Judy Wasylycia-Leis's Bill C-393 on reforming Canada's Access to Medicies Regime (CAMR) passed Second Reading in the House last week. Second Reading means that the bill has passed in principle, but now it moves to committee, were the technical merits of the bill will be debated. I spoke to Wasylycia-Leis after Question Period today.
Q: It passed Second Reading.
A: It passed Second Reading, a major hurdle. It gives us a chance to make the necessary changes, and I’m just very, very pleased because in fact the drug companies basically told me that I couldn’t do it. And we did it. MPs listened to their hearts and their heads, and they agreed that it was important to get this issue to committee and that we needed to honour our commitment to Africa and other nations.
Q: What’s the next big hurdle then? When do committee hearings start, or is it whenever it surfaces from the bottom of the pile on the committee business?
A: It doesn’t necessarily go to the bottom of the pile, because bills take priority over just about everything. I think has a committee has some flexibility in terms of finishing up some business they’re on or government bills, but then Private Members’ Bills should take priority. It goes to Industry Committee, so it means some of us will have to do some subbing so that I can move from Health Committee to Industry Committee, but it should happen in the New Year fairly early on. And clearly, our work is cut out for us. We thought that Big Pharma was organised for this Second Reading vote. They’re going to be putting everything into trying to stop it at committee, so we’re going to have to work harder than ever.
Q: Who’s the critic for Industry?
A: It’s Brian Masse, but I’ll be allowed to sub in.
Q: In terms of witnesses, we’ve heard a lot so far from the Senate committee, so will they just be providing the same documents, or will you be calling them in again? How do you think this process is going to work, because we’ve had these two bills in parallel, which is pretty unusual?
A: It is. I can’t say that for sure yet, but I think that I think that some of the witnesses heard in the Senate will have to be heard again in the House, because they were pretty major voices on the issue on both sides, but I think there might be some new witnesses that we might be considering to call. Now that we know the full breadth of the concerns being raised, we’ll know how to counter some of those arguments and what we’re up against. I think for MPs, the key is not so much whether it’s been heard in the Senate before, but how we can convince them that CAMR actually can work, because that was the major stumbling block when I went around lobbying. People either said, “yeah, it works fine, leave it as it is,” or they say, “It’s never going to work.” So we’ve got to show them that with these changes, it will work and we will be able to live up to our commitments.
Q: I take it we’ll be hearing a lot from the generic manufacturers? Apotex has promised that if this goes through…
A: I think you’re right. I think it’s key that we hear from Apotex, but much more than that. We need to hear from a wide range of generic drug companies that in fact they are prepared to use CAMR with these changes made to carry out our commitments to sub-Saharan Africa and other countries. That’s been one of the question marks in the House – “Well, I don’t hear anybody else clamouring to get onboard.” So we have to actually demonstrate that there is interest, and continue to show that we are not trampling on intellectual property rights whatsoever, and try to put those issues to be. I think the third issue that we’ll have to deal with is the question of alternative models. Some of the Liberals didn’t vote for mine because they say it’s not going to work, and we have to have another approach – and what we have to demonstrate is that this is not the be all and end all. This is one part of the puzzle – we’ve got to do this, but we also have to work on getting money out of CIDA, and getting Bev Oda on board, and getting alternatives into place, but we can’t simply respond on the basis of aid and charity. We’ve got to have mechanisms in place that allow for countries to buy drugs that they need, and to make it affordable for that purpose.
Q: Do you think that Paul Martin’s big plea made a difference in the vote?
A: I think what made the difference was the exposure that the media gave the issue in the last few days, and the way in fact they reminded Liberals that it was their original bill, whether you call it the Chrétien Legacy bill or the Paul Martin CAMR bill, that it was a Liberal proposition and it was absolutely embarrassing for Liberals not to be supporting this initiative. I think that made the difference. I think it was the many, many prominent Canadians who came out strongly in support of this bill, which helped move some Liberals off of their position of either opposition or neutrality. Karen Kane, Stephen Lewis, Paul Martin – all really important spokespersons on this issue.