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Canadians oppose cuts to AIDS funding, says poll

Conservatives ignore questionnaire on AIDS-related issues

A new poll shows that more than 90 percent of Canadians believe the federal government should increase or maintain spending on AIDS programs, say two national advocacy groups.

The poll — conducted Oct 6 and 7 by polling company Angus Reid — was commissioned by the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (CHALN). The results were presented in a press conference on Oct 9.

Monique Doolittle-Romas, the executive director of CAS, said the result showed that Canadians disagree with the cuts in AIDS funding by the Conservative government.

“We have been stunned by the silence surrounding HIV and AIDS in this election,” she said. “Over the past two years $21 million have been reduced or redirected from AIDS funding.”

The poll asked Canadians, “Last year the federal government reduced funding for its strategy to fight AIDS in Canada. Do you think funding should be increased, decreased or remain the same?”

“Ninety-one percent of Canadians indicated they thought funding should be increased or maintained,” said Doolittle-Ramos. “It was true across all demographics and especially in Quebec, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.”

The poll asked 1,005 Canadians from across the country, split evenly between men and women, of different ages, incomes and educational levels. Forty-four percent called for an increase in funding and 47 percent called for funding to remain the same.

Only five percent in Quebec and in Manitoba and Saskatchewan — which were polled as one area — supported decreasing funding. In the Atlantic region it was seven percent, in BC 10 percent, in Ontario 11 percent and in Alberta 15 percent. Fifty-five percent in the Atlantic and 51 percent in Quebec supported increasing funding, the highest levels of support.

Fourteen percent of men called for a decrease in funding while only four percent of women did so. Ten percent of English-speaking respondents called for a decrease while only five percent of French speakers did so.

The poll also asked Canadians for their opinion on dealing with illegal drugs. “Thinking about the federal government’s strategy to deal with illegal drugs, which approach do you personally believe should be the primary focus?”

Fifty-one percent said they supported “addiction treatment services and harm-reduction programs” and 49 percent said they agreed with “more prosecution for drug offences and harsher minimum penalties.”

In Alberta 68 percent wanted harsher sentences, while 59 percent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan agreed. In contrast 63 percent in the Atlantic and 58 percent in BC supported harm reduction.

Alison Symington of CHALN told the press conference the poll shows Canadians want an evidence-based approach to harm reduction.

“I expect our federal government to put ideology and politics aside,” she said. “The Legal Network calls on the government to look at evidence and prioritize harm reduction. The evidence on mandatory minimums is clear. They’re a colossal failure.”

CHALN has also released the responses to a questionnaire on AIDS issues it sent to the five major political parties. The seven questions included queries on reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime, intended to supply affordable AIDS drugs to developing countries; on federal AIDS funding; and on harm-reduction programs.

CHALN received replies from all parties except the Conservatives.

The Liberals and NDP both committed to improving the Access to Medicines Regime, but neither party specified how.

The Green Party committed to increasing funding for the Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada. The Liberals said they “would be willing to engage in discussions and consultations with the provinces and territories, as well as key stakeholders, concerning options for stable, long-term funding.” The NDP said they would restore the funding cut by the Harper government.

All of the four responding parties said they support harm-reduction programs, including establishing needle exchange programs in Canadian prisons.