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U.S. farmers’ group says pharma, not dairy, is main obstacle to ratifying USMCA

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OTTAWA — A leading U.S. farmers’ organization says it wants the new North American trade agreement renegotiated to fix a major flaw — one that has nothing do with Canada’s much-attacked supply-management system for dairy.

The National Farmers Union says the new deal’s extended patent protection for new pharmaceuticals must be reduced so that less expensive generic versions of new drugs can be available to consumers sooner.

Patty Edelberg, the vice-president of the Washington-based group, says American farm families that face growing stress and shrinking markets need better access to affordable health care — which includes pharmaceuticals — than a greater slice of Canada’s protected dairy market.

Opening up access to Canada’s supply-managed dairy market was a major U.S. priority during the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was punctuated by fierce criticism from President Donald Trump that Canadian farmers were hurting their American counterparts with unfair practices.

Republicans are pushing hard on Capitol Hill this week, urging the Democrats to introduce a ratification bill for the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement in the House of Representatives, the lower house of U.S. Congress the Democratic party controls.

Before doing that, the Democrats want changes to the USMCA, including the new intellectual-property protections for pharmaceuticals as well as stronger labour and environment provisions, and that push is also supported by the farmers’ union.

Other farm groups, as well as politicians from milk-producing states, are also pushing the Democrats to move forward with USMCA.

Neither Canada nor the U.S. has ratified the new deal with votes in Parliament or Congress. Congress returned from its summer recess this week and the Canadian federal election campaign begins officially on Wednesday, meaning Parliament can’t sit until some time after Oct. 21.

The Liberal government has said it won’t renegotiate the new deal, considering it closed, but Edelberg echoed the Democratic line that changes will have to be made, especially in the patent-protection provisions for medicines, before the farmers’ group is willing to endorse the new deal.

“Without access to quality health care, and prescription drugs is a huge part of that, it’s a tough sell for farmers,” Edelberg said in an interview Tuesday.

“We have to go back to the negotiating table,” she added. “Why is pharma in a trade deal? It’s never been there before. It didn’t come from Canada; it didn’t come from Mexico. It came from our own big pharma industry here in the U.S. and once it’s in a trade deal it’s never coming out.”

Canadian dairy farmers also don’t like the deal, known north of the border as the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement, and are critical of the increased access that it allows for American products.

“If ratified as is, CUSMA will concede an additional four per cent of our dairy production for U.S. dairy farmers to supply the Canadian market while limiting our ability to export our own dairy products,” Jacques Lefebvre, the chief executive of Dairy Farmers of Canada, said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“In addition, the agreement includes the elimination of competitive dairy classes. The federal government has said that it is committed to having a thriving dairy industry, yet CUSMA creates significant challenges for our sector.”

Edelberg said the increased U.S. access to the Canadian market is essentially negligible and won’t solve the problems that farmers in her country now face.

“Your dairy industry is a 10th of the size of our dairy industry,” she said.

“The only thing that we’re going to be doing by increasing our dairy exports to Canada is ruining your system of supply management … and us messing up your dairy industry isn’t helpful for the little bit it’s going to help ours.”

Quite simply, U.S. farmers produce more milk than they can sell, and unless they can find a way to drive up more demand domestically, the number of smaller family farms will continue to shrink while production is consolidated among larger factory farms, said Edelberg.

“I don’t think there’s going to be enough dairy traded between our two countries to save the U.S. dairy industry. We make and produce way too much milk in this country to be able to rely on a country the size of Canada to fix our dairy program.”

Farmers are a key constituency for Trump and persuading the Democrats to introduce a USMCA ratification bill is important for his own fortunes as he seeks re-election next year. It would give him a win on trade as he pursues a globally disruptive trade war with China.

Trump’s senior economic adviser, Peter Navarro, said Tuesday he’s “100-per-cent” confident the House of Representatives will ratify the new deal by the end of the year, and that its Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the country’s most senior Democrat, will do the right thing and introduce the bill.

“We hope to get this done in the next 30 to 60 days and today is going to be an important day talking to the people of America so that they can encourage their representatives to do the people’s business when they get back to Washington,” Navarro said on MSNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. For most of its history, The Canadian Press has been a private, not-for-profit cooperative, owned and operated by its member newspapers. In mid-2010, however, it announced plans to become a for-profit business owned by three media companies once certain conditions are met.

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‘The pain didn’t stop:’ Study looking into slow concussion recovery in youth

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CALGARY — Kailey Lang mostly remembers the blinding headaches after a carefree trip down a waterslide at West Edmonton Mall in March left her with a concussion.

The 14-year-old from Calgary was making her second trip down the giant slide when something happened.

“It kind of went around in a loop and shot you out of the bottom. When I came out, I had this throbbing, kind of pounding pain in my head and I felt a little dizzy at first. And then the pain didn’t stop for a while,” Kailey says.

“I don’t really remember hitting my head at all.”

There was no quick recovery for Kailey, who was plagued with symptoms after she got home.

“I started to get the headaches almost daily for a few weeks. And then I started taking this medication for seizures and then the really, really extreme headaches went away.”

Kailey missed a full three weeks of school and gradually returned to class. Even then, she wasn’t allowed to participate in physical activity, says her mother, Jill Beaton.

“When she talks about her pain, it was excruciating — it was 8 or 9 out of 10. We had multiple hospital visits.

“It wasn’t until we actually went to the children’s hospital that, instead of just being sent home with regular concussion protocol, they started saying, ‘OK, there’s something going on.'”

Kailey is part of a clinical trial by Dr. Michael Esser, a pediatric neurologist who has seen plenty of concussions at the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

He’s trying to determine why some patients who get hurt while playing sports or falling off their bikes get better right away, while others have symptoms that hang on beyond the normal recovery period.

“Kids will come in with almost exactly the same stories,” Esser says.

“One will not get better or suffer longer. And the others basically come in because they were told to, but they have no symptoms.”

Esser hopes the study’s results will lead to better treatment.

Part of the study relies on a technology that uses brain waves to study brain function changes after children are injured.

“It’s pretty sensitive in picking up when kids’ brains don’t appear to be working or they’re complaining of feeling foggy-headed or have difficulty focusing and they may have a headache,” Esser explains.

The 100 participants wear a device that looks like a swimming cap on their heads and listen to tones and words.

“The speed or the size of the waves tells us if those are normal … or if they don’t seem to be what we would expect them to be, and if that could be related to your symptoms,” he says.

“The hope is that it will actually help to tailor therapies when we’re trying to get them to recover.”

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy in Surrey, B.C., who helped develop the technology, says the brain remains a medical mystery.

“My favourite question when I’m in front of audiences is: ‘Do you know how your brain is doing today?’

“Our mission has really been around the idea that for all brain conditions — for children, for adults, for seniors, for dementia, for concussions … you need a vital sign, so we got to work and invented one.”

The National Ambulatory Care Reporting System says that between 2016 and 2017 about 46,000 concussions were diagnosed in children five to 19 years old in hospital emergency departments across Canada.

Concerns about pediatric concussions recently prompted the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to issue a guideline for diagnosis and management.

“Prior recommendations used to demand that children simply rest, which was often misinterpreted as home jail,” Dr. Nick Reed with Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto said in a release.

“We now know that to improve recovery, it is important that children remain physically active and engaged in school as they recover from concussion, while ensuring their activities remain as safe as possible.”

The release said there are at least 35,000 pediatric hospital visits related to concussions each year in Ontario.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press



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Premier Doug Ford filmed Ontario News Now videos at least 100 times

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TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford took time out of his work days to film taxpayer-funded videos that have been criticized as partisan propaganda on at least 100 occasions during his first year in power.

A Canadian Press analysis of a year’s worth of Ontario News Now videos found that Ford filmed with them on close to a third of the days in his first year as premier.

The premier’s office said he usually spends less than five minutes at a time on ONN filming and defended the use of time and did not dispute the estimate.

“Ontario News Now is a creative way to communicate the government’s message in the modern, digital world — no different than a video press release or a digital householder,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.

One of the differences, said NDP critic Taras Natyshak, is that Ontario News Now styles itself as journalism. The spots are formatted like a TV news report, with a woman posing as a reporter interviewing the premier and cabinet ministers.

“Delivering your message on policy will always be an exercise that parliamentarians embark on and it’s an important way to communicate through all facets,” Natyshak said in an interview.

“However, trying to make it seem like this has the aspect of journalism and that he’s being questioned by a legitimate journalist, sort of, is disingenuous. He’s not receiving the hard questions that true media outlets would give him, given the opportunity.”

In Ford’s first year he held formal media availabilities, in which he takes a variety of questions from reporters, about two dozen times. He also did a handful of one-on-one interviews and called into talk radio on several occasions.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said it is a “shocking” amount of time for the premier to spend on his “personal propaganda network.”

“Rather than filming partisan videos disguised as independent media, the premier could have spent this time speaking with students, educators, and municipalities affected by his cuts,” Schreiner said in a statement. “I suggest the premier spend less time in the ONN echo chamber and more time listening to the people being hurt by his cuts.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford “should be spending his time answering the tough questions from the media rather than filming vanity spots on his own private news network.”

Ford has previously said that mainstream journalists have become irrelevant because he is “circumventing the media through our social media.”

Ontario News Now is produced and funded through PC caucus services. All recognized parties in the legislature — currently just the Tories and the NDP — get caucus service budgets for research, communications and associated staff. The total earmarked for the parties for 2018-19, the latest figures available, was $13.7 million.

“As leader of the PC caucus, the premier is responsible for helping to get our government’s message out through new and engaging content,” Yelich said.

Peter Graefe, an associate professor of political science at McMaster University, said the videos are probably not a good use of the premier’s time, but it also isn’t clear that they are helping the government — rather they may just be fostering cynicism.

It is important for all governments to communicate with citizens, he said, but there is a line between information and partisan self-promotion.

“Normally, you would expect communications to be not through the government caucuses,” he said.

The videos are not subject to government advertising rules that the auditor general oversees.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for the rules to be changed so that public money for caucus services cannot be spent on partisan advertising.

Interim Ontario director of the CTF, Jasmine Pickel, said Ford should also restore oversight powers of the auditor general.

The former Liberal government changed the criteria for what is deemed partisan advertising, and the auditor general has complained that doing so reduced her office to a rubber stamp and removed her discretion to veto ads as partisan.

The Progressive Conservatives frequently slammed the Liberals over government advertising that they said was partisan and promised during last year’s election to restore the auditor general’s powers.

But they now won’t commit to keeping that promise, only to review it.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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