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Adrian Dix in Vancouver in 2013.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Other provinces are paying close attention to Ontario's proposed legislation that would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose payments to physicians.

And British Columbia, at least, may soon follow Ontario's lead.

"It's something I was looking at in opposition and it's something we are looking at now," NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix said on Wednesday, adding that the province would consult with Doctors of BC and other interest groups as part of developing potential new legislation on the issue.

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"I'm going to be carefully looking at the Ontario bill. In general, I agree with it and we'll be looking perhaps to develop something similar here," Mr. Dix said.

Mr. Dix – a former opposition health critic before the NDP won a slim minority in B.C.'s May election – was responding to developments in Ontario, where Health Minister Eric Hoskins on Wednesday introduced legislation that would require the medical industry to disclose payments to health-care professionals and organizations.

The bill, which would apply to pharmaceutical and medical-device manufacturers, would cover payments for meals and travel as well as grants. Payments would be published in an online searchable database.

The proposed legislation would make Ontario the first Canadian province or territory to legislate mandatory disclosure of private-sector payments to health professions and comes amid rising awareness and concerns over industry payments to the health sector.

A study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health, for example, found opioid makers paid more than $46-million (U.S.) to doctors in the United States between 2013 and 2015, with one in 12 U.S. physicians receiving payments.

The United States, Australia, Japan and several European countries have "sunshine laws" that require disclosure of payments to physicians and health-care organizations. Canada, however, does not have similar requirements and, to date, the federal government has said only that it "will continue to look at ways to increase openness and transparency for Canadians."

Through a voluntary program, 10 brand-name pharmaceutical companies in Canada disclosed their payments to physicians and health-care organizations this past June. But the companies disclosed aggregate, not specific payments, resulting in complaints that the numbers – more than $48-million (Canadian) last year – were meaningless.

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Quebec said it has no immediate plans to follow Ontario's lead.

"It's not in the cards right now, but it is an interesting step," said Julie White, spokesperson for Quebec Health Minister Gaétan Barrette. "We will be watching what happens in Ontario."

Alberta is taking a similar approach.

"Alberta Health supports efforts to improve transparency in health care, and this is an issue that merits discussion," ministry spokesman Tim Kulak said in an e-mail.

"Though this is not a current policy consideration for us, any changes made in Alberta would start with conversations with our physician partners and professional colleges."

Saskatchewan is also "observing the development in other jurisdictions," a spokeswoman said.

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Ontario's move may force the issue.

"I absolutely think it will put pressure on all other provinces to follow suit," Alan Cassels, a drug researcher at the University of Victoria, said in an e-mail.

"The need for transparency in physician payments is acute and is something I and my colleagues have been speaking and writing about for several decades," Prof. Cassels added.

The Ontario Medical Association said it would review the proposed bill.

"Ontario's doctors are commited to accountability and transparency," said Shawn Whatley, president of the Ontario Medical Association.

"At the same time, we need to know the context ... our big concern is learning more about this [legislation] and to see what the impact would be on patient care," Dr. Whatley added. "So we look forward to a conversation with the province and figuring out how to hammer out the details and and improve patient care."

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With files from Les Perreaux

Investigative reporter Karen Howlett explains the complexities in reporting Canada's opioids crisis. This video is part of The Globe - We Learning Hub.
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