Conservative senators were issued a memo from Industry Minister Tony Clement urging them to vote against Bill C-393, which would make it easier for Canadian companies to ship cheap generic AIDS drugs to the developing world.
“Senator Larry Smith had the opportunity to meet with pharmaceutical industry leaders in the Montreal area, all are against bill C-393 as it is extremely damaging to our ability to motivate companies to patent new drugs in Canada,” the memo from Smith’s assistant, Nichole Beck, reads. “Many jobs in Canada’s research and development sector stand to be lost as a result of this bill.”
The memo then listed reasons that C-393 should be defeated, according to Clement. Conservative Senator Nancy Ruth, who supports C-393, has confirmed that the memo was sent to all Conservative senators and added that many of the pharmaceutical companies are in the riding that Smith plans to run in during the next election.
Conservative Senator Stephen Greene, who has been the de facto government critic on the bill, quoted many of those points verbatim in debate on Wednesday
“Senator Greene’s remarks have repeated a number of falsehoods that we’ve heard over and over again, and that he and other senators must know by now are simply inaccurate,” says Richard Elliott, executive director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
Debate was then adjourned after the Conservatives announced that Smith wanted to speak to it but was absent from the chamber. Liberal senators forced a vote to keep the debate going, but that vote was defeated 44–36.
“[Smith] was, conveniently, in the chamber not too long before but was then all of a sudden absent,” says Elliott, who was observing the Senate proceedings all afternoon.
Word had been given Wednesday afternoon that the bill would be allowed to pass second reading, only to be sent to the Social Affairs committee, despite the fact that its predecessor, S-232, had been studied in depth by the Banking, Trade and Commerce committee.
At a press conference Wednesday morning
, Nancy Ruth fingered the Conservative leadership in the Senate as the source of the delays – Government Leader in the Senate Marjory LeBreton, deputy leader Gerald Comeau and whip Consiglio Di Nino.
Because the Senate plans to sit this Friday to pass as many bills as possible before the writ drops for an election, it is still possible that C-393 will pass if political will on the government side can be motivated.
Should it pass second reading Thursday afternoon, the committee could deliberate on C-393’s merits either that evening or Friday morning, in time to return it to the main chamber for a third-reading vote before the Senate rises.
“It is also entirely open to the Senate this afternoon to say fine, we can dispense with the committee stage and just move right to third reading, so they don’t even need to send it to committee,” Elliott says.
“It’s all about whether the Conservatives are willing to let this go through or not – that is really the only question at this point. If they say yes, it will happen right away – as long as they keep saying no, the chances of it become ever slimmer with each passing hour.”
By linking Senator Smith with Montreal pharma companies, the memo may reveal some of the motivation behind Smith’s opposition to C-393. Smith has previously announced his intention to resign his Senate seat to run in the next election in the Montreal-area riding of Lac Saint Louis.