Fired drug researchers press for answers

Premier Christy Clark says public inquiry too long and expensive, looking for way to get answers on botched investigation

Premier Christy Clark

VICTORIA – Premier Christy Clark says an independent inquiry into the firing of eight health ministry contractors may be too long and costly, but the public deserves answers in the long-running controversy “in a very timely and cost-effective way.”

The B.C. Liberal government has been on the defensive since the abrupt dismissal in 2012 of university researchers assessing drugs for eligibility under the province’s Pharmacare program. One fired contractor committed suicide, another is suing the government for wrongful dismissal and the remainder have been paid settlements and reinstated.

An independent review by labour lawyer Marcia McNeil last year failed to determine who made key decisions and why. McNeil said restricted terms of her review and a lack of documents showing the sequence of decisions left her unable to determine accountability.

The health ministry initially said a confidential database of B.C. patients who had taken various drugs had been misused, and some of the researchers appeared to have conflicts of interest.

After Clark downplayed the suggestion of a public inquiry in Vancouver this week, NDP leader John Horgan said her actions indicate the government has something to hide.

“We need to be able to compel testimony,” Horgan said. “We need to ensure that we’re protecting those public servants who might have something to say about this process.”

The affected employees released an open letter to Health Minister Terry Lake this week, calling for an inquiry that covers the legal costs of everyone affected. They said the program to assess the safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs has saved B.C. more than $100 million over the past 20 years.

Horgan said the opposition will continue its campaign for answers when the B.C. legislature convenes July 13 to consider a development agreement for a liquefied natural gas export facility at Prince Rupert.

 

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