Last in Parliament May 2004, as NDP MP for Palliser (Saskatchewan)
Lost his last election, in 2004, with 35.48% of the vote.
Statements in the House
Quarantine Act May 14th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak in the House, even in the dying minutes of the 37th Parliament of Canada in all probability.
I am pleased to speak on behalf of the New Democratic Party caucus to put a few things on the record with regard to an act to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases.
I note that the purpose of Bill C-36 is to protect public health by taking comprehensive measures to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable diseases while ensuring respect for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as the Canadian Bill of Rights.
To that end, the bill aims to prevent the introduction and spread of communicable disease in Canada. It is said to apply to everyone as well as conveyances, travelling both out of Canada as well as entering the country.
The legislation that is introduced here today is described as an update of the Quarantine Act to address new issues as a result of the spread of new communicable diseases that have come to public light in recent years.
I am thinking of course of SARS which had such an impact a year ago in Canada; West Nile virus, which seems to affect Saskatchewan more than any other provinces in Canada or at least it did last year; and indeed, the avian influenza that is ravaging the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.
This bill is also being described as the first step in a series of legislative initiatives to establish a framework for public health including the creation of a public health agency for Canada.
I suggest that this is certainly long overdue legislation. We note that the Quarantine Act dates back to 1872, a very long time ago, upwards of 160 years. Certainly, it needs to be updated in view of these new diseases that have been identified in recent years and undoubtedly are the forerunner to more and new interesting things that will impact on us in the coming years.
Under the proposed legislation the minister will gain the power to appoint screen officers, quarantine officers and environmental assessment officers; establish quarantine facilities at locations in Canada; take temporary possession of premises to use as a detention facility when required and necessary; and divert conveyances, airlines, cargo ships, et cetera, to alternate landing sites.
The stakeholders in all of this include of course the provincial and territorial governments, as the member from the Bloc Quebecois noted in his remarks a few moments ago. It also includes health professionals, industry advocacy groups and members of the Canadian public. We are told they have been consulted on the proposed legislation during the health protection legislation consultations held last year and earlier this year.
However, it is important to stress that provincial and territorial public health officials have a significant role to play. They, along with other stakeholders, will continue and need to continue to participate in the consultations that will follow on Bill C-36.
The updated Quarantine Act will add an additional layer of protection by providing strong, flexible and up to date legislative tools that will allow us to respond quickly to prevent the export of communicable diseases. It is also more focused on airline travel rather than marine travel, so we are told.
Just as an aside, I believe that it was the government of Mike Harris in the Province of Ontario that, a few years ago, eliminated most of the public health officers in that province and said that they were not required any more; that we did not need public health officers in this modern new day and age. We found out, to our chagrin and regret, that it is not the case as a result of pandemics like SARS and West Nile virus.
I do not mean to pick on the former government because generally, I think there has been a diminution on public health over recent years across the country. We have come to realize that we should not have let our guard down, so to speak, in this important area.
Provincial and territorial governments are now seeing the mistakes that have resulted because of that and are ramping up support and finances to ensure that we have a strong public health sector in this country.
I am optimistic that working together with the provinces and territories we can rebuild public health and take it back to where it once was, but also modernize it so we are up to speed to deal effectively with these potential outbreaks when they come along.
Some measures, such as those contained in the bill, are obviously needed. Considering the act has not been changed since the late 1800s, some updating is required to reflect the global characteristics of travel that we are coming to see. I am sure the world will continue to become a smaller place in the years to come.
Another positive point in the proposed legislation is that it recognizes the threat to public health and proposes a way in which to prevent the spread of a communicable disease in Canada as a result of international travel.
There are also a couple of negatives in the bill that need to be identified. Although the legislation seems to be sound in principle, it does have the potential of leading to abuse of power by officials. We have some concern with regard to the level of authority the bill would appear to give to quarantine officers and screening officers. For example, people suspected of having an illness could be held for an indeterminate period of time. It is not clear from the legislation what kind of compensation would be available for people thus affected.
There are also gaps in the proposed legislation around the authority to act by the screening and quarantine officers and that needs to be reviewed closely. That includes the right to place travellers in isolation for an indeterminate amount of time.
Provided that these safeguards are put in place and adequate clarification is provided, we in the NDP consider it reasonable to support the bill. It is long overdue. We do note, as the Bloc Quebecois and the Conservative Party have also indicated, that it is the 11th hour of this 37th Parliament. One cannot help but wonder about the depth of commitment from the government opposite in bringing forward this legislation at such a late date.
The New Democratic Party caucus supports the principle of the bill. We would favour referring it to the health committee for further study and clarification.
Order of Canada May 14th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, one of the country's best known, best loved labour activists and feminists is at Rideau Hall this morning to become an Officer of the Order of Canada. A rich honour for Nancy Riche, sharp witted, fearless and forever colourful.
I had the privilege of working with Nancy when she was elected secretary-treasurer of the National Union of Provincial Government Employees in 1984. Two years later Nancy became executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress and rose to the position of secretary treasurer.
During these years, she has advocated numerous causes, such as women's rights, health care, employment insurance, occupational safety, fair trade and, always, social justice.
Nancy was also president of the Women's Committee of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions representing 157 million workers worldwide.
Warmest congratulations today to Sister Nancy Riche.
Justice May 13th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, 13 years ago Kevin Ross Ferris turned police informant enabling the OPP to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen goods, narcotics and sending several individuals to jail.
His life in danger, Mr. Ferris was placed in the witness protection program, given a new identity, and relocated to British Columbia. Believing he was not receiving adequate protection and fearing for his life, Ferris fled Canada, creating his own identity.
Returning in 2002, the RCMP arrested him for parole violation under the name of Kevin Ross Ferris instead of his witness protection name, thus putting his life in danger once more.
Last year the National Parole Board ruled his sentence had been fully served back in 1992, yet for 15 months Mr. Ferris has been unable to work as he is without either a social insurance number or driver's licence. Throughout this time neither the RCMP nor the witness protection program has provided any meaningful assistance.
Kevin Ross Ferris wants his life back.
Committees of the House May 13th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I wish to return to the point of order from the member for Huron—Bruce. Just for the record, there was deliberation at committee last night among all parties. The member requested that all members go to their House leaders in order to give unanimous consent today. The member for the Bloc Quebecois is not fully informed and--
Supply May 11th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, one hardly knows where to start on that. I would just repeat what I said a minute ago. When provinces are carrying 84¢ of the dollar and the federal government is only putting in 16¢, it is very difficult for provinces like Saskatchewan, with a million people and a small taxpayer base, to do all that.
However, perhaps the member for Blackstrap could make some of those approaches to the health minister across the way and point out some of the realities with which governments are dealing.
Supply May 11th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I certainly think people who work in the profession feel that if we had doctors paid on a salaried basis, it would help matters. I worked in the department of health in the province of Saskatchewan before coming to this place. One thing the department was working on was exactly that. It was trying to get doctors off of a fee for service arrangement and onto an annual salary.
I am pleased to say that I belong to the Regina community clinic on Winnipeg Street in Regina. There are roughly half a dozen doctors there and they are all on a salaried basis. Progressive governments that are looking for choices on this would like to see more doctors on salary rather than on a fee for service basis so we can try to reign in some of the costs.
When Mr. Romanow was the premier of the province of Saskatchewan, he used to say that the province could spend 100% of its money on health care and it still would not be enough. Of course there had to be money to pay down the debt left over from Grant Devine and for education, roads and a number of other things. However, this has become a juggernaut over the last 10 years that has grabbed provinces like Saskatchewan and most others in the country, and it will not let go because of the rising costs.
I have less concern overall about the doctors on a fee for service basis than I have on private MRIs. Inevitably, built into those private MRIs will have to be a profit motive. That is our concern. We want to limit and reduce the for profit delivery rather than see it escalate in the years to come.
Supply May 11th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague from Regina--Qu'Appelle. We are debating, as we wind down, that the House condemn the private for profit delivery of health care which the government has encouraged since 1993, and of course I am delighted as always to have the opportunity to speak.
I have the opportunity to speak, and for that I want to thank the Conservative Party, because it has managed throughout the course the day, a full day of debate on this important topic, to put forward one speaker all day long, a handful of hecklers and people who would have questions and comments, but one speaker. It has 75 members and purports to be the government in waiting, the official opposition that is ready to take over. By any public opinion poll, health care is the issue in Canada. We have a debate on private for profit health care and it has managed to put up one speaker all day long.
The New Democratic Party has carried this debate from start to finish, as admittedly it should because it introduced the motion. It is absolutely mind boggling and bewildering that the so-called official opposition has been able to put up only its health critic to take part in a significant and important way in a very important debate. Presumably the Conservatives are suggesting that their leader said everything that needed to be said yesterday on the topic when he introduced that party's platform on health care. Of course there would be no need to add or embellish perfection, if that were the case, except that the leader of that party has over the years said many things on the topic of health care and the private delivery thereof. I would like to note one or two of those.
In the House in October of 2002, the current leader of the Conservative Party said:
Monopolies in the public sector are just as objectionable as monopolies in the private sector. It should not matter who delivers health care, whether it is private, profit, not for profit, or public, as long as Canadians have access to those services...regardless of their financial needs.
Also in 2002, the leader's website--and I cannot remember which party he was running for at that time; he has been in so many leadership campaigns--stated:
Favours diminishing the Canada Health Act to allow provinces to “experiment with market reforms and private health care delivery options. [The leadership candidate] is prepared to take tough positions including experimenting with private delivery in the public health system”.
The point I am driving home is the Conservative position is that it does not matter who delivers health care or how it is delivered, as long as it is accessible. That is the point they make repeatedly.
The for profit health care folks deny the same level of care. People have pointed out that where they have made comparisons, the death rate in the for profit health model is significantly higher. The point has been made by the Canadian Health Coalition that 2,000 more Canadians per year would die under a for profit system than under a not for profit system.
Mr. Mazankowski, a well-known former Conservative cabinet minister and deputy prime minister, asked at the Romanow commission hearings a couple of years ago why everyone is afraid of private provision of health care; if the customers are not satisfied they will go out of business. There was a similar comment from Senator Michael Kirby who did that institution's report on health care. He said, “We do not care if health care is privately delivered. Frankly we do not care who owns the institutions”.
I want to refer to somebody who does care about how health care is delivered and who pointed out the difference very clearly and very eloquently. I am referring to Dr. Arnold Relman, professor emeritus of medicine and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was on Parliament Hill a couple of years ago to tell a Senate committee about the U.S. experience on health care. Dr. Relman said:
My conclusion from all of this study is that most of the current problems of the U.S. system--and they are numerous--result from the growing encroachment of private for-profit ownership and competitive markets on a sector of our economy that properly belongs in the public domain. No health care system in the industrialized world is as heavily commercialized as ours, [referring to the United States] and none is as expensive, inefficient, and inequitable--or as unpopular. Indeed, just about the only parts of U.S. society happy with our current market-driven health care system are the owners and investors in the for-profit industries now living off the system.
Dr. Relman went on to say:
Private health care businesses have certainly not achieved the benefits touted by their advocates. In fact, there is now much evidence that private businesses delivering health care for profit have greatly increased the total cost of health care and damaged--not helped--their public and private non-profit competitors.
He pointed to the example of the failure of the commercial HMOs in the United States, an insurance system that was seen a few years ago. Senior citizens covered by medicare in that country were encouraged to obtain their care from private for profit HMOs that would be paid by the government. It soon became obvious that the costs of care out of the private system were much greater and that senior citizens were dissatisfied with the care they received. A wholesale exit of senior citizens from the private system ensued. They voted with their feet, in other words, for the public system. He concluded by saying:
--the U.S. experience has shown that private markets and commercial competition have made things worse, not better, for our health care system. That could have been predicted, because health care is clearly a public concern and a personal right of all citizens. By its very nature, it is fundamentally different from most other good[s] and services distributed in commercial markets. Markets simply are not designed to deal effectively with the delivery of medical care--which is a social function that needs to be addressed in the public sector.
We submit that there is a very significant difference in how health care is delivered. We want to see it delivered in the public domain. Our party's point is that there is really very little difference between the Liberal and Conservative parties on this subject. I know the government and the Prime Minister have been trying to suggest that there is a vast difference between what they would do and what a Conservative Party in power would do on the delivery of private for profit health care. We know there is very little difference.
Over the weekend and yesterday it was interesting to hear some comments by Tom Kent who has played a very significant role in this country, particularly in the federal government and in the Liberal Party over many years. He was talking about Paul Martin Sr. and the role that he played in health care after the Prime Minister's apparent outburst in caucus last week about how his father's party was not going to give up on this. Mr. Kent's recollection, as substantiated by Paul Hellyer who was in cabinet at the time, was that Paul Martin Sr. had a relatively minor role to play in all of that.
More important and in regard to today's debate, Mr. Kent was passionate in his complaints about what he felt the present Prime Minister did to undermine medicare when he was finance minister between 1993 and 2002. Mr. Kent said:
[The] 1995 budget...ended all pretense of a commitment [to medicare] and substituted just the [Canada Health and Social Transfer], which is an arbitrary amount...as distinct from a commitment to a share in provincial costs.... The contract for medicare was already tattered. In 1995, it was unilaterally and unceremoniously thrown out.
In conclusion, our position in this party is that there is very little difference between those two parties on the issue of private for profit delivery of health care. We think it is the New Democratic Party that will stand to speak on this issue and to benefit from the lack of direction from the government and the official opposition on this very important matter.
Budget Implementation Act, 2004 May 4th, 2004
Madam Speaker, I guess we can each look at our statistics and challenge one another. I am looking at child poverty rates in Canada between 1973 and 2001. The source is the Social Planning Council of Metropolitan Toronto and data taken from StatsCanada, Income Trends in Canada 2001.
Let me just reference 1989 because that was the year that Mr. Broadbent's resolution received unanimous support of the House. According to this graph, the child poverty rate was exactly 15%. Then it went up in the next four years to reach a high point of about 20.3% in 1993. Then there was some slight reduction, but not nearly as dramatic as the parliamentary secretary would suggest. There was a gradual reduction until 2001, where it sits miraculously as 15.2%.
In other words, over the 12 years, between 1989 and 2001, it went up 0.2%, which is hardly anything to get very excited about. Obviously it got worse, not better.
Budget Implementation Act, 2004 May 4th, 2004
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Halifax.
In this budget speech I will focus a good deal of my remarks on child poverty, a subject I campaigned on in 1997 and spoke about in my initial speech in the House in the fall of that year. It is something I know Canadians feel very strongly about, as I do.
Last week, in response to a question by the member for Winnipeg--Transcona, the Minister of National Defence talked about star wars being a 1980s concept just like Ed Broadbent. I want to say, through you, Madam Speaker, to the Minister of National Defence that child poverty was also a 1980s concept. In fact, Ed Broadbent moved a motion in 1989, which the House unanimously supported, that we would eliminate child poverty in Canada by the year 2000. We did not make that deadline and we are not even close to making that deadline. I think that is one of the reasons that Ed Broadbent is running again to come back to active politics. I think one of the reasons he will be elected in Ottawa Centre is that too many Canadians are appalled at what has not happened in the area of child poverty since that motion was passed unanimously by all parties in November 1989.
How is it, after all the hand wringing, the outpouring about child poverty that has been expressed and the lip service by probably all parties in the House, that we have seen so little in the past decade and a half? How is it that countries like Sweden, Norway and Finland have found ways to reduce poverty rates well below 5%, while English speaking countries, like Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States, have poverty rates in excess of 15% and as high as 22.3%?
The answer from the experts is two-fold. First, a lack of a government investment, depending on our perspective, high investment by a government to reduce child poverty. Second, minimum wage. Low minimum wages almost certainly guarantee child poverty and Canada has a terrible track record, second only to the United States when it comes to low minimum wages.
Those are the main differences in child poverty levels when we look at it across the world.
In this country, low income families with children remained far below the poverty line throughout the 1980s and the 1990s. There are different categories of low income families, and lone parent families headed by a female is one category. The average gap between the median income and the poverty line is $9,000 per year, and 46% of families headed by a lone female parent live in poverty.
Children with disabilities is another crucial area because of financial stresses, first, due to the disability, and second, probably having one of the parents needing to quit his or her job, more often her job, in order to look after the disabled child.
The third category is immigrant families. Members will be interested to know that in 1980, less than one-quarter of immigrant families were living in poverty. The number has risen to nearly 36% in the intervening 20 years. It used to take 10 years for a newly arrived immigrant family to have a median income with their Canadian counterparts. That has now grown by 50% to 15 years. Forty per cent of immigrant children, where both parents are recent immigrants, are living in poverty, and the pressures are most profound in our largest cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver.
The fourth category is our aboriginals. They have one of the highest rates of child poverty. Of aboriginals living off reserve in 2001, 41% of those children live in poverty.
In my home city of Regina, aboriginal people are more than three times as likely to be in low income in the general population, as in the census of the metropolitan area of Regina. The census data showed that almost 6 of every 10 aboriginal people in Regina were living in low income in 2000.
In metropolitan areas the low income rate included three groups: the lone parent headed by a female, immigrants and aboriginals. In the 1980s most metropolitan area residents, regardless of their income, shared in economic growth to a certain extent. It is true that higher income families increased greater, but everybody got a larger piece of the economic pie. Contrary to what the parliamentary secretary said in his speech this morning, in the 1990s the growth was concentrated among high income families.
This is not NDP group think. This is from the Statistic Canada report of April 7, 2004. The two areas that are singled out are Toronto and Vancouver. It directly counters the parliamentary secretary's feel happy argument that wealth and health have both been enhanced in the country since the miracle of October 1993 when his party came to power.
The solution to child and family poverty is a structural systemic reality, and it has to be dealt with in that way. The problems are caused by a low wage economy on the one hand and inadequate income security on the other. Neither provides assurances in our country or lifts families out of poverty, nor establishes a solid income floor to ensure that they stay out of poverty. Unless and until structural sources of child poverty are addressed, there will always be new vulnerable groups that will fall into that trap, such as the immigrant parents and families, which I referenced a moment ago.
Economic growth by itself is not enough. We need instead a comprehensive package that includes labour market income security, early learning and child care and a housing program that concentrates on social programs. We know that the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation has not built a stick of social housing in the past decade.
The second area is the fact that Canada is, whether we like it or not and I do not, a low wage country, second only to the United States. Therefore, we need a significant increase in our minimum wage. People who have looked at child poverty say that we need a $10 an hour minimum wage. I realize that will result in cardiac arrest for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. However, if we are to do something about child poverty, we have to put our money where out mouth is. These experts are saying that we have to come up with not 10¢ an hour or 25¢ an hour, but a significant increase in our minimum wage laws.
I realize my time is winding down, but I want to make a brief comment or two about the phoney debate that continues to take place in the House by members of the official opposition and the government about who is scarier and who will do what to whom. The reality has been that tax rates have been flattened over several years because the official opposition proposed them. The government opposed them but then introduced those flattened tax rates and reduced taxes.
If we recall the debate prior to the 2000 election, the then Canadian Alliance was going to reduce taxes by $65 billion. The government trumped it and made it $100 billion. That is the reality. We just introduced on January 1, $4 billion in corporate tax reductions.
Patent Act April 29th, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-9, the humanitarian bill. It is certainly important for all caucuses to support the legislation because the need for access to medicines has been recognized internationally. It is important that Canada participates and sets an example for the world, although it does remain to be seen whether we will have set a good example. I will have more on that later.
Every day a countless number of people die in the developing world of diseases for which there are cures, diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria and pneumonia, simply because of a lack of access to medicines most often due to the high cost of pharmaceutical products.
Although there is yet no cure for the HIV-AIDS pandemic, there are drugs to ameliorate it. In Africa alone, every day 6,000 people die of AIDS, while 11,000 more contract the disease.
I think we would all agree that Stephen Lewis, the Canadian special envoy on this at the United Nations, has done more not only in Canada but around the world to raise this issue and to force us to realize it than any other human being alive.
On health, education and security, any initiative to improve in these areas will have many different components, and this bill seeks to address one of those core components, namely the access to medicines.
Improved health is linked to increased school attendance for children and their ability to do well while at school. As we all know, education is a lifelong process and has a lifelong impact on an individual's well-being and economic productivity.
We have heard lots of talk about security in recent days. In fact, the Prime Minister is talking about that very subject this afternoon in Washington. I firmly believe one of the most important ways that we can make our world more secure is through improving the health of the people in that world because it leads them to participate more fully in the social, economic and cultural events and aspects of their countries and their home communities.
Many studies show the devastating economic impact of infectious diseases such as malaria and the AIDS pandemic. The World Health Organization's recent commission on macroeconomics and health stated:
The evidence confirms that countries with the weakest conditions of health and education have a much harder time achieving sustained growth than do countries with better conditions of health and education.
There is no surprise there.
On the international process over the past several years, the background to this legislation is that when it is passed, Bill C-9 will be among the first pieces of legislation of its kind in the world, the end product of several years of negotiations on the international stage. It goes back to November 2001 at the WTO Doha round on intellectual property rights. The declaration affirmed that countries have the right to protect public health and improve access to affordable medicines, including through compulsory licensing of pharmaceutical products.
This international acknowledgement was incredibly important because, although many countries officially recognized the need for a better balance between intellectual property rights and human rights, the need for a north-south sharing of technologies and knowledge, the reality of intellectual property rights made the practicalities of that sharing difficult, which meant that little of substance was actually being done.
The WTO agreement last August is the practical solution to the principles agreed to at Doha and was historic in that it gave World Trade Organization members the right to export to developing countries those generic medicines still under patent without fear of trade retaliation and it acknowledged the importance and urgency of so doing.
On the competition aspects of the bill, because of intellectual property rights, patent holder or innovator companies have monopolies on their drug products in this country for a period of 20 years, which the health critic for the Bloc Québécois was explaining very well a few moments ago. That 20 year patent protection rule varies from country to country around the world.
In developing new drug products there is often many years of research and development and patent holders obviously must recoup their costs and these costs, particularly for new experimental drugs such as those used in HIV-AIDS, are often far too high for developing countries and NGOs delivering health services in those developing countries to meet the need and demand for the products.
As a result, many patent holders have entered into agreements with countries and specific programs to provide their drugs at lower prices or at no cost at all but those efforts have been insufficient to meet the demand.
Increasing competition, by allowing generic producers to enter the market earlier, is seen as crucial to ensuring that those needing treatment have access to those medicines as required. Increasing competition increases supply and decreases prices, and both of these are needed for developing countries in order for them to be able to meet the urgent health care needs of their people.
On the international obligation front, Canada has many international obligations in this area, including having recognized since 1945 the right to health as a fundamental right, the UN's special session on HIV-AIDS to make, in an urgent manner, every effort to increase the standard of treatment for people suffering from HIV-AIDS, including the prevention and treatment of opportunistic infections.
It is important to ensure that as parliamentarians we fully respect and reflect Canada's obligations to taking this important step toward the full realization of the human right to health, including the promotion of access to affordable medicines for all.
My colleague, the member for Windsor West, who has worked very hard and tirelessly on this legislation, presented both at committee and here at report stage several other pharmaceutical products that can be of use to developing countries. An amendment was made to include an important fixed dose drug for the treatment of tuberculosis and that was passed at report stage and, I am happy to say, is included in the bill.
Unfortunately, two other drug products that he had proposed were rejected at report stage. One of them is on the World Health Organization's pre-qualified list of drugs for HIV-AIDS and the other is currently indicated for pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children in the developing world under the age of five. This drug is also being studied for possible anti-tuberculosis use.
I sincerely hope that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Industry will together move quickly to receive advice on those two products and include them on a future schedule of drugs.
We first saw Bill C-9 as Bill C-56, which was introduced last November but died on the Order Paper when the House of Commons prorogued on December 12. It was reintroduced in its initial form on February 12 but the government proposed many changes following that.
Testimony was given at committee from a variety of groups, and while all witnesses appearing made it clear that they were supportive of the initiative, many problems with the bill that were identified by those expert witnesses. They included the first right of refusal, which would have allowed the patent holder, the pharmaceutical companies, to scoop a contract negotiated by a potential generic producer. This would drive up the cost of the eventual drug.
With regard to the schedule, testimony on this aspect was clear. It was felt that there should be no schedule of drugs. It was felt by the overwhelming majority of witnesses that this would be flawed at the outset and that having a schedule, regardless of how flexible it may be intended to be, would add another unnecessary step in the process of getting drugs to the developing world. The reason for that is that if the drug is not listed on the schedule there would have to be a process to first, get it on the schedule, and then get it to where it was needed.
Respected organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders, testified that the language did not allow for the participation of non-governmental organizations. It was felt that the wording would not allow them to participate because NGOs do not consider themselves as agents of any government and they play a crucial role in many developing countries in providing health care services, including access to medicines.
Many witnesses also presented testimony about the need to expand the schedules of eligible countries. In its original form only WTO member developing countries and least developed countries were eligible, while many witnesses testified that there was no requirement by international trade rules to exclude those several dozen other developing countries, such as Vietnam, Iran and Iraq, countries which also face substantial health issues that we see regularly on our television sets and that could be better addressed if they had access to medicines at affordable cost.
I want to turn now to the major problems that we see in the bill. Over 100 amendments that were submitted by my colleague, the member for Windsor West would have done several things, including eliminating the first right of refusal, extending the list of eligible countries and drug products and, lastly, clarifying the language around the participation of non-government organizations.
After the committee hearings, the government took more than a month to present its amendments to the bill. It made substantial amendments, including eliminating the first right of refusal, allowing for other developing countries to apply through diplomatic channels to be eligible to participate and to allow NGOs to participate. Although some of these changes presented further additional problems that may affect the workability of the bill, myself, the member for Windsor West and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party caucus are supportive of the majority of those proposed amendments.
We did raise at committee the new concerns around the increased opportunities for legal battles between patent and generic drug companies that could seriously impact how this bill will actually work in reality, the unnecessary requirement that developing countries wishing to be added to the list of eligible countries are required to be added specifically with reference to a particular drug product and it is unclear what process has to be followed after that.
My colleague from Windsor West was pleased to have the support of the committee and wanted it recognized on several amendments, including those to ensure that humanitarian concerns be considered the first determination if the Federal Court is required under the appropriate section as to whether a royalty rate has been established according to the formula that will be prescribed in the regulations.
The section on page 12 of the bill now reads:
The Federal Court may make an order...taking into account
(a) the humanitarian and non-commercial reasons underlying the issuance of the authorization;
(b) the economic value of the use of the invention or inventions to the country or WTO Member
We can see the importance of reversing those two clauses.
Another amendment ensures that there is a minimum of a 30 day waiting period that a potential generic producer must observe to apply for a voluntary licence from the patent holder before applying to the Commissioner of Patents for a compulsory licence.
The third amendment was a language change to ensure that the minister be required to establish an advisory committee to advise on the inclusion of further drug products in schedule 1.
There are some continuing problems that have been identified and the first that remains is on the scheduling. As the House has heard before, there is a consensus that the presence of a schedule at all provides further inflexibility in ensuring that countries have access to the drugs that they require.
A list by its nature is exclusionary because it does not include all possibilities and the negotiations that led to the historic WTO waiver last August examined and rejected the idea of creating a list.
Under Bill C-9, if a country wants a drug that is already approved for use and sale here in Canada, it will have to start a process to get that drug included before a generic producer could apply for a voluntary or compulsory licence to supply the country with that medication.
We presented at committee and in the House amendments to improve the schedule, and we will continue to monitor the impact of the existence of the schedule on the workability of the bill.
The second major problem that remains, in our opinion, is that NGOs in countries where they are legally entitled to purchase and distribute pharmaceutical products to contract directly with generic suppliers in Canada. Again, NGOs play a crucial role in many developing countries in their broader health care programs, including purchasing and distributing of essential medicines, and this barrier is a major cause of concern around the workability of this bill.
The third major problem stems from those amendments the government proposed at committee stage to replace the first right of refusal. The new legislation, as amended, now includes opportunities for patent holders to take generic products to the federal court about the royalty rate and the price of the product. Over the past decade there have been at least 300 cases brought against generic producers in federal court and court battles can be lengthy and costly, as we all know. Given that the price generic producers can charge is now to be regulated by a fixed and flexible cap, there is concern that they may not be able to participate to increase supply on the variety of products that might have been possible without these new sections and without the first right of refusal clauses. Generic producers will have significant outlay of cost to increase their own research and development and operational costs to get into this business of increasing supply, and with the price cap there may be a serious disincentive for generic producers to participate.
Problems, as I have tried to indicate, do remain with the bill, but it is in the best interests of the people who the bill is intended to assist for us to give the regime a try and to pass the legislation quickly.
Canada has made numerous international commitments, which I and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party caucus support, to help address the pandemic of HIV-AIDS and other diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. While we continue to be critical of some government action, or better said, inaction, in some of these areas, if Bill C-9 actually works to increase pharmaceutical products through competition, then it will be an important tool and broader strategies to improve health in countries across the world.
We have gone through the process of hearing expert witnesses, amending legislation and exchanging ideas on how we think the bill should work. However there was a definite mindset and will be in all parties, including my own, to ensure that we deal with the bill as quickly as possible to ensure that we at least try to get cheaper pharmaceutical drugs on the market.
We in the NDP will continue to watch and monitor how the bill works and whether it provides enough incentive for generic producers to actually get into the business of producing cheaper versions of drugs for export to developing countries, the role and efficacy of the advisory committee and the schedule of drugs.
Just before I take my seat, I was interested to hear that this bill has been named the Jean Chrétien bill. While I do not wish to take anything away from the former prime minister and I know his interest in Africa, there will be very few Canadians who will think that this should be related to Jean Chrétien. It should be known as the Stephen Lewis bill. It was Stephen Lewis who brought this to the attention of Canadians and, indeed, people around the world and it is important that it be recognized at this time.