

Although the town hall was not a campaign event, some election discussion did make it into the conversation, especially as the topics veered away from pharmacare and towards other election concerns such as immigration and the workforce.

When speaking about immigration, Sidhu said that Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, believe that Canada needs “to close our doors …. Their mindset is totally different.”

Sidhu is running again as the Liberal party candidate in the upcoming federal election for the Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon Riding. Former Conservative candidate Brad Vis is running again in the riding, while John Kidder is running for the Green Party and Nick Csaszar is running with the People’s Party of Canada.

This year’s federal election is set to take place on Oct. 21.

Correction: An earlier verison of this article gave Seamus Heffernan an incorrect name. His name has now been given correctly throughout the article, and we deeply regret the error.

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Three people showed up to MP Jati Sidhu’s Agassiz townhall on Pharmacare Thursday. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

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