Critics say threats against bureaucrat are old news
The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, April 21, 2010 4:39PM EDT
TORONTO - A new report about seemingly years old death threats against a bureaucrat leading Ontario's drug system overhaul had critics questioning government tactics Wednesday in the escalating war with pharmacists.
Helen Stevenson, the assistant deputy minister of health, reportedly has a panic button on her desk and has been moved to a secure setting after receiving angry letters, emails and calls. The majority of those threats appear to date back to 2006, which left the Conservatives and New Democrats asking why they've come to light now.
"This is old news that is being brought forward right now to make the pharmacists look bad at a time when the issue is escalating to the point where we don't know where this is going to end," said New Democrat France Gelinas.
"I can't imagine who can win out of this. I really don't know what (the government) is doing."
Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak accused the Liberals of being more interested in "smearing our neighbourhood pharmacists" than coming up with a compromise everyone could agree with.
"I find this entirely unhelpful, and I suggest the premier get back to the bargaining table and find a way to reduce costs without closing down our neighbourhood pharmacies," he said.
The government has been fighting with pharmacists since announcing two weeks ago that it planned to eliminate so-called professional allowances -- fees paid to pharmacists by generic drug companies to stock their product. It's a move they claim will cut the price of generic drugs by at least 50 per cent, knocking millions off the cost to the province's public drug plan for seniors and others.
Pharmacists argue the changes could drive smaller pharmacies out of business and force others to cut hours and reduce services.
Dean Miller of the Ontario Pharmacists' Association said the issue of threats against Stevenson first came up about five years ago.
"I haven't heard much other than Ms. Stevenson talk about it since then," Miller said.
"Who knows if it's even a pharmacist. We're an honourable profession. I would go out on a limb and say that it would be very uncharacteristic for a pharmacist to ever take that sort of action."
A newspaper report said the threats against Stevenson date back to 2006, when changes to the drug program were first proposed.
Stevenson wasn't available for comment Wednesday, but a government source said the threats have come at various times since 2006, including over the past week or so.
Premier Dalton McGuinty expressed disappointment over threats, but said he wasn't aware of any cabinet members or other elected officials being targeted by such intimidation tactics.
"I can understand why it becomes heated but obviously anything that smacks of a threat is completely unacceptable," McGuinty said.
It would be a mistake to interpret Stevenson's situation as representative of what's happening in the overall debate with pharmacists, he added.
Health Minister Deb Matthews declined to speak about the threats against Stevenson, which she believed preceded the current changes, or to discuss whether she'd received any herself.
"Occasionally when you're a person in a pretty public role you get some unsettling correspondence or unsettling comments made," Matthews said.
"But I'm not worried about myself."