Monday, January 11, 2010

Pharma shrinking, Proroguing the inevitable

For some reason, the Montreal Gazette has a piece from the Windsor Star on the website this morning, and it freaks me out. The headline runs: "Workforce expert predicts future jobs." Which is a little like a meteorologist predicting that the future will have weather.

Apparently she's been waiting for a long time for appointments in offices that contain 5-year-old copies of The Economist; arguing that economic growth will depend on local people training and upgrading their skills. "You can't deny the importance of the knowledge economy," she is quoted as saying. The article also says she offers the pharmaceutical industry as a growth area for job seekers.

Now we'll leave alone the fact that we have more people with university degrees than our economy knows what to do with, and just point out that last year alone, Pfizer cut 19 500 jobs. This is the 2nd time in three years they've topped the pharma charts; in 2007 they cut another 10 000 jobs. This past year, Merck cut another 16 000 jobs; Johnson & Johnson slashed almost 9 000; and AstraZeneca lost about 7 500. Between the top 6 job cuts in the industry, over 63 000 jobs went to the big market in the sky.

The reason for this is that the pharmaceutical industry is scrambling to make money right now. There are no blockbuster drugs waiting for approval from the FDA, no huge breakthroughs that promise huge profits. Without the ability to provide any goods, big pharma is reduced to making money in the way that corporations usually do it: mergers, acquisitions and cuts. This is bad news for the workers, none of whom have the advantageous situation of, say, a GM employee.

All that to say that big pharma is not a growth industry in real terms, and anything decent in "little" pharma is going to get its intellectual property snapped up by one of the big boys, leaving little but empty infrastructure and unemployment in its wake. Not what I would describe as a strong market.

* * *

A couple of words on prorogation.

Proroguing Parliament is nothing new. Everyone has done it, from Sir John A to Jean Chretien. Normally, however, Parliament is prorogued to start a holiday break or to end a session. Harper's prorogations have been special, certainly in the modern Parliament (last 30-40 years).

Last time, Harper prorogued Parliament because he was facing a vote of confidence that he thought he might lose, and that a coalition of opposition parties might form a government. So he asked the Governor-General if he could buy some time while he talked with various parties long enough to let the coalition run its natural course: failure. This was annoying, but it was smart politics.

This time, however, the reasons for prorogation are less clear. There is a scandal before the government regarding Afghan detainees, the Olympic Games in February, and another vote of confidence coming in March (the budget). However, these issues don't seem overwhelming - not while important bills are waiting before the House (the anti-crime legislation that is an integral part of the Conservative platform, for example).

This prorogation comes during a scheduled break from Parliament. This is pretty much unheard of, and extends the break from 39 days to 76 days. It is disingenuous for Harper to say that this is a routine procedure: the only other prorogation that lasted this long since 1968 (as early as I checked) was Chretien's 82-day prorogation in 2003-2004; executed mostly to avoid Sheila Fraser's report on the Sponsorship Scandal and inquiries into military conduct in Somalia. For the Conservatives to criticize Chretien's move while defending Harper is outright hypocrisy.

Which shouldn't surprise me, I suppose. What does surprise me is that something was worth wasting political capital on prorogation. What's waiting in the wings when Parliament resumes in March?


jordin said...

The proroguing is very frustrating. It feels like nothing will ever get done in parliment! I have heard several different opinions as to why it is happening, but really, everyone is guessing.

The Pharma-issue... have you ever seen Braincandy by The Kids in the Hall?

Ian Vitro said...

Years and years ago - maybe 15? Part I remember most is the parade of people throuhg the streets when the dad realizes he's gay. Probably not the part you're referencing...

jordin said...

*lol* no, not the part i am referencing. More the part where the company was cutting funding and the fallout of it. :)