Open Letter from Hélène Laverdière on the Defeat of Bill C-398
November 30th, 2012 - 12:57pm
This past Wednesday night, Bill C-398, the Medicines for All bill, was voted down in the House of Commons by seven votes, 148 – 141. It was a very disappointing result after the many years of effort we have all undertaken to reform Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). As you know, one child dies every three seconds in the world for want of quality medicines.
Friends, I want to give you insight into what happened during our campaign, especially in the last few weeks, and what led to Wednesday's result.
As you know, Bill C-398's previous version was sponsored by Paul Dewar and passed in the House of Commons with a healthy majority in March 2011 before dying on the Order Paper in the Senate when the election was called.
After the election, Jack Layton asked me to take over the fight for Medicines for All. I did so with great excitement and hope. We knew that with a Conservative majority, getting this bill through Parliament would be more difficult than the last time, but we also believed that this life-saving legislation was too important not to fight for.
Over the past year and a half, I have met with all stakeholders involved in the issue. I met with brand-name pharmaceutical companies who had been opposed to previous bills. I met with the generic pharmaceutical company who had used CAMR in the past, and who explained to me why it was broken. I met with representatives from a vast grassroots network including the civil society organizations pushing for this bill. I met with my colleagues from other parties in the House of Commons to ask them for their support.
Along with civil society organizations, we hosted information sessions in Ottawa for MPs and Senators. We sent information packages to our Conservative colleagues. We spoke individually to many MPs, reaching out to make sure all members understood the importance of this vital bill.
By last week, we had the support of at least fifteen Conservative MPs, including some newly-elected MPs who, thanks to the work of the Grandmothers in their ridings, were looking forward to voting for the bill.
Last week, Canada's Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies told us they were ready to see Bill C-398 go to Committee – a major step forward. We informed MPs that, with the brand-name and generic pharmaceutical companies on board to take this legislation to Committee, there was no reason to oppose.
Yet this development did not seem to matter to the Conservative leadership. Over the past weeks, I have witnessed disturbing misinformation being repeated by Industry Minister Christian Paradis and his Parliamentary Secretary, MP Mike Lake. Backbench Conservative MPs were sent to deliver three-year-old irrelevant talking points in the House of Commons. And in the days before the vote, it became clear that pressure was being exerted on Conservative MPs who had intended to vote for the bill.
In the end, we lost by seven votes. Eight Conservatives who had supported the bill only a few days earlier did not show up for the vote, or voted against. Only seven Conservatives were brave enough to support Bill C-398. Those MPs deserve our thanks for standing up for what is right. I am grateful that other opposition parties supported the bill, although disappointed that one Bloc MP and four Liberals, including Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau, did not come to the House to vote. It was at this moment that I think of Jack Layton who, in March 2011, rushed to the House of Commons immediately following hip surgery to vote for this bill's predecessor, because he believed it was too important a vote to miss. I am saddened that others did not feel the same urgency.
Friends, I wanted to explain this to you to give a sense of how partisan this House of Commons has become. When I came to Ottawa, I expected that parliamentarians would work on legislation in good faith and based on good information. But this is not what I have witnessed this week. I am dismayed at the cynicism and petty politics that has come from the other side of the House.
There is no excuse for MPs to oppose life-saving legislation that would have cost Canadians nothing. By voting against this bill and spreading misinformation, the Conservatives refused to put partisanship aside for the sake of saving lives. Those who lost this week were the people in developing countries who are afflicted with diseases like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. But I believe the Conservatives also lost, for being unable to stand up for what is right.
Yet we cannot give up hope. The fight to reform CAMR must continue.
I want to thank the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, especially its Executive Director Richard Elliott, who worked tirelessly on this bill. I want to thank the Grandmothers Advocacy Network, who collected over 24,000 signatures in support of the bill in the last months of the campaign, and who worked so hard to meet with MPs to convince them of the importance of the legislation. I want to thank the over 350 Canadian and international civil society organizations, including UNICEF, AQOCI, COCQ-SIDA, ICAD, RESULTS, Médécins Sans Frontières and Dignitas who were so supportive of this legislation. They deserve our thanks and our support.
And I would also like to thank you. Thank you for writing to me to express your support for this bill, and for signing the petition. Your voices have been heard. And to those of you who are disappointed with how your MP voted, please tell them so. All MPs need to be reminded of the urgency of our efforts on affordable medication.
Please know that New Democrats will continue to fight alongside you to reform Canada's Access to Medicines Regime. This is our belief in what is right, and it is our commitment to Canadians and to the world.
MP, Laurier – Ste-Marie