Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Erin alerts us to the possibility that one of the most appalling aspects of the TILMA might soon be law across Canada with virtually no discussion if we don't make an issue of it:
The most important objection to TILMA is that it allows business to sue provincial and local governments for up to $5 million over laws, regulations and policies that allegedly have negative side-effects on economic activity or investment that happens to cross a provincial border. These challenges are adjudicated behind closed doors by commercial tribunals, rather than through the normal court system.

This sweeping “solution” is rather extreme compared to the supposed “problem” of interprovincial trade barriers. Very few such barriers have been identified and governments have a good track record of resolving them on a case-by-case basis. The Royal Commission on the Economic Union and Development Prospects for Canada estimated that interprovincial barriers cost under 0.05% of GDP in the 1980s and most have since been removed.

After failing to convince any other provinces or territories to join TILMA, its supporters have been implementing it through the back door. In July 2008, Premiers added financial penalties of up to $5 million to the Agreement on Internal Trade, which covers all provinces and territories.
Last month’s decision was to allow business to directly sue governments over public policy. According to the press release:
Ministers agreed to undertake a more effective enforcement mechanism under the Agreement on Internal Trade for disputes brought by “persons” (individuals, businesses and other organizations) against a government. . . . The changes agreed to today include monetary penalties . . . These are largely based on the new process applicable to disputes between governments which was put in place in 2009 [i.e. the fines of up to $5 million announced in July 2008].
The good news is that these changes are still just general proposals. The Committee of Ministers on Internal Trade plans to actually amend the Agreement on Internal Trade at its June 2012 meeting. So, we have a year to stop it.
- And Gary Mason notes that the other major free trade agreement under discussion is getting less scrutiny than it deserves:
(T)here has been little discussion in Canada about the proposed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which is perplexing given the far-reaching implications for this country of any pact with the EU. We’re talking about a trade deal that in many ways is as big as the North American free-trade agreement and, in several instances, poses potential problems for Canadians as serious and disturbing as any in the 1994 accord with the Americans.

For starters, the deal could add nearly $3-billion a year in costs to Canadian drug plans – including $250-million in B.C. and $1.2-billion in Ontario. This is because it would delay our access to cheaper generic drugs by several years.

Among the CETA perks that Europeans are eyeing is the right to bid on government work in Canada – in other words, those contracts tendered by provincial and local governments in Canada that now mostly go to local companies. CETA would end that preferential practice.

Think about that for a moment. And then consider the many local governments across the country that use procurement as a tool to promote economic development. A reported 60 per cent of municipalities in B.C. have economic-development strategies that include local procurement and hiring.
It all seems odd. During the NAFTA talks, Canada had an on-going national debate about the merits of that trade deal. And yet, for a trade pact that some argue is even bigger in scale, there is a deafening silence across the land. Canadians have virtually no idea of what is being negotiated on their behalf. They should. The stakes are enormous.
- Speaking of wasting money on prescription drugs, Alan Cassels points out that it's the part of our health-care system with no public-sector involvement - privately-insured prescription drug coverage - that's seen the worst cost increases:
When you put the private drug plans under the microscope, instead of seeing efficiency and cost effectiveness in prescribing -- compared to public drug plans -- you often find the opposite. A few years ago my colleague Dr. Joel Lexchin and I published an analysis of the top 10 most expensive drugs paid for by private drug plans in Canada and we found that the plans were spending about 25 per cent more than they needed to, compared to a basket of equally effective, but less expensive medications.
In fact, according to a recent study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal if drugs in the same class as Diovan (drugs known as ARBs) had been restricted by drug plans in favour of drugs like Ramipril (a class of drugs known as ACE-Inhibitors) then the Canadian health system would have saved more than $77 million in 2006 without any adverse effects on cardiovascular health.

Your private plan automatically covers drugs like Celebrex, Januvia and Diovan, no questions asked. Me? I'm glad that public drug plans appropriately keep coverage of those drugs limited to only those people who need them.
It's clear what is going on here: employees who get private, and unrestricted drug coverage are facing escalating costs. According to the Canadian Institute of Health Information, private plans are growing at about twice the rate of public drug plans. Private drug plans are often managed by insurers who get paid as a percentage of the cost of the scripts they process, so there is no incentive to seek 'value-for-money' arrangements. In the end, employers absorb those rising costs while denying the workers raises.
- Finally, the Chronicle-Herald slams the Cons' destruction of Canada's census:
(When) you fix problems where none existed, you often create a bigger mess than the illusory one you think you’ve solved.

That, unfortunately, is where last year’s boneheaded decision by the governing federal Conservatives to scrap the long-form census has left the country.
The problem with voluntary surveys, experts explained, was that certain groups, including the poor, the rich, aboriginals and immigrants, tended to avoid filling out such questionnaires when they were not mandatory. As a result, important decisions regarding taxpayers’ money would, in future, have to be made while relying on somewhat skewed data.

The Conservatives, as we know, stubbornly refused to listen.

Now come reports that, as expected, many people asked to fill out the new National Household Survey by Statistics Canada this summer have either chosen not to do so or only partly completed the questionnaire.

This, say experts, will make the resulting data, though still usable, less reliable than information collected for many years using the old long-form census.

The impact of this disastrous decision will unfold slowly but last for many years.

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada is only now examining other alternatives for getting the needed data. That, however, should have been the first step.

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