Last October, the Harper government appointed Bernard Prigent to the governing council of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the federal agency that distributes about a billion dollars annually for health research. That appointment was met with near-universal condemnation from medical ethicists, because Prigent is a vice-president of Pfizer Canada, a firm that stands to profit from the decisions made at CIHR.
"There's a structural conflict of interest," explains Jocelyn Downie, the Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at Dalhousie University. "On the one hand, it's [Prigent's] statutory duty to represent the best health interests of Canadians, and on the other hand, as an executive with Pfizer, he's legally bound to promote the profit interests of his company. Those competing interests will not always align, and will sometimes be in conflict."
Prigent's appointment was all the more remarkable because just a month before, Pfizer was fined $2.3 billion in the United States, the largest criminal fine ever assessed in that country, for fraudulently marketing the arthritis drug Bextra for unapproved uses.
Prigent's appointment resulted in an extraordinary review by the parliamentary standing committee on health, but it was not reversed.
But the parliamentary committee did not have a crucial piece of evidence: not only is Prigent a vice president of Pfizer, but he is also a registered lobbyist for Pfizer. That information is only now coming to light, and has never been previously reported. According to the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, the government agency that regulates lobbyists, Prigent's position as Pfizer lobbyist is to sway policy at the "Canadian Institute of Health Researchers (CIHR) and other Research Oriented Spending Programs as it relates to private/public research and development partnerships," and Prigent is to achieve these aims through both oral and written techniques.
In other words, Prigent the Pfizer lobbyist is paid to lobby Prigent the CIHR official.
Federal rules require that lobbyists file monthly reports about "oral and arranged communications relating to a contract regardless of who initiated the communication," but Prigent has not filed such a report.
Prigent did not respond to a request for comment.