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Poilievre takes aim at Big Pharma, promising a $44-billion lawsuit

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Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre announced on Tuesday that a Conservative government would launch a massive lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies that contributed to the opioid epidemic that has swept across Canada in the last decade.

Speaking from New Westminster, B.C. and surrounded by Canadians who have overcome addictions, Poilievre turned his attention to pharmaceutical companies like Purdue, which manufactures OxyContin, for incorrectly marketing some of their products as “safe” and “non-addictive.”

Citing 33,000 overdose deaths in Canada since 2016, Poilievre blamed pharmaceutical companies for contributing to the overdose crisis for profit. 

Statistics from the Government of Canada place the exact number of overdose deaths at 33,493 from 2016 to 2022, numbers which exclude data from Quebec. Data from the B.C. government lists 11,390 deaths due to “Drug Toxicity” in the province alone from 2016 to 2022. 

“The Trudeau Government has done nothing to hold these powerful pharmaceutical companies, and their consultants like McKinsey, accountable for what they have done, for the misery they reaped, and for the profit that they have made,” said Poilievre. 

The provincial government of British Columbia launched its own lawsuit against Purdue and other pharmaceutical giants in 2018 after accusing them of whitewashing the addictive risks of their products. Poilievre pledged a future Conservative government would join a B.C.-led lawsuit to recover the costs borne by the federal government in response to the opioid crisis. 

Last August, then-B.C. Attorney General David Eby announced that the province had actually reached a $150 million settlement with Purdue, which some critics of Poilievre were quick to point out on Twitter.

Nonetheless, Poilievre promised that if elected, his government would launch a series of lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies amounting to $44 billion in costs related to the opioid crisis, a pledge that drew praise from BC Liberal leader Kevin Falcon.

“We will launch a separate federal lawsuit to recover money that the federal government has had to spend on borders, Indigenous programs, policing, treatment, and other costs associated with this crisis,” says Poilievre. “The people who profited from this misery can be the ones to pay the bill.” 

Poiliever then pivoted to praising the Alberta government’s approach to the opioid crisis, which emphasizes recovery and treatment over the growing use of “safe supply,” which entails distributing alternative drugs produced by pharmaceutical companies to addictive persons. 

The reasoning behind “safe supply” is that addicted persons will be using substances that are free of toxic chemicals that have contributed to the overdose-related death toll. B.C. has made “safe supply” a centrepiece of its response to the opioid epidemic, while the “Alberta Model” has resulted in a $275 million investment in February for treatment and recovery programs across the province. 

“We need to get people off the streets and into treatment so that we can bring them home drug-free, and a Poilievre government will do that,” said Poilievre after praising the “Alberta Model.” 

The Alberta government’s Substance Use Surveillance System, an online database that includes monthly fatal overdoses, has not been updated since October. However, the database until October shows a large decrease in the amount of monthly fatal overdoses between October 2021, and October 2022. 

Once updated to include fatal overdoses from the previous five months, any increases or decreases could alter the Alberta government’s record in reducing drug-related deaths thus far. 

Pharmaceutical companies have been a constant target of Poilievre’s ire in recent months, whom the Conservative leader has called “scumbags.” 

“You favoured policies that flooded our streets with heroin and fentanyl and you tied the hands of our police and prevented them from doing anything about it. You failed to hold the scumbag corporations who brought the drugs to our streets accountable. Companies like McKinsey, Mr. Trudeau,” said Poilievre during a speech in February. 

In 2021, McKinsey reached a USD $600 million settlement with 49 states for contributing to the “turbocharge” of opioid sales across the United States. 

Four ways the Liberals filibustered on election interference this week

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The filibuster has a long record, dating back to Roman times, as a potent weapon in just about every legislative body in human history.

Merriam-Webster dictionary describes the term filibuster as using slow-down tactics “in an attempt to delay or prevent action, especially in a legislative assembly.”

The best way to do this? Talking endlessly. 

One famous example was United States Senator Ted Cruz reading the Dr. Seuss classic Green Eggs & Ham to stall a congressional session in 2013. 

The practice also has a long history on Parliament Hill. Former Conservative MP Tom Lukiwski was famous as the “Wayne Gretzky of parliamentary stall-tactics” for his ability to talk endlessly, ragging the puck at committee hearings with soliloquies as long as six hours.

A new example of filibustering was on full display this week as Liberal MPs deployed the tactic in committee hearings to slow down and stifle debate about reports of Chinese interference in recent Canadian elections.

At the hearing on Tuesday, the Liberals blocked a committee summons for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, to testify about her knowledge of the alleged Chinese interference network.

Due to the minority Parliament, the opposition committee members would have enough votes to pass the motion. Long monologues to run out the clock and procedural pedantry were the Liberals’ only options to prevent Telford from being summoned to a three-hour grilling at the committee.

With no filibustering, the Hub team curated a list of four ways the Liberals attempted to roadblock queries about the alleged interference network.

Lengthy historical lectures

On Tuesday, Greg Fergus, Liberal MP for Hull—Aylmer, engaged in a long monologue about how foreign interference is not a new phenomenon and praised his former colleague Pierre Pettigrew, who has not worked in elected politics since 2006. 

“As you know, (foreign interference) has existed in a variety of forms for years now. You might even say decades,” said Fergus.

Semi-related extended monologues about public transit infrastructure

On Thursday during a hearing about a potential public inquiry into the interference, Ruby Sahota, Liberal MP for Brampton North, launched into a cheerful, extended oration about why the cost of such an inquiry should rule it out.

Comparing the potential cost of a public inquiry to the $14.5 million cost of the infamous Ottawa LRT line, Sahota used up the limited committee time citing dates and statistics about the LRT, often repeating the same thing for effect in between pregnant pauses. 

Closely examine the Harper years

Although opposition parties are keen to get to the bottom of foreign interference during the Trudeau government, the Liberals had other ideas.

Liberal MP Ryan Turnbull chewed up a long stretch of committee time with a history lesson about former prime minister Stephen Harper’s record on foreign interference.

“We know the past government did absolutely nothing on foreign election interference, and that’s a fact. I’ve never heard a Conservative say otherwise,” he said.

Turnbull managed to eat up some minutes off committee time by reading prior exchanges in the House of Commons between Liberal ministers and Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who used to be the Minister for Democratic Reform.

Pouncing on opposition gaffes

Towards the conclusion of the committee session, Conservative MP Michael Cooper addressed Joly: 

“You’ve talked tough with your Beijing counterpart, so you say. You even stared into his eyes. I’m sure he was very intimidated,” said Cooper, with a distinctly sarcastic tone. 

Cooper was then criticized by NDP committee member Rachel Blaney, and Liberal members Jennifer O’Connell and Sherry Romando. It ended up becoming the most prominent story to emerge from the committee session, with Canadians being no closer to having a clear view of how the Chinese government interfered and how the Liberal government responded to it.