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AIDS drug bill faces delays

Blame Toyota, as Commons industry committee overloaded with work

Credit: Flickr, CC 2.0 licence, manitou2121 / Pierre Tourigny

Judy Wasylycia-Leis’ bill on amending Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) has passed second reading in the House of Commons, but it won’t be seeing the light of day in committee anytime soon.

Part of the delay is the fact that because Bill C-393 deals with amending the Patent Act, it goes before the Commons industry committee rather than health or foreign affairs. The proposed changes to CAMR would make it easier to get affordable medicines to people in the developing world.

“They’ve got all these studies on Toyota and things, so apparently it’s going to be a couple of months before they get to my bill,” says the NDP’s Wasylycia-Leis.

Adding to the delays are the fact that the parallel bill in the Senate, Bill S-232, died upon prorogation. Unlike in the House of Commons, Senate private members’ bills do not survive prorogation, and there is no mechanism to revive them.

Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs, who had taken on the work of shepherding the bill through the Senate after the retirement of its original author, Yoine Goldstein, has chosen not to reintroduce the bill in the new session of Parliament, choosing instead to focus on the Commons bill.

Senator Carstairs was unavailable for comment.

Liberal industry critic Marc Garneau says that Bill C-393 will be discussed in due time.

“There are a number of motions that were brought up when we came back in March,” Garneau says. “It would have been better if we came back in January. But there’s a requirement within 60 days to look at private members’ bills, and it’s one of the two, so it hasn’t fallen to the bottom of the pile.”

Meanwhile, the committee is dealing with issues like the Toyota recalls and the government’s overriding the CRTC’s decision on Globalive getting a telecomm licence.

For Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, the committee needs to remember what is at stake with the bill.

“Delay costs lives,” Elliott says. “I understand there are other important issues on the industry committee agendas, but I would hope that they would see this as being an important issue given the life-and-death stakes, in actually getting this right. It would be a real embarrassment if things got delayed unreasonably by the committee and that meant that they ended up basically not dealing with this until the fall, particularly given the constant uncertainty in Ottawa about when an election may or may not happen.”

Elliott also rejects the arguments, including from some Liberal MPs, that C-393 shouldn’t pass because Parliament should instead be spending its energy on ensuring that CIDA has adequate resources to help developing countries with HIV and AIDS.

“It’s a false premise and a false dichotomy. We need to be doing both of those things,” Elliott says. CAMR is one part of a more comprehensive solution, and one that can ensure greater competition for generic drug manufacturers that will ultimately bring the prices of these medications down, Elliott says.

“You can have all the doctors and nurses that you want. If they can’t afford to buy the medicines to give to patients, then you’re not actually doing the job that needs to be done.”

“None of these are mutually exclusive — they’re all needed. It’s not a sound argument for not doing something on CAMR.”

For Wasylycia-Leis, it’s now a matter of waiting for her bill’s turn to come up.

“I wish I could say it was happening right away, but unfortunately it’s going to industry committee, which has everything else on its plate, and I’ll take a number,” she says. “I’ll keep on following it, and [NDP industry critic] Brian [Massey] will keep me posted, and he’ll take the lead on this whenever it gets there.”

Dale Smith is Xtra’s federal politics reporter. Read his blog Hill Queeries every weekday.