House of Commons Hansard #44 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

Today being Thursday, the hon. member for New Westminster--Coquitlam--Burnaby might have a question.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, how many times have we risen in the House and asked the government what it would have on its legislative calendar for the coming week and into the next week?

I think all Canadians desire to know if the government has any legislative agenda at all.

Business of the House
Oral Question Period

3:05 p.m.

Brossard—La Prairie
Québec

Liberal

Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to reassure my colleague and Canadians that we are working on a number of bills.

We will proceed this afternoon with third reading of Bill C-9, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act (The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa). This bill, which we introduced and which is now at third reading, makes it possible for us to send pharmaceutical products to help countries in Africa.

This will be followed by third reading stage of Bill C-12, an act to amend the Criminal Code (protection of children and other vulnerable persons) and the Canada Evidence Act.

Then we will move on to report stage of Bill C-23, an act to provide for real property taxation powers of first nations, to create a First Nations Tax Commission, First Nations Financial Management Board, First Nations Finance Authority and First Nations Statistical Institute and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

This will be followed by the debates on the motions for referral to committee before second reading of Bill C-29 and Bill C-32. I would like to point out that it is as part of our democratic reform that we are now regularly referring bills to committees before second reading, to allow them to review the legislation.

Therefore, before second reading, we will refer Bill C-29, an act to amend the Criminal Code (mental disorder) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, and Bill C-32, an act to amend the Criminal Code (drugs and impaired driving) and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts. We know that Canadians really want us to deal with the issue of impaired driving.

Of course, we will deal with third reading of Bill C-10, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

This is for today. We may not have time to finish everything, because there is a lot to do. In any case, tomorrow we will deal with report stage and, if possible, with third reading of Bill C-30, an act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 23, 2004.

Then, we will undertake our review of Bill C-28, an act to amend the Canada National Parks Act.

Of course, next week we will continue with any unfinished business.

Incidentally, Thursday of next week, May 6, will be an allotted day. I would suggest that hon. members get a good rest, because there is still a lot of work to do.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, an act to amend the Patent Act and the Food and Drugs Act (The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa), be read the third time and passed.

Patent Act
Government Orders

April 29th, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.

The Speaker

When the House broke for question period, the hon. member for Davenport had the floor. He has nine minutes in the time allotted for his remarks.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, in putting forward some thoughts on the discussion of Bill C-9, I would also like to put on the record an observation made yesterday in this chamber by the Minister for International Cooperation, because it seems to me that she made a very important point which ought to be repeated.

She said that the legislation before us in this chamber, namely Bill C-9, otherwise known as the Jean Chrétien pledge to Africa, is one that recognizes, on Canada's part, a “moral imperative”, that is, the imperative that we have to make available those medical treatments that are required, and in African countries in particular, to the millions of people who are suffering from these pandemics, in particular, of course, the pandemic of HIV-AIDS.

That point was elaborated on further by the Minister for International Cooperation with regard to voluntary licensing, when she said that “the amendments eliminate the requirement that patent holders be given the right of first refusal”. That was of course an amendment of considerable significance and importance during the deliberation at second reading.

In the discussion before question period, the member for Palliser made reference to Stephen Lewis, and quite rightly so, because this Canadian at the United Nations has been actively engaged in advancing the cause of helping African countries and the population there with respect to HIV-AIDS on that continent.

Mr. Stephen Lewis made a statement a few days ago which I would like to put on the record because it gives further background as to why we are engaged with this legislation and why we have developed such a unique parliamentary cohesion and unanimity behind it.

On April 6 of this year, in New York, Stephen Lewis, the United Nations special envoy on this matter, made the following statement:

I wish to join today with the legions of activists and advocates in Africa and worldwide who salute the quite remarkable collaboration on the provision of anti-retroviral drugs, jointly announced by The Clinton Foundation, The World Bank, UNICEF and the Global Fund. This initiative...could well spell the turnaround of the...pandemic in Africa.

Simply put, the Clinton Foundation will negotiate the drug prices, UNICEF will employ its procurement capacity, and the Global Fund and World Bank will provide the funding. There will be protocols and administrative requirements, of course, but nothing should now stand in the way of rolling out treatment to hundreds of thousands--soon to be millions--in the immediate future.

The best dimension of all of this is the price tag to be paid. We're talking of fixed-dose combinations of generic drugs, pre-qualified by the World Health Organization, to be purchased overwhelmingly from generic companies...at prices as low as $140 per person per year. It falls entirely within the World Trade Organization consensus agreement negotiated on August 30th, 2003. And it puts to rest the self-defeating jousting between generics and brand name pharmaceuticals. Clearly, when you have the power, the imprimatur and the dollars of the Clinton Foundation, World Bank, UNICEF and Global Fund weighing in behind generics, the debate is over. These four bodies make it clear in their statement that brand name companies are free--indeed, invited--to tender, and to meet the low prices. But it's equally clear that huge numbers of African lives will be prolonged and saved by generics...generic drugs at one-third to one-half the cost of the patent drugs. Just think of how much further the money will go.

Mr. Lewis concluded by saying:

This is all tremendously exciting, and it will be made even more so if WHO finally receives the seed money it needs--$200 million over two years--to help to coordinate the interventions at country level, to train the tens of thousands of additional people, to provide the emergency technical assistance, to keep the drug supplies flowing and to address the ongoing problems of infrastructure. In a phrase: to achieve 3 by 5.

Namely, that would be putting three million people into treatment by the end of 2005.

It seemed to me quite appropriate to put this statement by Stephen Lewis at the United Nations within the larger context of the Jean Chrétien pledge to Africa, namely Bill C-9, because it fits perfectly in it and it also gives us a broader picture as to why we are all engaged in this global effort, which is really bringing out the best in humanity and definitely appeals to the basic and most positive constructive sentiments that inspire the global community in every country.

I would like to congratulate the government for having persisted in bringing the bill to a happy conclusion despite all the technical difficulties. We look forward to third reading approval and to the speedy processing of it by the Senate so that it can be promulgated at a very early date.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:15 p.m.

Bloc

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

Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes. This very important will facilitate access to pharmaceutical products in developing countries, which need help the most.

We must remember that this bill follows a bill that was tabled quickly last fall, before the House was prorogued. Its purpose is to implement the WTO's decision to make patented drugs available to people in developing countries, in countries that need them the most. Indeed, we have identified very serious problems on our planet that make it necessary to provide assistance to these countries as quickly as possible. Everyone knows about HIV-AIDS, but there are also tuberculosis, malaria and some other diseases.

The international community finally arrived at a conclusion at the WTO, which usually deals exclusively with trade issues. Very strong pressure came from non-governmental organizations and developing countries, which said that it made no sense that, today, we could not supply these countries, at a reasonable cost, with the drugs they absolutely need to eliminate major health crises.

After some strong arguments were made, the WTO issued a somewhat historic ruling providing for the withdrawal from all trade agreements of the provisions pertaining to these drugs, so that such drugs can be obtained at a reasonable cost, with the process not being viewed as a commercial transaction. In the wake of this decision, Canada was the first country to table legislation to implement this international agreement domestically.

I remind hon. members that the bill was introduced in the fall. When the House resumed its business in the spring, we realized that the initial bill needed some important amendments, a fact that the minister herself admitted when she appeared before the committee. The committee did a thorough job. Members from all political parties helped make the bill what it is now, at third reading.

Of course, we may not all agree on every detail of the legislation. This is a very complex bill. Supplying drugs to African countries may seem simple, but it is a very complex process. Indeed, we must see that it complies with the rules governing patents, while also ensuring supply at a reasonable cost. This has required a lot of work on the technical aspects of this initiative and on how to make the whole thing operational.

Major representations were made by NGOs and developing countries. The formula proposed at first reading gave patented drug companies the right of first refusal. This mechanism did not allow for real competition. An effort was made by these companies, through the association representing them, to propose a new procedure.

We discussed this issue in committee. We got some advice and we found a formula that would change the procedure for generic companies, which will have to bid on these projects and contracts, to ensure that they are not constantly blocked by an unsatisfactory mechanism. Today, we have a much more interesting formula in the bill.

This has made it possible, among other things, to have a formula on the establishment of royalties, not a fixed royalty or the absence of royalties, but a mechanism that will ensure that royalties are based on the wealth of the countries. Hence, no country will pay more than 4%. However, for a country that is among the poorest, the royalty will be much closer to 0%. I think the fact that this mechanism is included in the bill is a plus. It is worth a try. We will see what the outcome will be.

There are two other major elements. Many drugs were added to the list originally tabled by the government. On the one hand, we ensured that these drugs were in compliance with the World Health Organization's definitions and that, if drugs produced in Canada did not comply with the World Health Organization's requirements, they would be recognized as such by Health Canada. This makes for a much more interesting offer of services.

On the other hand, we also extended the list of countries that would be able to have access to these drugs. On this issue also I think that everyone demonstrated goodwill to ensure this outcome.

We must never forget that the final goal is to make the drugs available at a lower price. Therefore, there must be some competition so that the long term results will be democratization of this phenomenon and lower prices. On that point, I believe we have a bill that goes in the right direction.

We also wanted to make sure that no significant contraband market develops. It would have been very unpleasant to pass a law that made it possible to supply developing countries and find that the drugs had made their way to the markets of North and South America and Europe through dishonest activities. Significant additions were made to the bill in this respect, particularly in the ability to follow a drug from its point of origin, when it is manufactured in Canada, until its distribution in the country where it is needed. It should be possible to trace every step.

In committee, we were assured that the government would stipulate in the regulations that these drugs should be a specific colour. Some particular technical aspects still need to be addressed because, it is not necessarily easy to respect this concept of colour for drugs given by injection. Nevertheless, the regulations will contain the measures necessary to be able to find these drugs easily and if any misuse were discovered, the responsible parties could be found and the activity stopped.

There is an important clause in this bill, and that is the fact that it will be reviewed in three years. We are among the first countries to have legislation on this matter. We will discover the day-to-day reality of this legislation and in three years we will review it. I think that in this way we can say that parliamentarians have done their job correctly. It may not be a perfect law, but here is a bill that will enable us to improve the distribution of pharmaceutical products.

In addition to this legislation, the government will also have to increase the moneys available for international assistance and cooperation. Indeed, it is not enough to merely supply the drugs and ship them abroad. These drugs must be properly administered and there must be an adequate follow-up. We heard horror stories. In the past, some drugs ended up in a warehouse and remained there until after their expiry date, because of a control problem. This is totally unacceptable considering the health needs of African countries.

All these measures are found in the bill. From the outset, the Bloc Quebecois had hoped that the bill would be passed as quickly as possible, but that it would also be functional, meet expectations and achieve the objectives set. The bill that was introduced in the fall would not have done that. In our opinion, the bill that is now before Parliament, at third reading, does meet these objectives. We will have to follow up on it, so that we can make the necessary improvements when the time comes to review it.

In conclusion, I hope that, five or ten years from now, we will be able to say that, by passing this bill, we all contributed to improve the quality of health throughout the world, and particularly in the countries that need it most.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:20 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to this bill, and I will take this opportunity to thank the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques not only for allowing me to share his time and to speak to this bill, but also for his huge investment in this file, particularly in committee with the other members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, whose efforts I also acknowledge and appreciate.

As my colleague for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques has said, this is an extremely important bill, one that reflects an international consensus. This bill, it must be pointed out, is the outcome of an international examination of the issue of development. It became clear that it was important to enable the developing countries to become integrated with the international trade system.

Consequently, in November 2001, at the end of the Doha ministers' meeting, the World Trade Organization signed a declaration initiating a new round of negotiations aimed at eventually making substantial improvements for developing countries, and as a result, that round came to be known as the Doha round for development.

At that time, a declaration was signed on the possibility of reaching an agreement on TRIPS, which may sound a bit esoteric at first, but is just the acronym for trade related aspects of intellectual property rights.

Here the reference is more specifically to drugs that might be supplied by generic drug companies to developing countries greatly in need of them and lacking the resources and infrastructures to produce their own drugs for use against serious pandemics or epidemics. A certain number of diseases have been identified in connection with which we should allow suspension of patents so that generic companies can sell drugs to these countries that need them so badly.

This wishful thinking, which is all it was initially, has finally been translated into concrete action. On August 30, 2003, in response to pressure from developing countries and certain NGOs, the WTO finally reached an agreement on these famous TRIPS I just mentioned.

The bill currently before us, as I was saying, stems from the process that began in November 2001 at the World Trade Organization. On the former prime minister's initiative, Canada very quickly decided to implement the provisions of the TRIPS agreement and, last fall, somewhat hastily introduced a bill to ensure Canada's compliance with the WTO decision.

I say somewhat hastily since the bill came to us with major flaws, which the minister herself acknowledged when the bill was being introduced. After prorogation, the bill came back to us under a different number. It became Bill C-9 and had a slightly different format. Nonetheless, it was still flawed and needed to be amended.

After the hearings—once again, I wish to acknowledge the excellent work by the members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology on this bill—it was decided that a number of amendments would be made.

The concept of first right of refusal was eliminated and replaced with a new mechanism that would still offer some protection to the patent holders, the pharmaceutical research companies. They invest a great deal of money in developing new drugs and deserve some protection, regardless of the commendable objectives with respect to the fight against certain illnesses in developing countries. A new mechanism was found that seemed more acceptable, or less unacceptable, for all parties concerned in order to protect innovative pharmaceutical firms.

Also, as the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques mentioned, a number of drugs were added to the existing WTO list. Some drugs were not on the WTO list for technical reasons. Others are not on the WTO list, but are patented in Canada and can help the fight against illnesses that have been identified as pandemics in developing countries.

We also added a certain number of countries to the list. The original list was quite short. We expanded the list so that more developing countries, not having the facilities, equipment or resources to produce these drugs, could still have access to them. We also changed the royalty rates, as requested by the industries concerned, and we adopted a new, clearer definition of who will be eligible to purchase drugs under the bill.

Those, in short, are the amendments and modifications made to the bill thanks to the committee's work. Yesterday, at the report stage, other substantial improvements were made to the bill.

That being said, we must still recognize that it is a rather innovative piece of legislation. Canada is the first country to implement the WTO's TRIPS agreement. Norway is also engaged in the process, but it is clear we are exploring relatively virgin territory. Thus, we are likely to encounter some difficulties along the way as we implement this legislation. Eventually, we will have to make some improvements.

The bill includes the provision that there will be an mandatory review after three years. This will enable us to make whatever amendments and modifications may be necessary. That does not mean that, meanwhile, if very obvious problems were to arise, we could not make the necessary changes to the legislation.

I would like to conclude by saying that it is important to act on this aspect of the problem, by making it possible for developing countries to have access to the drugs they need to deal with a number of epidemics and pandemics; of course it is. However, it is just as important to work upstream as downstream. It would be a totally futile endeavour, a complete waste of time, if we were to provide these drugs, as my colleague has said, and then find them being stored on the docks of certain developing countries.

We have to make sure that the countries that will benefit from these drugs have a distribution infrastructure so that the drugs can reach the most isolated regions. The people who need the drugs have to be able to access them. As developed and industrialized countries, we will have to help the developing countries put an efficient distribution network in place. We will also have to ensure medical support so that people take their drugs properly. It is one thing to have the little bottle of pills at home, but quite another to take the required dose at regular intervals. AIDS medication, for example, involves a very strict regimen, which requires a great deal of discipline.

I will conclude by urging the government to go beyond this bill, which has little impact on us as a society, and help developing countries by substantially increasing aid for development.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry
Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by my colleague from Verchères—Les-Patriotes, as well as those made by his colleague before him.

Indeed this bill is extremely significant for Canada, but even more so for developing countries. My colleague was wondering how to ensure that those who need drugs do have access to them. Even if we have the finest policies in the world allowing us to provide those drugs at a very low cost, in the end those who import them will decide what to do with them.

Actually, I wanted to ask him the following question. What kind of distribution network would he envision? Would it be through the embassies, through NGOs or internationally recognized organizations? In his opinion, what would be the most efficient way to make sure that those who need drugs have access to them?

This is a concern for me. When I was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Industry I raised the issue. I raised it often within our own party. We must ensure that drugs provided to certain countries will not find their back onto our own market or be distributed in countries that do not necessarily need them.

I believe this piece of legislation put forward by the current Prime Minister's government is an excellent and extraordinary one. The Minister of Industry has done a terrific job on this issue. The will to deal with the problem of access to drugs is there. At issue though is the way we go about it. We may have the best of intentions and the best of ideas, but whether or not we get results always comes down to the way we go about doing things.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Beauharnois—Salaberry for his highly relevant question. I had the pleasure of working with him on the Standing Committee on Industry when he was the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Industry. I must say that this is not only a relevant question, but one that is at the heart of our concerns with this bill.

As I was saying, it is one thing to make drugs available to developing countries, but it is another to make sure that the people who truly need them have access to them and use them properly.

International provisions and the bill itself provide a number of safeguards so that the drugs being made available to developing countries will not end up on the black market and be resold for less to other countries, industrialized countries, or even here. Such a practice would bypass the patent holders that sell these products in industrialized countries, where people usually have the means to buy them.

As was mentioned earlier, the bill sets out various provisions, including drug labelling. We were promised that, in addition to labelling on packaging and the pharmaceutical products themselves, drugs would be a different colour than the originals to prevent this possibility or drug smuggling. These mechanisms allow us to maintain a certain level of confidence in terms of avoiding these problems.

That said, what is cruelly missing from this debate is the assurance that, at the other end, these drugs will be reliable.

My colleague is asking me: what would be the best way to proceed? There is no best way. In certain cases, Canada has a different relationship with each developing country. With some countries, our aid goes through non-governmental organizations, while, with other countries, our aid goes directly through the authorities of the country in question on a bilateral basis.

So, we must ensure that, in every country where lower cost pharmaceutical products will be sold to counter epidemics, a distribution infrastructure is set up to ensure that people in the most isolated regions of the African jungle and elsewhere have access.

In closing, I want to make one comment, by saying simply that the title we want to give this bill, the Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa Act, is very commendable and recognizes the former prime minister's interest. However, I think this causes confusion. Countries that might be eligible or that could request access to these pharmaceutical products are not just in Africa. I would hate, due to the title of a highly commendable bill, to confuse countries outside Africa that could request access to such pharmaceutical products.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

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

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Patent Act
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.