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

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to ask my colleague and friend a couple of questions.

One of our concerns is obviously the short time period. It is expected that this will be the last day the House sits this year. We do not know what will happen with the new prime minister in the new year. I have some simple basic questions that I have received from people who are interested in the bill.

Why did the government not introduce this legislation in October and send it to committee at that time? Why did it wait so long to introduce this legislation? What will happen to this legislation if, as I think will happen, unanimous consent is granted to send it to committee right away and the House adjourns? Will the committee sit in November and December? If the House prorogues, we know then that committees cannot sit. What is the government's intent? Has the new Liberal leader promised to reintroduce this legislation in February or March, whenever the House resumes?

Why did the government introduce the bill with great fanfare yesterday but now it seems to believe that it is flawed? On this side of the House we certainly support this initiative, but why did the government introduce a piece of legislation that it believes is flawed?

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC

Madam Speaker, I welcome the question from my colleague, the member for Edmonton Southwest, whom I admire and respect.

I had the opportunity to work with him on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology. I can tell you that he does a fantastic job. I respect his judgment and his analytical ability. Therefore, I am convinced that he will easily understand the answer.

The ministers for industry and international trade have a keen interest in this project. With their respective teams of officials, they worked seven days a week. They held consultations.

Right now, we are not saying that the bill is deficient. However, we are not infallible. Everyone must understand that various organizations want to be heard.

Earlier today I mentioned the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association and Doctors without Borders. There are NGOs who want to give their views on this bill. It was introduced in the House yesterday and they should have the opportunity to voice their opinions. Like any other bill in the House, this one will have to follow the procedure, which is introduction of the bill, first reading, second reading and referral to committee where witnesses who want to express their views can be heard.

We want a strong bill. We do not want to be forced to bring it back in the House to amend it in a year from now because there are legal problems or other kinds of problems with its implementation.

I make the commitment, as a member of this committee, to participate in the committee's sittings as early as Monday, if people want to convene the committee. This is not a problem for me. I absolutely want to take part in the proceedings of the committee, and I want it to hear people on this bill, to get the views of the public and the organizations that will have to implement it and work with it. We must get their opinion to ensure that international organizations, countries that will receive the aid are not handicapped by a bill that might have problems in some regards.

However, I am not in a position to explain these problems, because we believe the bill is strong, but we feel there is a need to explain them. People and organizations have already expressed themselves. They want to give us their opinion. They want to analyze the bill with us.

I believe we must do this because Canada is making an extraordinary gesture. I am ready. Even if Parliament is not in session, the committee can sit. I have no problem with this, if we want to do so.

In conclusion, I want the member to know that the future Liberal Party leader totally supports this bill. He will ensure that the bill is brought back to the House as soon as possible so that it is put into effect as quickly as possible.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his answers to those questions.

I want to state at the outset that the Canadian Alliance does support this initiative. We support Bill C-56 and we certainly look forward to seeing the government acting on this.

I want to state a few points just to be clear and to be on the record. Some have suggested that the Canadian Alliance is a johnny-come-lately to this issue. That is not true. In fact, it goes against the public record itself.

As soon as the Ministers of Trade and Industry raised this issue in September following the agreement at the WTO in August--and I think we all should commend the World Trade Organization for taking that step in August--as soon as these two ministers publicly mused about doing this, my colleague, our critic for international trade, and I publicly wrote to the Minister for International Trade and the Minister of Industry. I would like to quote directly from the letter. We stated:

We would like you to know that the Canadian Alliance supports efforts by the Canadian government to facilitate the delivery of drugs to help developing countries deal with public health emergencies such as the HIV-AIDS crisis in Africa.

October 2, 2003

We put ourselves as a party on the record as supporting this initiative at that time.

Further to that, I want to discuss the work of another colleague, the member for Calgary East, who has brought up this issue with me on numerous occasions and has been pressuring me to push the government to act. As we know, he was born in Africa. He has a very personal connection with that continent and this issue and he would like us to act. He stood up on a member's statement and he called for it, which was publicly recognized in the The Toronto Star by Carol Goar.

Third, I would like to point out the work of one of my colleagues who is a doctor. The member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca has been on trips to Africa trying to actually facilitate the much needed delivery of drugs to people. This is something that my colleague himself will not talk about, but I can because I think it is a wonderful example of a member of Parliament dedicating his time and resources to try to address this issue.

So I want to state publicly that the Canadian Alliance has been very publicly supportive of this initiative. We have some concerns on how it is going to be implemented, but we do very much support the initiative.

I have to say that I was quite pleasantly surprised with the bill that was introduced yesterday and with the briefing. I know that on this side of the House often we are critical of those in the bureaucracy, but quite frankly, I thought the bureaucrats from Industry Canada and Health Canada had done their homework. I thought the briefing was very good and I think that in general this is a very good piece of legislation.

Obviously I want to touch upon why we need to do this, why we in the House need to act. The fact is that because we are facing epidemics, as human beings we have to address the issue. The developing countries have simply been ravaged by HIV-AIDS, by tuberculosis and by malaria.

In Botswana and Zimbabwe alone, it is estimated that 30 million Africans have HIV-AIDS, which is equal to the entire population of Canada. Just to think of the staggering numbers is simply astounding.

The plague has already killed 15 million Africans. Women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Sixty per cent of infected Africans are female. Less than 200,000 Africans are receiving HIV-AIDS anti-retroviral drugs with the appropriate medical follow-up.

In August 2003, the World Trade Organization agreed on legal changes that would make it easier for poorer countries to import the cheaper generic drugs made under compulsory licensing if they are unable to manufacture the medicines themselves.

In September, the WHO made a proposal known as “3 by 5”: to get HIV-AIDS drugs to three million people by 2005. Only 300,000 people in poorer countries now receive the drugs with appropriate medical follow-up.

There are a number of problems associated with AIDS, which the United Nations is trying to overcome. For instance, HIV-AIDS and TB often occur together. In addition, malaria thrives on bodies whose immune systems have been weakened by AIDS. We have to look at these diseases in concert and try to address them all.

While there is presently no cure for AIDS, anti-retroviral drugs, ARVs such as AZT, can prolong the life of an infected person by up to 20 years and reduce the chance of an infected pregnant woman passing on the virus to her unborn child. ARVs curb the reproduction of the virus itself.

We have to address the issue of poverty. Currently, companies like GlaxoSmithKline provide HIV-AIDS drugs for as little as 19¢ a day. In August 2003, GSK licensed a generic manufacturer in South Africa.

However, these low costs, as low as they are at 19¢ a day, are still too expensive for most patients. In addition, people who cannot afford the correct diet or clean water may have an adverse reaction to a medication. This is why we encourage the government, not in this bill specifically but as part of this initiative, to look at the medical infrastructure and the medical follow-up and take a holistic approach to this problem: not just getting the drugs at a low cost to the people who need them but ensuring that the medical infrastructure is in place and that there is medical follow-up.

In terms of distribution, even the president of South Africa, who was here recently, has said that while he wants cheap drugs to be delivered “tomorrow”, the effort would be wasted without putting in place an adequate infrastructure to ensure the medicines were stored properly.

We in the Canadian Alliance hope the government recognizes that drugs are only one component of improving care in African countries and other developing nations that have been ravaged by HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Poverty, distribution problems and a lack of medical care continue to compound the problem of public health crises in these countries. While we support the provision of cheaper drugs, we must look at it, as I have said, in a very holistic manner.

In terms of the timeline, the Minister of Industry announced in September that Canada would export cheap generic versions of AIDS drugs to developing nations. Obviously we know that generic drugs are copies of the brand names. In Canada, generic drugs can be produced only after the 20 year patent expires for the initial brand name.

We recognize that there are some concerns with the legislation, but we also believe that because of the good faith surrounding these issues we can address these concerns quickly.

I have talked to as many interested parties as I could, certainly this morning and last night: the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Doctors Without Borders, the generic drug companies' representative association, and representatives of research based pharmaceutical companies. Certainly these interested parties should have an opportunity to present at committee and to try to make what they see as improvements in the legislation, but the issue of timing is of concern to us.

As I mentioned in my questions, I think the new Liberal leader should state exactly where he stands. If he supports this, that is great. Then he should be encouraged to bring this legislation back as soon as possible, because if this is the last sitting day then unfortunately the committee would not be able to get to this before the new year, which I think is unfortunate.

Again, just for the record, the Canadian Alliance supports the government's initiative in proposing that the bill pass second reading unanimously and go straight to committee. We support this initiative to provide lower cost drugs to developing nations to address HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and possibly other diseases. We certainly look forward to working with any and all interested parties on the issue.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry
Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry

Madam Speaker, I want to thank the member for his comments. The arguments he presented encourage and promote committee work.

I was a member of the Quebec National Assembly where parliamentary commissions meet more often outside the regular session than during it. I would consider it quite normal for the parliamentary committees to also be able to meet when the House recesses. This would help us to move things forward as quickly as possible.

I just wanted to say that we have a Canada-Africa committee that is composed of parliamentary members. Yesterday I think, this committee was recognized by the House of Commons as being a parliamentary association. The president of this association is the member for Ottawa—Vanier. I congratulate him on the good work that he has done in this regard.

The member for Edmonton Southwest was right when he talked about one of his colleagues having participated. A number of members of parliament have had the experience of working in a developing county. I have met many of them and we talk a lot about it.

I would like to ask my colleague from Edmonton Southwest a question. Are there any specific groups, beside Doctors without Borders—I am sure pharmaceutical and generic companies will ask to be heard—that the committee should invite to appear? As a parliamentarian, would he be ready to participate in the work of this committee, even if the House is in recess, in order to ensure that we are able to table a report or to make recommendations to the Minister of Industry, Science and Technology as soon as the House returns?

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, I will try to respond to all the points.

First, as a member of the industry committee, I would certainly be willing to meet when the House is not sitting. If the House is adjourned, I would certainly be willing to do that. The parliamentary secretary could certainly indicate that to the chair of our committee.

In terms of who would want to appear, I have been contacted by four organizations, but there could be others that want to appear. There are: the one the member mentioned, Doctors Without Borders; the Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network; the research based pharmaceutical companies, which yesterday in a statement indicated that they support the legislation; and the generic companies, which have indicated in the past that they support this type of initiative. Certainly those four groups should appear before the committee to advise us, but again, I think it should be open.

As well, at committee or perhaps beyond that we should look at the question of medical infrastructure. Perhaps Oxfam or other groups would want to advise us on how best to do that.

Frankly, we should also look at some of the ongoing initiatives, such as those my colleague, the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, has been involved in. I also know that the member for Calgary East has taken a very strong interest in this issue. Let us look at what is working now and see whether in the interim we can build on that as well, even before this legislation is passed.

In terms of the committee meeting, I would certainly be willing to meet in November or December even if the House is not sitting.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough Halifax, NS

Madam Speaker, I wonder if I might direct a question to the official opposition critic member of the Alliance Party, who has spoken in support of the legislation.

It is very welcome to have the Alliance in this very important battle to deal with an unbelievable crisis of such monumental proportions that it is impossible for us to even fathom. In Africa, one person dies every 13 seconds of HIV-AIDS.

The member will know that very early this year, in March, Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy dealing with the HIV-AIDS pandemic, strongly urged that there be improved access to generic drugs. That recommendation was reflected in June 2003 in the foreign affairs committee report on the African humanitarian crisis.

The Alliance chose to dissent from that report and did not indicate its support for the importance of gaining the access to generic drugs.

I wonder if the member could share with us, because I think it would be helpful, what the basis was of the Alliance coming to the realization that this indeed is a supportable recommendation and that the Alliance should come on board, in view of the magnitude and severity of the crisis.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Edmonton Southwest, AB

Madam Speaker, to respond to my colleague, I was informed by the member for Calgary East, who is a member of that committee, that the Alliance did agree with this specific recommendation. They dissented from the report for other reasons. I am not a member of that committee, but that is certainly what I have been informed of by my colleague.

I know the NDP has stated that the Alliance was not supportive of this initiative early on, so I think I should emphasize this, because in fact we did take the step of publicly addressing a letter to the Minister of Industry, the minister for whom I am a critic, and the Minister for International Trade, and we stated publicly:

We would like you to know that the Canadian Alliance supports efforts by the Canadian government to facilitate the delivery of drugs to help developing countries deal with public health emergencies, such as the HIV-AIDS crisis in Africa.

That is a pretty clear statement. I think it is a constructive statement made by the official opposition to the government indicating that we would be supportive of this type of initiative. That is why we are supportive of this legislation in general and supportive of it going forward to committee right after second reading. I think it is very clear that the Canadian Alliance has acted very responsibly in its support of this type of initiative.

We have recognized the size of the epidemic. I think Stephen Lewis should be commended for making this well known to us as Canadians. The Canadian Alliance was at the forefront of recognizing this and acting responsibly.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Kenora—Rainy River, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think you would find 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.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the minister have the unanimous consent of the House?

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Patent Act
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

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

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to this bill. Quite often the title of a bill does not reflect its content. Let us have a look at the title of this bill; it is an act to Amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act.

In fact, it is one of the greatest gestures towards struggling developing countries, who have been crying out for help for several years, highlighting the need for a spirit of cooperation that goes beyond the traditional approach to international trade.

We want to make sure that people in the poorest countries of the world have access to quality drugs. In this regard, the bill is very important in my opinion.

Before getting to the substance of the bill, I would like to call on every party in this House to approach this issue with as little partisanship as possible. Obviously, throughout Quebec and Canada there is a common feeling that this bill must go ahead. Indeed we have to make sure that it is the best possible bill and that it includes all the elements necessary to ensure its proper implementation.

Yes, it must be passed as soon as possible, but at the same time we must ensure that its content is appropriate and that, as political parties in this House, we stick to a non partisan approach. I believe this is very important.

I would to start by reminding the House that in the ministerial statement made in Doha in November 2001, members of the World Trade Organization recognized the seriousness of the problems experienced by developing countries in the field of public health, especially problems related to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other diseases.

On August 30, 2003, members of the WTO agreed to amend certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which deals with trade, and which seemed to be preventing poor countries from importing affordable drugs.

The way the international market was organized did not allow these countries to have access to such drugs. Human tragedies are currently taking place in several countries; people keep dying from these diseases. It is not that we did not have the required drugs to treat the diseases, but it was not possible to get these drugs because of the existing provision.

With regard to the Government of Canada, the Canadian Parliament, the purpose of the bill is to ensure that our legislation can be adapted accordingly. This agreement says that the decision must be implemented in good faith for the purpose of solving public health problems, and not for industrial or commercial ends. It also says that it is important to ensure that these drugs reach their intended destination.

I believe the objectives are relevant. Changes are being proposed to the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act. These amendments will certainly not improve the health of those in developing countries overnight, but when they are approved by Parliament, we will be able to create an environment to improve the situation and to correct several problems that are now unacceptable.

Therefore, this is a step in the right direction. This measure complements the work done in other sectors and in other countries. We hope that all developed countries will adopt a similar approach in order to maximize the impact as soon as possible, so that satisfactory results can be attained and the spread of several of these diseases stopped.

To reach that goal, we must work in close cooperation with the WTO, the World Health Organization, and the World Intellectual Property Organization. We often hear people say that the World Trade Organization has a very insensitive approach, that it does not care about social issues. This international agreement, which is at the heart of the bill before us, will change that attitude. The WTO has agreed to talk about an issue with an important social impact. It has agreed to change the existing trade rules which were accepted and enforced by the entire industry, to the benefit of industrial promoters.

The stakeholders have agreed to include an obligation to consider the human aspect. I think this fact is worth mentioning; it sets an example that should be followed so that, in the long term, maybe the WTO and the WHO and all the international organizations will cooperate more readily and better results will be obtained.

This bill amends the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act. The whole issue of development, marketing and management of drug products in Quebec, in Canada and in all other countries of the world, is a very complex one. It requires a great deal of planning. We must make sure that the industry can develop new drugs, and has the financial means to do so, but also that it has the means to make those drugs available to the public as quickly as possible

On the other hand, we must ensure that there is no abuse and that we will continue to have a good system in Quebec and across Canada. We want to facilitate access to these drugs at the international level. I think that passing such legislation will be to our credit as a Parliament. I think that we will be doing something worthwhile. At the same time, we must ensure that we are not just acting on a sudden burst of generosity, as has happened in the past, without putting the right provisions in the legislation to achieve good results.

Some of these issues need to be raised. This is why I think that we should be able to study this in committee as soon as possible to ensure speedy passage of the bill. This would allow us to discuss issues such as the right of first refusal granted to industries that have developed products. We must ensure that this mechanism does not interfere in the domestic market and that such practice is consistent at the international level and takes the whole picture into account.

We must also ensure that the various partners, that is research and development companies as well as the generic sector, can adjust to meet the objectives of the bill and do what is expected of them.

We must also take into account the comments made by international development organizations, including Oxfam, which issued a release saying that it was happy about the patent amendment, but pointing out some weaknesses in this amendment. Oxfam wants to have an opportunity to make representations so that maybe we can improve that part of the bill.

It says for example that the proposed mechanisms for suspending patents can represent major progress in the fight against diseases since the high cost of patented drugs is the main cause of death for 14 million people each year. They die of diseases that could be treated. Now we want to make these drugs available. Therefore, there is a solution to this problem.

As I mentioned earlier, the amendment proposed by the government would implement a WTO agreement. Oxfam points out that the agreement covers all countries and all diseases. It is not limited to public health emergencies. This is interesting.

However, the bill provides a list of eligible pharmaceutical products that Oxfam finds unnecessarily restrictive. So, there are issues that deserve to be considered in committee. We have to listen to the research and development companies, the generic manufacturers and the international development agencies who work in the countries covered by the agreement in order to ensure that the appropriate amendments are made to this bill if need be.

We are, of course, pleased with the principle of this bill and we think that the bill needs to be further examined and then passed as soon as possible.

Given the circumstances, with a new prime minister about to take office, we understand all the tension surrounding such a bill. Everyone wants it passed, but we also need time to consider it further. The answer lies with the government. It has not yet asked to adjourn. Normally, we would get back to work in a week and, in the meantime, we can attend any committee hearings that are held.

However, if the government decides to prorogue, then it will have to live with its decision.

We have to be open to all kinds of options to ensure that such a bill is dealt with. It would be a shame to wait three, four or five months to pass this bill, knowing how great the needs are and that time is of the essence. We have before us some rather complex pieces of legislation.

A message was delivered by the Usher of the Black Rod as follows:

Mr. Speaker, Her Excellency the Governor General desires the immediate attendance of this honourable House in the chamber of the honourable the Senate.

Accordingly, the Speaker with the House went up to the Senate chamber.

And being returned:

Patent Act
Royal Assent

1:15 p.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to inform the House that when the House went up to the Senate chamber, Her Excellency the Governor General was pleased to give, in Her Majesty's name, the royal assent to the following bills:

Bill C-45, an act to amend the Criminal Code (criminal liability of organizations)--Chapter No. 21.

Bill C-25, an act to modernize employment and labour relations in the public service and to amend the Financial Administration Act and the Canadian Centre for Management Development Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts--Chapter 22.

Bill C-6, an act to establish the Canadian Centre for the Independent Resolution of First Nations Specific Claims to provide for the filing, negotiation and resolution of specific claims and to make related amendments to other acts--Chapter 23.

Bill C-459, an act to establish Holocaust Memorial Day--Chapter 24.

Bill C-55, an act for granting to Her Majesty certain sums of money for the public service of Canada for the financial year ending March 31, 2004--Chapter 25.

Bill C-37, an act to amend the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts--Chapter 26.

Bill C-50, an act to amend the statute law in respect of benefits for veterans and the children of deceased veterans--Chapter 27.

Bill C-48, an act to amend the Income Tax Act (natural resources)--Chapter 28

Bill S-21, an act to amalgamate the Canadian Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and The Canadian Association of Financial Planners under the name The Financial Advisors Association of Canada.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill

C-56, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act

, be read the second time and referred to a committee.