Hélène Laverdière challenges Conservative lies on Bill C-398

http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1&DocId=6079280#OOB-7962024

 Ms. Hélène Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte-Marie, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak about Bill C-398, which would have reformed Canada's access to medicines regime in order to provide lower-cost medicines to thousands of people around the world with life-threatening illnesses and diseases such as HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.

I spent 18 months consulting all the concerned parties. I spoke with
brand name drug manufacturers who were against the previous bill, but were in
favour of this new bill being referred to committee. I met with a generic drug
maker who has already used Canada's access to medicines regime. He explained to me why the current regime was not working. I also met with representatives of a large network of civil society organizations that supported the bill.

My colleague opposite did not make as much of an effort.

[English]

In fact, it was only in the days before the vote that he spoke to the
brand name pharmaceuticals and he did so only after the same pharmaceuticals had written to us to say that they were ready to see Bill C-398 go to committee. Why? Because the people on the other side of the House did not really care about the bill. They had decided from the start that they were going to oppose it for partisan reasons. If it meant doing away with the truth, they did not care.

Let me give just a few examples.

The Conservatives argued that the bill would weaken the safeguards,
ensuring that medicines would not be not diverted. This is simply false. All the
safeguards adopted by Parliament when it first created CAMR unanimously in 2004 remain. None of them were changed.

They said that it would remove measures to ensure the quality of
medicines being supplied. That is false again. There was absolutely no change to the requirement for Health Canada to review all drugs exported.

The Conservatives argued it would violate Canada's obligation under the
World Trade Organization's treaty on intellectual property rights. Again, that
is not true. Experts have testified that Bill C-398 would be fully compliant with WTO rules.

Then the Conservatives said that it could jeopardize negotiations for a
free trade agreement with Europe. Oops, the E.U. has similar regulations.

[Translation]

In fact, all these so-called arguments are just excuses for the
Conservatives to oppose the bill. That is why they came up with something else every time their arguments were refuted.

When they ran out of solid arguments, the Conservatives started talking
about what the government has done to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa. I suspect that my colleague opposite will do the same in a few moments.

It is good to combat AIDS in Africa, but why could we not also adopt a
measure at no cost to the taxpayer that would get the most out of the money
allocated to humanitarian aid, save lives and even create jobs in Canada?

[English]

A few days before the vote, we actually had enough support for the bill
to go to committee, including from Conservative MPs, but the government decided it would not let this happen. It put partisanship before a life-saving measure. It circulated lies about the bill. It pressured its MPs not to vote for what they believed was right and it ended up disappointing thousands of Canadians. Now the government can wear it.

 

Hon. Mike Lake (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, had the hon. member been at the committee process when it studied a bill almost identical to this one, the independent public servants who testified before that committee refuted just about everything that the hon. member just said.

I am happy to respond to the comments made earlier by the hon. member
for Laurier—Sainte-Marie regarding Bill C-398, An Act to amend the Patent Act (drugs for international humanitarian purposes).

[Translation]

The government is an active international partner and a world leader in
the fight against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Government of Canada has made significant contributions to global mechanisms that have become the main instruments for low- and middle-income countries to procure medicine at lower costs.

[English]

I would like to remind everyone of one significant example. Canada is a
top per capita contributor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and
Malaria, contributing $540 million for 2011 to 2013. The Global Fund is an
international financing mechanism that seeks to disburse funding for programs
that reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in low- and
middle-income countries.

The fund has become one of the most significant mechanisms in the fight
against these diseases, supporting 4.2 million people with HIV/AIDS, treating
9.7 million people with tuberculosis, and distributing 310 million nets to
prevent the spread of malaria. Other major contributions include $149.6 million
to the Global Drug Facility of the Stop TB Partnership; $450 million to the
Africa Health Systems Initiative; and $2.85 billion for maternal, newborn and
child health, providing leadership through the Muskoka Initiative.

This government stands by our commitment to increasing access to
medicines in the developing world. Our approach has yielded results like the
ones I have mentioned. In contrast, the bill would have put us offside our
international trade obligations and would not have resulted in greater exports
to the developing world.

Canada is not a low-cost producer of generic drugs and cannot be
expected to compete against low-cost emerging markets. It is estimated that
India, for instance, supplies 80% of donor-funded antiretrovirals to developing
countries. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization list, over
98% of essential medicines are generic or are not patented in developing
countries.

Bill C-398 would have eroded patent protection, reducing Canada's attractiveness for investment in innovative science that develops new medicines without increasing the supply of Canadian drugs to those in need.

That is why our government will continue to lead global initiatives to
get much needed medicines to those in need and we will continue to do so using the most effective means necessary to actually save lives.

[Translation]

 

Ms. Hélène Laverdière:

Mr. Speaker, it would take me 10 minutes to reply to all of that.

[English]

First, my colleague said that civil servants have testified against
this bill at committee while the bill never went to committee. I am wondering if
he even took time to read the bill, which I doubt.

Then he said that it is outside our trade obligations. The experts who
have participated in WTO negotiations to set up the framework that would permit that said that the bill was completely consistent with WTO obligations.

Then we are told that it would infringe on patent protection and
basically that it would affect brand name pharmaceuticals. The brand name
pharmaceuticals wrote to the leaders of all the main parties in December to say that they had no objection to seeing the bill go to committee.

Really, the Conservatives are so isolated and they are trying to find
arguments that just do not hold water.

 

Hon. Mike Lake:

Mr. Speaker, the experts that I am talking about are the independent public servants who have testified time and again and have said that the bill does do the things that the hon. member says it does not do.

Bill C-398 would not have increased the export of Canadian-made generic drugs to the developing world. The bill ignored the fact that countries are accessing generic medicines from other low-cost producers like Brazil or India. The bill, if implemented, would have been inconsistent with Canada's international obligations and would have weakened Canada's intellectual property regime. That is what the independent experts said.

Our government will continue to focus on what works, and what has been
proven to work is the government's comprehensive approach to helping those in the developing world. This includes maintaining Canada's access to medicines regime and providing financial support to global public health initiatives. We will continue to be a leading contributor to funds like the global fund, the Africa health systems initiative and the global drug facility.

These initiatives, and others like them, have achieved significant
results. Globally more than eight million people living with HIV in low- and
middle-income countries were receiving HIV antiretroviral therapy at the end of 2011. This represents a 25-fold increase from 2002. Progress has also been made for other diseases. Four times as many people are receiving treatments for TB than were in 2000.

We will not stop there. We will continue to lead by example in the
global community to increase the availability of treatment to the world's most
vulnerable.