The provincial government's delay in filing court documents in response to an application filed by the Council of Independent Community Pharmacy Owners (CICPO), is just another example of "arrogance and indifference shown by the elected officials," the council's vice-president Robert Doyle said Friday.
CICPO filed its application, challenging sections of the Newfoundland Pharmacy Act and regulations, in September, but when both sides first appeared in court Sept. 27, the province hadn't filed a response.
Justice Richard LeBlanc set deadlines for the applicant's court documents to be filed by Nov. 17 and the province's by Nov. 24 and set aside a full day in Newfoundland Supreme Court Friday for the hearing.
In court Friday, however, CICPO lawyer Brad Savoury said he would have preferred to proceed with the case, but he had no government documents until Tuesday afternoon. He said he was left with a decision to proceed unprepared or ask for a postponement.
Chief Justice David Orsborn, the presiding judge Friday, set the case over to Feb. 2, 2012, but didn't seem impressed with the province's delay.
Orsborn noted the government had two months to file its documents. "I can't get too excited about that," he said.
Because of the delay, he ordered costs to be assessed, associated with Friday's proceedings, will have to be paid by the provincial government.
Rolf Pritchard, lawyer for the province, said there was a snowstorm on Nov. 24 and there were other complicating factors, including notice having to be given to the federal attorney general.
He also said while CICPO filed its application document in September, he didn't see its affidavit document until Tuesday morning.
The dispute surrounds Section 4(2)(c) of the Pharmacy Act that permits the Pharmacists Association of Newfoundland and Labrador (PANL) to negotiate financial contracts with government on behalf of the independent owners and a recent amendment to the Pharmaceutical Services Administration regulations that extended the notice period from 30 to 120 days to opt out of the provincial drug program.
CICPO is seeking to have both Section 4(2)(c) of the act and Regulation 3 of the Pharmaceutical Services Administration Regulations declared invalid.
It argues that PANL is merely an advocacy association for pharmacists in the province and shouldn't be negotiating commercial contracts with the government on behalf of community pharmacy owners, some of whom are businesspeople in rural or remote locations and are not pharmacists themselves.
The regulation amendment pertains to the government's response to an action by independent pharmacists earlier this year.
With the province not agreeing to negotiate separately with CICPO, council members gave 30 days' notice on June 27 of their intent to withdraw from the province's prescription drug program, which subsidizes drug costs for residents, based on income.
But, on July 25, the province passed legislation increasing the notice to 120 days, while adding other stipulations including written notice to be given to each beneficiary who has received drugs or related products under the program from these pharmacies in the previous 12 months.
Doyle said outside the courtroom Friday CICPO hoped the attitude of elected officials would change once there was a change in the provincial cabinet, but it seems nothing has changed.
"This indifference now appears to be shown by employees or representatives of government again towards the independent pharmacy owners by not complying with the orders of the court and having the information available to us," Doyle said.
"So, unfortunately, because of the late arrival of the information to our lawyer only on Tuesday of this week, it only gave two days to prepare and, unfortunately, we had to ask for a postponement until Feb. 2."
Doyle said about a dozen pharmacy owners from all over the province, even Labrador, travelled to St. John's Friday and were prepared to stay for the full day for the court hearing.
"To us, it's a slap in the face not to have this information timely presented to the court, as was ordered," he said. "If you don't have lawyers obeying the orders of the court in this province, how does that separate us from some Third-World countries where there's dictatorships."
He said the whole focus of why CICPO is in court is to represent the interests of business owners and protect essential health services, both in rural areas and the inner-city areas of the province.