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Travel, drug prices and the RCMP: how federal politics touched us this week

Last Updated May 20, 2017 at 9:20 am ADT

OTTAWA – Last week it was the rush of the bulging Ottawa River that swamped the national capital; this week, it was the unpredictability of the Donald Trump administration.

From news that the U.S. president had shared secret information with Russians to intimidating tweets about the former head of the FBI; from talk of impeachment to pulling the trigger on NAFTA renegotiation, American politics have once again rattled the foundations of Canada’s approach to global security, trade and foreign affairs.

But even as the American political developments hit Canada fast and furious, the week in Canadian politics was more notable for its revelations of lethargy: indefinite delays in reforming the asylum system, delaying the overhaul of the country’s defence policy, trouble in pushing ahead with the inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and no immediate word on the government’s peacekeeping plans.

Still, there were some new measures that will impact the lives of Canadians, especially in the realm of travel, drug prices and how the country’s most prestigious police force treats its people.

Here are three ways politics mattered this week:

TRAVEL

Airline travellers losing sleep for fear of living out the viral video of the United Airlines passenger dragged off the plane last month can now rest easy, at least in Canada.

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau has at last introduced a passenger bill of rights that would, among other things, prohibit airlines from bumping passengers off flights against their will. People who volunteer to leave overbooked flights will have to be compensated. Same goes for those whose bags are lost or damaged.

The bill of rights will also prevent airlines from charging parents extra to sit next to their children under 14.

Garneau’s legislative package also includes new, higher limits for foreign ownership of airlines, as well as requirements to install voice and video recorders in train locomotives — a move that has upset unions who say the cameras are an invasion of privacy.

DRUG PRICES

Health Minister Jane Philpott has announced that she is looking at ways to reduce the way some drugs are priced, and has signalled she intends to make the changes soon.

She says the prices of patented drugs are “unacceptably high” and she is eyeing the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s approach to monitoring prices. The board benchmarks patented drugs in Canada against a basket of other countries, but those countries have some of the highest drug prices in the world, Philpott notes.

She is proposing changes to the basket of countries, and thinking about including a requirement that the board consider ability to pay. Philpott is concerned that the high prices of some patented drugs don’t reflect the value of the drug to patients.

The minister wants to move fairly quickly, with feedback by the end of June and new regulations in place by the end of 2018. The price-control system has not been changed in decades, but the marketplace has changed dramatically, with many high-priced specialty drugs carrying official price tags that don’t reflect some of the lower “confidential” pricing that is granted to some patients.

MOUNTIES

The RCMP’s reputation was pounded a number of times this week, with three separate reports delving into the state of mental health among officers on the force and finding deep, chronic problems requiring radical solutions.

First, the RCMP’s complaints commission found that bullying and harassment within the force are endemic. The commission urged major, structural changes in oversight — since nothing until now has worked very well.

A second report from former auditor general Sheila Fraser looked at how the RCMP handled sexual harassment complaints, and found that the force was more concerned about protecting its name than dealing with the essence of the complaints. Fraser, too, called for reforms.

And on Tuesday, auditor general Michael Ferguson found that the Mounties were not putting enough resources or effort into meeting the police force’s mental health needs. The problems often stemmed from lack of support from supervisors, Ferguson said.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says he has heard the complaints loud and clear, and pledged to approach calls for reforms “in a thorough, thoughtful, careful way.”

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