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Tories ignore election survey on HIV/AIDS

Liberals, NDP pledge 'stable' AIDS funding

TORIES ARE MISSING IN ACTION. Protestors at a rally in Ottawa this summer slammed the Harper government for its rejection of Vancouver's safe injection site. Credit: xtra.ca files

The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network released the results of its all-party survey on HIV/AIDS Oct 1, but there’s a glaring absence: the Tories didn’t bother filling it out.

“We’re very pleased that four of the five major political parties are taking HIV and AIDS seriously,” says Richard Elliott, executive director of the Legal Network. “It shows they recognize that the federal government has a key role to play in tackling this epidemic at home and abroad.”

But the Conservatives failed to respond to the survey, leaving Canadians in the dark about how they plan to fight AIDS. The Tories have cut AIDS funding since taking power in 2006, and they have even been the target of an activist campaign – Increaseaidsfunding.ca. 

On Oct 1, the Legal Network’s website stated that the NDP had also not responded to the survey, but the advocacy group seemed forgiving and pointed to sections of the NDP platform that support AIDS initiatives. Less than a day later, the Legal Network posted the NDP’s official survey response, a letter dated Sep 29.

One of seven questions in the survey asks parties if they would increase federal AIDS funding to $85 million for 2008-2009, a target set by the federal government in 2004.

In response, the Liberals committed to “to engage in discussions and consultations with the provinces and territories, as well as key stakeholders, concerning options for stable, long-term funding for Canada’s Federal Initiative to Address HIV/AIDS in Canada.”

The NDP promises to “ensure this money is fully restored.” The party’s health critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis has previously called for “additional, stable funding” for Canadian AIDS organizations.

“The debate on federal funding has been held,” says Elliott. “Rather than backsliding, all parties need to keep the original promise of sustained, predictable funding for the education, services and research needed to overcome the epidemic.”

Under the Harper government, funding has declined by 15 percent, says the Legal Network. There have been some recent, small increases in AIDS funding, but they still fall well short of previously promised amounts.

The Legal Network’s survey also asked parties to commit to supporting harm reduction programs, such as Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site. The Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens all agreed to do so and committed to the expansion of such programs. But the Tories have rejected the research that harm reduction works, and they do not include harm reduction as a part of their national drug strategy. Health Minister Tony Clement has appealed a BC Supreme Court’s decision that would keep Insite open.

The failure of the Tories to respond to the survey is in line with the party’s silence on progressive issues. In Ottawa Sep 30, the Conservative candidate failed to attend a local candidates’ debate on queer health issues, where federal AIDS funding was a big concern. The NDP, Liberal and Green candidates all participated. The Tories also skipped a local debate on arts funding.

The Legal Network’s survey also asked parties how they would protect prisoners’ health, funding HIV prevention research and efforts to fight AIDS overseas. To see the full questionnaire along with the party’s responses, check out www.aidslaw.ca/election2008.