New Democrats broker deal to keep landmark bill alive

Canadians looking for results out of Ottawa have something to celebrate today: a new lease on life for landmark legislation to get cheap medicines into the world’s poorest countries. The seemingly-doomed New Democrat bill was saved today after some assertive outreach across party lines from Industry Critic Brian Masse and Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar.

“We saw proof today that Parliamentarians really can get things done together,” said Masse, who has been championing Bill C-393 for nearly a year. “Six million people die each year in the developing world today from treatable illnesses like TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS. Keeping Bill C-393 alive is our best shot at getting life-saving drugs to these people. This was a good day.”

The private members’ bill was introduced by MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, who went on to retire last April. Although Masse successfully shepherded Bill C-393 through committee, it cannot pass without a formal sponsor — and many feared it would die on the order paper. But NDP House Leader Libby Davies worked in a constructive way and got all parties to agree for Paul Dewar to be recognized as the bill`s new sponsor. Dewar has a slot near the top of Parliament’s order of precedence for private members’ bills. As a result, Bill C-393 could go to a final vote as early as March.

“Nearly 15 million people living with HIV/AIDS need antiviral drugs, but barely five million can afford to get them. I remember the day Canada told the world we’d step up. Canada promised to get those life-saving drugs into the world’s poorest countries. Six long years later, New Democrats are ready to move mountains to finally make this happen,” said Dewar.

Bill C-393 fixes the fatal flaw in Canada’s stalled Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). On paper, CAMR allows generic producers to create low-cost versions of brand-name drugs for developing countries. But due to CAMR’s onerous per-order licensing process, only one drug order has shipped since CAMR launched in 2004. Bill C-393 replaces that process with a “one-license solution” supported by every major player in the international health community.

“Today was a step forward, but there’s still work to get those drugs on their way. We’ve still got Conservatives MPs trying to neutralize Bill C-393 by amending out the one-license solution. Liberal Industry Critic Marc Garneau is still taking their side. Canadians really need to pressure Parliamentarians to pass this bill — without delay and without poison amendments,” said Dewar.