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Shakespeare wins, English loses

Alan Pickersgill, The View from Here

When you see a headline like this, you are forced to step back and examine it. How can it be true?

Rest assured that it is. I wouldn’t make things up, or lie to you. Unless it is on April 1. There won’t be another one of those on a Thursday until 2021. By that time we might have a new downtown library to occupy my mind. Be that as it may, snappy headlines and concise news bytes are designed to grab your attention. They don’t tell the full story, but require you to dig in and find the facts.

Take the fuss created by last week’s announced changes to the prescription drug system. The provincial government, to its credit, is trying to bring the cost down. They say health care spending takes up 46 per cent of the provincial budget. Around $3.8 billion of that is spent on public drug programs.

By lowering the cost of generic drugs, they figure they will shave about $500 million from this.

Lowering these costs is meeting opposition from drug manufacturers and drug retailers. Shoppers Drug Mart is leading the charge. Others are following along, but Shoppers is the biggest. They say the changes will cost them so much money they will have to close stores, lay off staff and cut services. They might do it, but don’t believe for a minute that they have to. This is the company that builds big box stores. They put one on Willow and closed the store in the mall across the street. They have a huge one by Clair Road and another on Scottsdale. They’re building one on Eramosa as we speak.

Go to their website and look for the link to investor relations. That’s where you’ll find this statement: “With fiscal 2009 sales of $10.0 billion, the Company is the leading player in Canada’s retail drugstore marketplace and is the number one provider of pharmacy products and services.” The money being taken out of the system is petty cash in the Shoppers empire. When they say they are losing money, they are not telling you the full story. The truth is that they might not make as much as they did last year, or as much as they want to. Could part of their rage result from something revealed in Adam Radwanski’s column in the March 26 Globe and Mail? He says Shoppers is “contemplating starting its own generics line.”

Novopharm is the largest manufacturer of generic drugs in Canada. Shoppers had plans to open its own competing facility. The stakes get much higher in November 2011 when Lipitor, the world’s best selling cholesterol pill, comes off patent protection. Shoppers doesn’t just want to sell Lipitor’s generic replacement. It wants to make it as well. Look behind the headlines and you’ll see why it is holding customers hostage while it battles the government. It is not fighting to protect your right to affordable medication. It is defending its own right to make sickening profits. Think about that when you find yourself standing in line at an understaffed prescription counter.

What about that other startling fact of the day? How can English lose when Shakespeare wins? The Australian Scrabble Championship was held in Adelaide from April 3 to 5. In the ninth round, Rex Shakespeare beat Nonie English 361:347. Neither placed very well in the overall results, though. Shakespeare ended at 62nd and English at 91st out of a field of 94.

The highest scoring word of the tournament was CONVENTS, played by Dianne Brumby for 176 points.

Some of us are lucky to get that many in a game.

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