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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 ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Serge Marcil Liberal 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Beauharnois—Salaberry Québec

Liberal

Serge Marcil LiberalParliamentary 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

James Rajotte Canadian Alliance 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 ActGovernment Orders

November 7th, 2003 / 12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Liberal 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 ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the minister have the unanimous consent of the House?

Patent ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Patent ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Patent ActGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Bloc 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 ActRoyal 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.

The Patent ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

The Speaker

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

The Patent ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Bloc

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

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

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

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

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

The Patent ActGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

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

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

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

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

The vision which fuelled our struggle for freedom;--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

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

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

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

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

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

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1:50 p.m.

NDP

Alexa McDonough NDP Halifax, NS

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

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

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

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

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1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Nault Liberal Kenora—Rainy River, ON

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

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1:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is there agreement?

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1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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1:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.