House of Commons Hansard #153 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was parties.

Topics

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Speaker

Resuming debate. The member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques has 15 minutes left.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for giving me the floor back after that rather archaic interlude. We are led to the other place for the royal assent. It is always surprising for those who are elected by the public to take a second seat to those who are not.

I will conclude briefly. I will not use all my time. I think it important this afternoon that we complete if at all possible consideration of this bill at second reading.

This bill will make it possible to make drugs available to the countries most in need of them. The legislation we must analyze is complex. I wish that we could go to committee as soon as possible and that, based on that work, we could pass the bill and implement the relevant mechanisms. This would allow people in countries with the greatest development and financial difficulties to have access to quality drugs.

I think that, in this year of the war in Iraq, it would be very nice to conclude with something tangible like this. Let us hope that we can pass the bill as soon as possible, after studying it, so that we will have legislation that is workable, that will not be challenged in the courts and that will allow people to have access to these drugs.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in what is probably the last day in the current session to speak to an extremely important bill.

During our life as parliamentarians, we often make mountains out of mole hills even though there are no mole hills in this dignified House. But here we are dealing with an extremely important bill in the dying days of a session.

Regrettably Bill C-56 was put forward at the very last minute. It could already have been reviewed in committee and disposed of, sent to the other place where it could have been reviewed, amended if necessary, and passed.

A political agenda has taken over a humanitarian agenda. This is what is going on here. For the past few days, even weeks, various opposition parties, several government members and some ministers also, I hope, various stakeholders in Bill C-56, including brand name drug companies and generic name drug companies, as well as humanitarian and community groups involved in this issue have been urging the government to go ahead.

As a matter of fact, the office of the Minister of Industry had invited members to a briefing session on the bill, but it was postponed and was only held this week. It makes one wonder.

This week, the Prime Minister answered a planted question on Bill C-57, reading a prepared text saying that it was a priority. We might stop sitting very soon. Yesterday, the government House leader, before leaving for a warmer climate as a result of an appointment, said good bye to parliamentarians although Bill C-56 has not passed yet. Once again, the partisan agenda has taken over the humanitarian agenda.

For several weeks now the government has tried to blame the drug industry as well as the opposition parties, including the Progressive Conservative Party, the sponsor of the Drug Patent Act, accusing them of delaying matters. The holdup is not with us; it is with the government.

I will not talk about the benefits of Bill C-56, as everybody is in agreement on that. However, as my Bloc Quebecois colleague said, now that Bill C-56 can be discussed, as we are doing now, we see that there are people on both sides who have reservations, be they the brand name drug companies or the generic drug companies, humanitarian groups or non-governmental organizations.

We are ready to take a few hours or a few days to study the bill in committee, very quickly. We will not be the ones holding the process up. The problem is that every time there is a delay, there are more deaths in these countries, every day.

Let us imagine the possible and probably scenario of an adjournment and a prorogation in the next few weeks. We should be called back sometime in February. However, if there is a prorogation, all the bills will die on the Order Paper, unless there is an agreement among the parliamentary leaders of all the parties represented in the House. This could represent a delay of three or four months.

I would not want to hit a nerve here, but how many hundreds of thousands of people will contract these diseases, tuberculosis, malaria or AIDS, in that period? How many hundreds or thousands of people will die? It could be interesting to air the Liberal convention in Africa next week to make sure people realize that, because of a leadership convention, everything is being put on hold while people are dying.

We all agree with the bill. Yes, we support the pharmaceutical companies, and we also support the Patent Act since we introduced it. As one of my colleagues was saying earlier, what is interesting in all this is that we can be compassionate while doing business.

We can do it. The big bad World Trade Organization was able to arrive at a compromise, to strike a delicate and complex balance. It can be done.

That being said, we are stuck in a situation that we cannot control. The four opposition parties are in agreement about speeding up the process, but not at any cost. Our party does not have on its agenda a leadership convention that will be broadcast on all major Canadian networks on November 14 and 15.

We are lawmakers. We are here to finish any job that we start. Certain bills are frivolous. In fact, they exist just to make a minister or a government look good.

Bill C-56 is a very important bill. The Minister of Industry has made a number of blunders when he was justice minister and when he was health minister. We all remember the blunders he made on the hepatitis issue. At least here, with the credibility given to this file by the Minister for International Trade, he had a chance to speed up the process. But no. We are getting a new prime minister.

People dying in Africa are not a priority after all. Surely something can be done. We, in the Progressive Conservative Party, are in contact with our colleagues and our leader in the Senate. He and the PC team in the other place are ready to do the job quickly, but properly.

Will we have time to finish the job? While reading a letter, the current Prime Minister was boasting about the fact that we are the first country to legislate on the WTO decision, but the legislation may not be passed because of the partisan agenda of this government.

Yes, maybe it is time we had a new leader. Yes, maybe it is time we had a new prime minister. I agree with that, but surely there can be better planning. It is so important. Surely it would be possible to give the House, the committee and the other place the opportunity to look at this issue.

House leaders on this side met and they had discussions with the government House leader, or at least the person who will be in that position probably for another few hours. Rumour has it that he is going to Brazil. They can send him wherever they want. The fact remains that he always was a good soldier for the Liberal Party.

However, what are we going to do now? We will be back in our ridings next week. In my riding, I have organizations lobbying to have this bill passed. In Quebec there are organizations lobbying to have it passed. They are going to ask us what we are doing. And we will have to answer that we are currently on break. Their next question will be, “So will you be able to deal with it next week?”

We do not know whether or not we will come back. Regardless of the fact that the Order Paper is calling us back on November 17, we do not know if that is what is going to happen. We are ready. I am ready, as a member of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, to come back next week to review the bill, to bring in people concerned with Bill C-56 and speed up the process.

We can do it. However, in some respects, we wonder if we should lend credibility to the Liberal partisan agenda. Should we do it? They tried to put the blame on us, “We know full well that the Conservatives favour the big drug companies. In the 1990s you introduced the Patent Protection Act and so on and so forth. You are against it. You are the bad guys in this Parliament.”

We are not the bad guys in Parliament. The bad guys are those who are unable to get their priorities straight with regard to their own legislative agenda. That is the problem.

With better planning and cooperation when they introduced Bill C-56, it could have passed today. Today, we are realizing that the big mean drug companies are not the only ones to have reservations. The generic drug companies also have reservations regarding the implementation of the bill. As I said earlier, without sounding like I am repeating myself and rambling on, organizations have reservations regarding Bill C-56. We would like to hear from them in committee. I can guarantee we will speed up the work, but we will do it.

If it were only pharmaceutical companies that had reservations, I would not be making this speech today. But stakeholders on both sides have reservations about the application and the applicability of this legislation.

Members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology discussed this issue, and we would like to see the regulations. A bill is often 3, 4 or 5 pages long, whereas regulations are often 3, 4 or 5 inches thick. We would like to see what would be in there.

We must protect tens of thousands of jobs in Canada. In fact, we must protect the delicate balance between Canada and the United States with regard to pharmaceutical research and the distribution of pharmaceutical products.

Therefore, this bill must go to committee quickly. I am sure that, on this side of the House, we would agree to do this right now. Members on this side of the House, or at least members of the Progressive Conservative Party, are ready to sit down in committee and do a good and credible job.

Today, we can help those who are suffering, those who have had enough and those who will contract these diseases. We can tell them that Canada's commitment is more than a statement made by a Prime Minister at the end of his reign. Parliament will take its responsibilities.

At the same time, if the government has not done a good job in terms of legislative planning, that is its problem. It is not the opposition that is the big bad wolf here, but the government.

Bill C-56 is one of those bills that gives goose bumps. Yesterday, we were watching the Prime Minister who was boasting about Bill C-20. It gave me goose bumps, but not for the same reason. It gave me a negative feeling, whereas Bill C-56 gives me a positive feeling. If everybody agrees, we could look at this as early as next week, unless the partisan agenda prevails again over the humanitarian agenda, unless the government is willing to wait three or four months and have a few thousand more sick or dead people on its conscience. We are ready to move quickly to do a credible job.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I will begin my brief debate on this extremely important bill that is before the House this afternoon by quoting a message I received in my office this morning from an international development student who happens to be at St. Mary's University in my riding. I think she both expresses the sentiment and reflects the experience of a great many people who have visited the African continent in the last several years. The message reads:

I just returned a few days ago from a four month CIDA-funded research project in Malawi, Africa. I interviewed women who were caring for dying family members. I spent my days in the villages, witnessing the most shocking and horrible situations: a nine year old girl, alone to nurse her dying mother and take care of her twin seven year old brothers--she told me that the best part of her day was when she walked 40 minutes to get to school because once there, it was the only time of the day that she could rest; an old woman, completely bent over, unable to stand straight or walk properly, nursing her sick daughter and looking after scores of orphans from her other children who had already died. I spent days in the pediatric palliative care unit, talking to mothers of dying children--what can be said? What hope can they have? Imagine such a thing happening here. One thing that stays in my mind is women telling me repeatedly, “here, there is no peace--they weren't talking of civil war or political unrest, they were talking about the misery and poverty and injustice of so many people dying from a disease for which there are drugs, but not for them. There certainly can be no peace as long as this continues in our world. It is a blight on our common humanity.

To that I want to add that I think it would be a blight, not just on the record of the Liberal government, but a blight on the record of all members of Parliament if we are not able to summon here, over the next week, starting with the vote on this bill this afternoon, the absolute commitment, with determination, persistence and an appropriate sense of urgency, to ensure that the bill goes to committee where hearings will be held and that it comes back to the House for passage within the next 10 days.

I want to refer again to a statistic that I cited earlier. We think people can imagine the human misery that lies behind the statistic that every 13 seconds a person in Africa dies of AIDS. Nelson Mandela, not surprisingly, has been an incredible champion of the cause of dealing with the African pandemic. He stated:

The vision which fuelled our struggle for freedom;--

Referring to the struggle against apartheid. He goes on to say:

--the deployment of energies and resources; the unity and commitment to common goals--all these are needed if we are to bring AIDS under control.

This is a war, it has killed more people than has been the case in all previous wars... We must not continue to be debating, to be arguing, when people are dying.

Those words inevitably give rise to the question: why are we here discussing instead of doing? Why would we stop or hesitate for one nanosecond in getting on with speedy passage?

The possibility existed for us to send the bill all the way to third reading and conclusion in the House today. The questions that will be asked of all 301 of us will be: Why are we here debating? Why are we sending it to committee? I think we have to answer those questions honestly for Canadians.

I do not want to dwell, in the spirit of all party cooperation, on the point that has been made by the previous speakers that the government left it awfully late in the life of this session to introduce this legislation, because I want to focus on how we can deal with this in the most hasty manner possible but not such a hasty manner that we do not fix a fundamental flaw that exists in the legislation.

The reason we are here discussing the legislation and proposing that it go to committee is so the flaw can be fixed.

This is an occasion when we should express our gratitude, not only to the incredibly Herculean work of special envoy, Stephen Lewis, who has literally laid his life on the line in this struggle against the HIV-AIDS pandemic, but the other heroes and heroines on the ground: the NGOs in the African villages and communities who are doing unimaginable work; the representatives here in Canada who have helped to deal with our ignorance and our complacency in relation to this HIV-AIDS pandemic. This includes those who have been working under the umbrella of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network , Oxfam, Medécins son frontières and many more. I think through them we want to express our thanks to all of those who have worked so hard.

Let me share with members what the coordinator and the spokesperson for the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network said today. He said:

The bill is intended to amend the Patent Act by allowing generic pharmaceutical companies to make lower-cost medicines for export to developing countries to deal with their public health problems. But as currently drafted, Bill C-56 provides that a brand-name pharmaceutical company has the right to take over a contract that a generic manufacturer has negotiated with a developing country. If they do so, the generic manufacturer cannot get a licence to make the medicine and export it.

This leaves generic companies unable to fill contracts that they have negotiated in good faith and at great cost and effort with developing countries.

As Richard Elliott, director, legal research and policy of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, has said, “as a result, developing countries cannot effectively give licences to generic manufacturers to make their cheaper medicines”. This means we will not actually end up seeing lower prices from either generic companies or brand name companies and developing countries will not see the benefit that Bill C-56 is supposed to deliver.

We need to heed the concerns that are being expressed. We should not act so hastily that we do not fix the flaw in the bill. At the same time, however, we must unanimously agree to act with great haste to make sure the legislation is enacted as quickly as humanly possible.

Yesterday was a rare day in the House, one of those rare occasions that I wish occurred far more often, when there was a real sense of common purpose in the House. I want to pay tribute to the outgoing Prime Minister when I say this. Yesterday we saw him, not only in some of his finest moments, but he delivered a very important message to us. It was a message that I think we have to take very seriously.

Sure we can have some fun poking criticisms at the record of his government, and there are legitimate criticisms, but let us today act in the spirit that was very evident in the House yesterday and the tone that was set by the outgoing Prime Minister when he pleaded with us to make Parliament work and to demonstrate to Canadians that we are all here for the same reason.

If there were ever a test of that resolve, if there were ever a test of whether that can be truly said about the 301 parliamentarians assembled here working on behalf of Canadians, surely we can make that commitment. Surely we can commit today to see the bill through in the most effective and efficient way that we possibly can do it.

The government can demonstrate good faith here. I do not buy the idea that it is bad faith on the government's part that it is saying we should send this legislation to committee. To the contrary, it is evident that the government wants to see this legislation became part of the so-called legacy of the Prime Minister. It is fair game for all of us to say we will help make it part of the Prime Minister's legacy.

That requires a commitment today from the House leader and from government members opposite that this legislation will go to committee, that it will be fast tracked. If there had not been a fundamental flaw in the bill, we were prepared to fast track it through at every stage of reading today and see it enacted as soon as possible. We cannot do that.

What can we do that is second best? What can we do in view of the circumstances that we face? We can agree today that we will be back on Parliament Hill for committee meetings.There is a recess in the parliamentary calendar and the government party has important work to do with respect to electing a new leader, which we all understand and respect. However we can be back in this place a week from Monday to hold committee hearings. Those hearings can happen over a period of a few days. We can ensure that the legislation will come back and will be enacted within the next 10 days or two weeks.

There are all kinds of suggestions going around that the government is shutting down this session of Parliament. It has tried every day this week to get the means to do that by outvoting us on a call to recess Parliament. We stood against it in solidarity with other parliamentarians to ensure that Parliament did not recess before we had an opportunity to deal with the legislation to get drugs to the millions of people who are dying in Africa.

Let us use the opportunity that we have to summon that all party cooperation. Let us make sure that we can hold our heads up high. Canadians and other countries around the world want Canada to provide the leadership. Let us make sure that the committee does its work and that Parliament does its work to get this legislation enacted within a couple of weeks.

I would like to finish by quoting Stephen Lewis, the special envoy who has been working tirelessly on this issue. He provided some of the most powerful inspirational evidence before the foreign affairs committee on this issue early in 2003. He said:

The pandemic is overshadowing anything we know in human history, that nothing is comparable, not the 14th century Black Death nor all the loss of life, both military and civilian, in the two world wars of the 20th century, military and civilian. Nothing can begin to compare to the dreadful consequences of the pandemic. People now talk about 100 million deaths down the road. I don't doubt that for a moment. The numbers may rise even higher than that.

The numbers will rise higher than that and they will rise faster than is necessary if we do not fast track this legislation. The numbers will rise if the desperately needed drugs are not dispensed in the most effective way possible. The numbers will rise if we do not help put the infrastructure in place to ensure that the drugs can be dispensed in the most effective way possible and that treatment and support is given to those who are suffering from HIV-AIDS.

Let us act with compassion in dispatch and get the job done. That can be part of the legacy, not only of the Liberal government, but of this Parliament.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Madam Speaker, I listened to the comments of the member from the NDP. While she articulates the point of view about the crisis in Africa, I find a complete irony in her presentation. She alluded to the position of the Canadian Alliance on the issue. She talked about the humanitarian report of the subcommittee on Africa. She read a letter from somebody who had been to Africa, but she forgot the fact that I grew up in Africa. I have been back to that continent many times and have seen the ravages of AIDS there. I do not need a lecture from her or her party.

I was on the foreign affairs committee when it did this report on Africa. I knew very well of the humanitarian crisis in Africa. As a matter of fact I was quite surprised that her contribution from her own party on that issue was not very strong because I have been on that committee many times.

Therefore, I would like to say to her that when she stands in the House of Commons and starts accusing anyone else, she should check her facts first before she comments on what the Alliance Party has said.

I have attended the talks by Mr. Lewis. While I understand Mr. Lewis, he was appointed by the United Nations to look at the horrendous tragedy taking place in Africa, I do not need anyone to tell me what exactly is taking place. When I see what happened 20 years ago, and when I see what is happening right now, anyone who is from that part of the continent knows the devastation.

I want to make that point clear. However, I do not want to take away from the importance of this legislation which the government has brought forward to fight this pandemic. Her party is supporting the bill. We are supporting the bill. Let us get on with the work.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I did not forget and I certainly did not mean to offend the member by not mentioning the fact that he was born in Africa. I am sure that is part of what gives him considerable insight into the magnitude and horrors of the HIV-AIDS pandemic in Africa. Therefore, it was surprising that there was not a stronger commitment made in the dissenting opinion by the Alliance in the foreign affairs committee report on the humanitarian crisis in Africa.

However, it is absolutely not in the spirit of what we need to do, to look backward instead of forward. I welcome the member's comments. I acknowledge his commitment, and it also allows me to address briefly one issue on which he might have commented.

Another way in which the government could get the job done and demonstrate its good faith about wanting to fix this legislation in the most effective possible way, would be to seriously consider referring the legislation to the parliamentary committee that deals with international development issues and not just to the industry committee.

I do not know what the government's intention is in that regard. It is perhaps something that could be considered. However, the concern is to ensure that it is driven by the commitment to humanitarian concerns in meeting the crisis in Africa, not driven by the possible financial interests of Canadian pharmaceutical corporations representing the multinationals.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to put the question based on unanimous consent that Bill C-57, an act to give effect to the Westbank First Nation self-government agreement, be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to and reported from a committee, without amendment, concurred in at report stage and read a third time and passed. I seek consent of the House for that.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there agreement?

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is the House ready for the question?

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The Patent Act
Government Orders

1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)