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  VICTORY FOR BILL C-393 IN HOUSE OF COMMONS; NOW A RACE AGAINST TIME IN SENATE
  17 มีนาคม 2554
 
 


Date: 17 March 2011
Source: CANADIAN HIV/AIDS LEGAL NETWORK

Last week, Bill C-393 - the private member`s bill to fix Canada`s broken Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) - passed its final hurdle in the House of Commons when a large majority of MPs voted in favour at third reading. 

But it must still pass through the Senate in order to become law - and there may be only a few sitting days left to achieve this before a federal election is called.  If Parliament is dissolved for an election before the bill passes through the Senate (and receives Royal Assent), Bill C-393 dies on the Order Paper.  The campaign to pass the bill is therefore continuing and intensifying.

House of Commons: Large majority votes for Bill C-393

Last week`s victory in the House of Commons came at the end of a whirlwind of media coverage and other events on Parliament Hill, including a press conference hosted by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network with the participation of internationally acclaimed musician K`naan, former UN Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, Dr. James Orbinski of Dignitas International and Ms. Fanta Ongoiba of Africans in Partnership Against AIDS.

In addition, dozens of health professionals and scientists sent an open letter to all Parliamentarians calling on them to pass Bill C-393 (see http://www.aidslaw.ca/EN/camr/documents/Health-sci_ltr-ENG.pdf), as did a wide and diverse array of faith leaders from across the country (http://www.aidslaw.ca/EN/camr/documents/FaithLtr_EN.pdf).

At the final vote, 172 MPs voted in favour and 111 against.  This sizable majority exceeded the expectations of activists who have been campaigning for years to fix CAMR.  All MPs from the New Democratic Party (which sponsored the bill) and the Bloc Qu?b?cois supported the bill, and the overwhelming majority of Liberal Party MPs voted in favour (with only 2 voting against).  From the Conservative Party, 26 backbenchers voted for the bill; regrettably, the Conservative government partially whipped its vote, requiring Cabinet Ministers and parliamentary secretaries to vote against the bill.

(To find out how an individual MP voted, see http://bit.ly/dUFjdh.  Note that not every MP was in the House for the vote.)

As reported in a previous update, before Bill C-393 was put to a final vote, the House of Commons also voted:

* to restore the "one-licence solution" - which forms the core of the reforms to streamline the current CAMR; and

* to amend the definition of "pharmaceutical products" that can be exported under CAMR - a definition that is not restricted to a list of specific medicines for specific diseases, but in fact exactly reflects what was already agreed to years ago by Canada and all other countries at the World Trade Organization.

In addition, upon a motion by the Bloc Qu?b?cois, the House of Commons voted to insert a "sunset clause" into the bill which in effect means the reforms to CAMR have been given a 10-year trial period.  After that time, they will become permanent if the House of Commons agrees, following a committee review.  The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and other advocates have opposed any sunset clause on principle, but this clause represents a compromise that should still allow for economies of scale and sufficiently long-term supply arrangements to make it viable for generic pharmaceutical manufacturers and eligible importing countries to make effective use of CAMR.

Race against time in the Senate

Despite Bill C-393`s passage in the House of Commons, it must also now be passed by a majority vote in the Senate - and this must happen before Parliament ends, which seems increasingly likely to happen, possibly within days if the minority Conservative government falls on a non-confidence vote in the House of Commons in response to its budget bill or other controversial matters all arising in the House.

Fortunately, this scenario can be avoided - if there is the political will, the Senate`s procedures easily allow for it to pass Bill C-393 in a matter of days.  The Liberal Party has confirmed publicly that its Senators will support the legislation in the Senate and support dealing with it in a timely fashion.

The key question, therefore, is what Conservative Senators, who constitute a majority in the Senate (unlike the House of Commons), will do.  Already there are expressions of support from some Conservative Senators, but concern remains about what approach the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper will take, given its opposition to the bill to date. 

The bill is currently scheduled for second reading on Monday, March 21st and could be passed by the middle of the week if there is a desire to see this humanitarian initiative become law.  But given the growing prospects of a federal election as early as the end of next week, any delay in dealing with Bill C-393 will very likely mean it dies on the Order Paper.

It should be remembered that, when CAMR was first created in 2004, Senators moved quickly and unanimously to approve a bill with urgent humanitarian objectives that had widespread support in the House of Commons and among the public - all of which are again the case today.

In addition, the current Senate is already very familiar with this legislation.  In 2009, the Banking Committee dealt with a virtually identical bill (Bill S-232) which enjoyed support from a number of Conservative Senators.  The Committee heard from all the expert witnesses it felt necessary and retains a very complete file on the issues involved.  Regrettably, that bill died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued later that same year.

Action needed
In a matter of days, tens of thousands of emails, letters and phone calls have been sent to Conservative and Liberal leaders in the Senate, calling on them to pass Bill C-393 without further delay, to ensure that it can become law before a federal election.  Campaigning is continuing and intensifying in the days ahead to ensure that Senators act quickly.

 

Keywords: Victory / Bill C-393 / Senate