If an election is triggered, a bill that would ease access to cheap generic AIDS drugs to the developing world could be collateral damage.
C-393 may have passed the Commons, but it faces a race against time in the Senate as supporters try to pass it before a possible election call.
Procedural delays, however, are keeping it from moving forward. On Monday, March 21, Liberal Senator Sharon Carstairs, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and Progressive Conservative Senator Lowell Murray both urged their colleagues to fasttrack the bill.
Conservative Senator Stephen Greene, however, moved to adjourn debate under his name, something that Carstairs calls a delay tactic.
“Generally in the Senate, you wait for him to speak, but I suspect that what is going to happen this afternoon is that some others are going to stand up and make some interventions,” Carstairs said on March 22. “He will then try to adjourn it again, and I think that is essentially their philosophy – that they’re going to keep adjourning this, at least until we know what the status is going to be with respect to an election campaign.”
Carstairs says that because her identical bill, Bill S-232 in the previous session of Parliament, had six days of committee hearings before it died on the Order Paper with the December 2009 prorogation, it should be moved swiftly.
“It’s not as if the Senate has not seen this bill before,” Carstairs says. “There would be good reason for them to delay the bill if in fact they had never seen before, but they have seen the bill. They have approved in principle before. They’ve had it in committee before, and it’s only, quite frankly, that they are trying to thwart the will of the House of Commons that they are not proceeding with this bill.”
Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth says that she will be supporting the bill and is joining the calls to have it moved ahead quickly.
“This is the best thing Canada could do to support our government’s maternal and child health strategy,” Nancy Ruth says. “It is just too sad to watch grannies weep as they watch their own children die and then care for their own grandchildren without the drugs necessary to keep their families alive. For me, it’s a lot about women.”
Nancy Ruth says there is still uncertainty in the Conservative Senate caucus as to how they will proceed on the bill, but she points to the free vote in the Commons that saw more than two dozen Conservative MPs vote to support it.
Carstairs says this shows that there is clearly support in the Conservative ranks, but there is still a tendency in the Senate of late for the Conservatives to hold whipped votes.
In the meantime, Carstairs plans to use what tools she can to break through the delay. That will likely mean a standing vote on Wednesday, March 23 if Senator Greene attempts to move adjournment again.
“The problem is they have the majority in the Senate, and they can defeat that adjournment refusal, and it will remain adjourned in their name,” Carstairs says. “Beyond that, there are very few levers. The private members’ business in the Senate is not like the private members’ business in the House; it doesn’t come up every so many days. It comes up every day, but it is always the prerogative of the government to take the adjournment of that bill.”
Calls to Senator Greene’s office were not returned.