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NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis leaves federal politics

Unfinished business includes AIDS drug bill and HIV vaccine facility study

Judy Wasylycia-Leis

After 13 years in federal politics, NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis has decided that the time has come to resign her seat and move on to new challenges. That challenge just may be a run for the mayor of Winnipeg.

“I’m seriously contemplating a run for the mayor of Winnipeg,” Wasylycia-Leis confirms. “I’ve decided my time on the Hill is over. I’ve done 13 years, very happy and pleased with this privilege I’ve had, and glad I was able to do as much as I’ve done. But it’s time — time to move on.”

Her departure from the Hill leaves a few issues left unfinished, not the least of which is her Private Member’s Bill on Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime. Bill C-393 is currently before the Commons industry committee, awaiting study.

“That’s still going to carry on — it doesn’t stop,” Wasylycia-Leis says. “[NDP MP] Brian Masse will oversee it…. he just simply needs unanimous consent of the House to introduce it in his name as opposed to my name.

That need for unanimous consent could be one way for the bill’s opponents — which include most of the Conservative caucus — to shut it down. She nevertheless hopes that it will maintain enough support to pass.

“We know the desperate need for cheap drugs, whether we’re dealing with HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria, there is a crying need and Canada is not doing its part,” she says. “If this Prime Minister is serious about doing something at the G8 and G20 meetings, this is the place where he can make a commitment where it will make a real difference.”

Wasylycia-Leis has also been engaged in recent weeks on the study of the cancellation of the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative production facility, which resulted in fractious meetings at the Commons health committee.

“We heard such significant testimony about the significance of this whole project and the concerns about its sudden termination — that needs to be reported back [to Parliament],” she says.

Even though the project appears to be dead, it’s unclear what will happen to the $88 million committed to the project. Wasylycia-Leis says it would be shame if the funds were “frittered away” instead of being spent on a made-in-Canada HIV vaccine discovery.

As for her 13 years on the Hill, Wasylycia-Leis counts the many victories on preserving and strengthening health care as her personal highs. Her greatest disappointment is the rollback on women’s equality under the current government.

“I was part of the movement that fought long and hard to get equal pay for work of equal value entrenched in law. To have this government two years ago suddenly decide to roll back the clock, kill pay equity — eliminate the right for women to challenge the fact that they may not be being paid equally under the Human Rights Code — to have that taken away, was such a backward, regressive step. I never thought it would be possible in my life after all the work we did.”

As for her role in Paul Martin’s defeat in the 2006 election, by announcing the contents of a letter sent by the RCMP regarding an investigation into irregularities around the income trust decision, she remains unapologetic.

“It was my job to hold the minister of finance accountable,” she says. “When questions didn’t produce any kind of action or answers, I did what any MP would do, from any political party in those circumstances — write to the oversight body that has some jurisdiction, in this case the RCMP. I did my job.”