Pharma wars take on American tone

TheStar.com – Ontario
Published On Fri May 14 2010.   By Jim Coyle, Queen’s Park

War is hell. Its first casualty is usually truth. And the pharma wars now raging across Ontario are no exception.

As always in times of conflict, there’s been a blitz of propaganda, the portrayal of hostilities as the Forces of Virtue standing up to the Armies of Evil, and, of course, intriguing dispatches from the front.

There’s a report out of Thunder Bay, for instance, that one woman – questioned by a telephone pollster on her opinion on the province’s proposed pharmacy reforms – found the accent to be more Indiana than India and asked where the call centre from which her interrogator was ringing was located.

Her suspicions were correct. The U.S., she was told. The giveaway had been the caller’s twangy mispronunciation of the premier’s name as Dalton “McGwinty.”

There’s a certain poetic aspect to this, since the campaign by Ontario pharmacists against the Liberal government’s plan to scrap professional allowances has been decidedly American in its nature and aggression.

One denizen of Queen’s Park for more than 30 years said he’s never seen anything like the massively bankrolled attack on backbench Liberal MPPs.

Even some of the pharmacists footing the bill for it – generally not your most war-like folk – must be a little uncomfortable with tactics that make them appear both hysterical and heavy-handed.

It leaves Health Minister Deb Matthews to say sweetly, as she did Thursday, that “while others are putting their energy into a multi-million-dollar, American-style campaign of fear-mongering and misinformation, we are putting our energy into getting lower drug prices for the people of Ontario.”

About two dozen Liberal-held ridings, identified as likely to be hard-fought in the 2011 election, have been bombarded with radio and full-page newspaper ads and glossy pamphlet drops at homes.

It’s an ad budget that Microsoft would probably envy.

YOUR MPP IS CUTTING FRONTLINE HEALTHCARE, the Third-World War typeface screams.

TELL, insert MPP’s name here, TO STOP CUTTING FRONTLINE HEALTHCARE.

How odd it is that the pharmacies apparently don’t have money to hire pharmacy students as interns this summer, but have the coin to underwrite a Bash-the-Government Bus Tour of Ontario for a posse of them.

Word is that independent pharmacies kicked in – $1,000 to $2,000 apiece, depending on who’s telling the story – to fund a war-chest that amounts to about $5 million.

The twist is that after having paid for a run-for-your-lives! ad campaign, polls are then commissioned in these same ridings and, voila!, results are elicited suggesting grave public misgivings about these very Liberal MPPs.

What it amounts to is unbecoming bully-boy intimidation.

But it might be one of those cases in which the sky-is-falling pitch of things – a forecast so rarely fulfilled in the long, astonishing annals of mankind – tends to lessen the campaign’s impact, not increase it.

After all, voters might be inclined to wonder how an initiative supported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Cancer Society, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons can be so wholly, utterly, appallingly an attack on front-line health care?

The further fact is that the threatening, personal nature of the campaign might be inclined to make most MPPs more likely to dig in than to surrender.

No MPP worthy of the job (and most of them are competitive, if nothing else) is likely to sell his or her soul by buckling to this kind of pressure from the well-financed.

At a guess, few also are the voters who, on reflection, would prefer a system of government that makes policy by the temper tantrums of the well-bankrolled rather than the deliberations of the duly elected.

< http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/809103–coyle-pharma-wars-take-on-american-tone >

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