Bill C-393 and the Failure of Canadian Democracy.

(From Sahar Golshan, THE VARSITY (University of Toronto) This article was published on Apr 4, 2011 in the Comment section. – link

What you should do to recover an initiative that can bring greater access to medicine

Good News! The House of Commons passed Bill C-393, a proposed law to create greater access to life-saving medicines to treat AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and other public health problems in developing countries.

Bad news. The Harper Government killed it.

The battle to improve Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) has been a seven year long fight. Recently, 70,000 Canadians kept up the fight by mobilising in demonstrations, signing petitions, and contacting their democratic representatives in Ottawa.

And we won. On Wednesday, March 9, 2011, the majority of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons voted in favour of Bill C-393. The Bill was passed by a large margin, with 172 MPs voting in favour and 111 voting against.

Humanitarian activists such as Stephen Lewis and James Orbinski, and civil society organizations like the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network rejoiced at Canada’s monumental humanitarian decision.

Then, Bill C-393 was sent to the Senate of Canada. Once passed in the House of Commons, all Parliamentary bills must be passed by the Senate in order to become law.

So, with mere days remaining on the clock before the likely end of Parliament and a federal election, what happened to Bill C-393 in the Senate?

Bill C-393 died in the Senate, stuck in limbo because it has been prevented from coming to a vote. The Senate had five opportunities on five separate days to pass Bill c-393. Yet everyday, Conservative Senators moved to adjourn the debate to the next sitting day, until the House of Commons voted that it had lost confidence in the Harper government, and Parliament was dissolved on Friday, March 25.

An Undemocratic Scandal
Let’s be clear. The Conservative government leadership and Big Pharma were Bill C-393’s only enemies, and had a deliberate strategy to kill Bill C-393 all along, using its majority of their appointed Senators in the Senate.

This is the only plausible explanation for why the Harper government allowed its backbenchers to vote their conscience on the bill, while whipping its cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries into voting against the bill in the House of Commons on March 9.

Allowed a free vote, an impressive total of 26 Conservative MPs voted in favour of Bill C-393 — a significant show of support from within that caucus, given the Prime Minister’s opposition and the partial whipping of the party. But when you control the unelected Senate, as Harper now does thanks to having appointed many new Conservative senators, what the majority supports in the democratically-elected House of Commons can end up being meaningless.

Then there was the memo. Industry Minister Tony Clement sent a memo out to all Conservative Senators urging them to vote against the Bill C-393. As critics have pointed out, the memo repeated numerous inaccurate claims.

What was the result? Conservative Senator Stephen Greene, delivering the only speech against the bill in the Senate, read out much of the memo word for word – before then moving to adjourn further debate, keeping the bill in limbo.

Given the support from all other quarters in both the House of Commons and the Senate, the only barrier to passing Bill C-393 was the Conservative government, which stalled the bill day after day until time ran out.

The current Senators aren’t new at the bill-killing business. The death of Bill C-393 is brought to you by the same Senate that did away with the Climate Change Accountability Act in 2010, which also had majority MP support in the House of Commons

“The Senate is supposed to be a chamber of ‘sober second thought’,” says Richard Elliott, Executive Director of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. “But what we saw with Bill C-393 was the use of the Senate to veto a bill opposed by the government even though it enjoyed widespread support in the House of Commons, even from all parties.”

A Call to Action
The federal election on Monday, May 2, 2011 is a window of opportunity to advance Canada’s commitment to greater access to essential medicines worldwide.

What can you do to ensure that the next Parliament supports reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime?

1.Participate in your riding’s all-candidates meeting(s). Make the death of Bill C-393 an election issue. Ask your current Member of Parliament and the candidates running against him or her about their commitment to reform the broken Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime. For more information: http://www.aidslaw.ca/camr

2.Contact your Member of Parliament. Find out how your MP voted on Bill C-393 in the House of Commons. For example, the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus is located in the riding of Member of Parliament Bob Dechert, who voted against Bill C-393. Live in Mississauga-Erindale? Call (905) 277-1500 or email info@bobdechert.ca and voice your concern on Dechert’s opposition.

3.Vote. Remember: the federal government dictates the country’s foreign policy. Vote for a candidate who supports reforming Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime and other initiatives to respond to global health and development needs.

May 2 is fast approaching. Given this kind of record on a global humanitarian initiative, do you really want to leave Stephen Harper, Tony Clement and their government in charge of Canada’s role in the world?

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