Lifesaving Drugs to Poor People? Nah.

Every once in a while, a bill comes along that is essentially impossible to oppose. Bill C-398 was one of those bills.

On Wednesday, the House of Commons defeated C-398 – a bill that would have enabled lifesaving generic drugs to be shipped to poor people in developing countries at an affordable price. These are drugs used for HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, but are typically too expensive for the world’s poorest people. Quite simply, it would have saved lives by enabling the world’s poorest people access to much-needed drugs.

All but seven Conservative MPs voted against the bill, resulting in a 148-141 defeat. The Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino (the person in charge of Canada helping poor people), did not vote.

The bill was an attempt to cut the red tape and make more efficient Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR). CAMR came into effect in 2004, but has simply not worked. C-398 would reform CAMR to make it effective and, thus, ensure that lifesaving drugs are available to poor people around the world.

I do not hide my general displeasure with the current government, but this particular incident makes me especially upset. It’s upsetting because no good reason has been offered by Conservative MPs as to why they voted against it. Most wouldn’t rationalize their ‘No’ votes and those that did just spread misinformation about what it is that C-398 would accomplish. Some said that it would violate Canada’s WTO agreements. But that claim is quite simply untrue.

I can’t think of any real reason why MPs would vote against this bill, but that’s the nature of Canada these days. And for Conservative MPs who claim to be pro-life, their decision to deny poor people lifesaving drugs is particularly baffling. NDP MP Paul Dewar put it best soon after the bill’s defeat.

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