Hon. Aileen Carroll (Minister for International Cooperation, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today in support of Bill C-9. This is groundbreaking legislation that clearly demonstrates what can be accomplished when we focus on what truly matters: humanity and compassion.
Today with the Canada and Jean Chrétien pledge to Africa act, we are sending a message to the community of nations. When confronted with misery and tragedy, Canadians do not look away.
We do not close our eyes to the sufferings of others and we do not throw up our hands in despair, we act. Diseases such as HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria are taking a terrible toll on the developing world. They accounted for almost a quarter of the global death toll last year.
However, numbers alone cannot begin to convey the full impact of these diseases on the political, economic and social structures in developing countries. Eighty percent of those dying from AIDS are between the ages of 20 and 50. It is anticipated that by the end of this decade, there could be more than 44 million AIDS orphans.
As a result, we face a potential demographic crisis where the most productive members of society can no longer raise their families and contribute to their communities.
The world's poorest countries cannot effectively fight poverty if their teachers, students, health care workers and business people are debilitated by disease. Simply put, we face the breakdown of families, community life and ultimately societies at large. Yet many of the diseases plaguing poverty stricken countries are largely treatable.
In the developed world, for example, the use of combination chemotherapy with anti-retroviral agents makes HIV-AIDS a chronic but a manageable disease. In the developing world, however, these drugs are largely unavailable. Only about 5% of those who require anti-retroviral agents are getting them and the same is true for other essential drugs. This is a great injustice and one that must be addressed.
As Canadians, we need to get involved. We need to work hand in hand with other nations to help lift the death sentence that HIV-AIDS and other diseases have literally imposed on millions of men, women and children across the planet. Fortunately, the situation, while dire, is not without hope.
After many years of sounding the alarm, the tireless efforts of a committed few are awaking the rest of the world to this grim reality. As Stephen Lewis, the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy on HIV-AIDS in Africa has noted, “there is a new momentum”. We are seeing a renewed commitment and engagement by those in the developed world.
I believe that Bill C-9 is a big step toward strengthening Canada's commitment on this issue.
This legislation responds to a decision by the World Trade Organization to override certain provisions of the agreement on the aspects of intellectual property rights as they relate to trade.
The decision is intended to permit the export, under certain conditions, of licensed versions of patented pharmaceutical products to countries that cannot manufacture their own.
I should point out that the WTO does not require its members to enact any particular measures. No one has ever said that Canada must get involved. Nevertheless, our collective conscience says we must do so. This is a moral imperative and a pressing need to act, and to act quickly.
We sincerely hope that our leadership on this issue will encourage other countries to follow our example.
Bill C-9 is based on a balance of interests. On one side, there are the great humanitarian objectives, to send vital pharmaceuticals to developing countries. On the other side, we must protect the integrity of our intellectual property system and ensure that we respect our international obligations in this matter.
We must not forget the importance of intellectual property rights, such as those protected by patents. After all, such protection stimulates continued progress in medicine, progress for the good of every one of us.
The government is persuaded that this bill reconciles these two imperatives and establishes a practical system to permit appropriate medicines to reach the people who need them.
At the same time, we recognize that access to less expensive generic versions of medications alone is not enough. Without well trained health care workers and adequate infrastructure, developing countries will unable to reverse the spread of these diseases.
That is why in addition to moving forward on Bill C-9, Canada continues to help developing nations build their capacity in their health care systems. By moving on these two fronts at once, increasing access to drugs and strengthening health care systems, Canada is working very hard to enable poor countries to scale up the treatments.
Canada is the first country to adopt this kind of legislation. Other countries are sure to follow our lead.
When I was in Washington last weekend for the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF, ministers from other countries commended Canada for the bill. They asked me for details so they could replicate it in their own countries. By having been the first country to come out of the gate and by having been the first country to bring forward this very important legislation, indeed we are imposing a certain onus, and it is an onus I intend to speak of in whatever international venue I find myself.
Because the world is watching, we have to get this right.
Thanks to a wide range of contributors, I believe we have achieved this.
I will take this opportunity to thank the members of the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology and the many people who took the time to send in their comments and to appear before the committee.
The list of such intervenors is quite long and includes representatives of the patent medicine sector, the generic drug sector, and many non-governmental organizations, such as Doctors without Borders and Oxfam.
I applaud the commitment each one of them has made to this humanitarian initiative. Because of their efforts, in large part, the bill has been amended and very much improved.
Let me outline very briefly how the new regime proposed by Bill C-9 will work. The regime proposes a number of schedules that set out the pharmaceutical products and the countries to which the bill applies. Where any such country identifies a need for one of these products in order to respond to a public health problem, the country may approach a Canadian generic drug manufacturer to negotiate a supply agreement. I should add that these schedules are very inclusive and can be speedily amended to add countries or to add pharmaceutical products to respond to changing demands.
A supply agreement can be concluded at any time. The only obligation on the generic drug company is that before applying to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for an export licence, it must first approach the brand name company holding the patents for that product to see whether the latter is willing to accord a voluntary licence on reasonable terms and conditions. If the brand name company is unwilling to do so, the generic company is free to proceed with its application for a licence and, assuming the requisite health, safety and administrative conditions are met, a licence will be issued and the product can be exported.
Finally, the regime also includes a number of safeguards to ensure the export of high quality products that will be provided directly to the people who need them.
Bill C-9 is good legislation. It proposes a fair and workable regime. This speaks volumes for Canada and Canadians and reflects a compassion that will soon benefit those in need of our help. I encourage the members of this House from all parties to lend their support to Bill C-9. Together, we can send a clear message to the millions of men, women and children in the developing world. It is a message of hope and compassion. It is a message that says Canada cares.
Mr. Speaker, I am noting your body language and I am wondering if I have run out of time. If I have, in that case I will conclude my remarks.
More? In that case, I will add just a few more remarks as I know there are other colleagues who wish to speak. I do not want to in any way preclude that, but I do think it is important, speaking for a moment as one the five ministers on Bill C-9, to reflect a bit of our perspective in the Canadian International Development Agency. We see, as do our other department colleagues, that this is just one part of Canada's contribution to the global effort to combat disease in developing countries.
Canada's efforts also focus on preventing the spread of disease and helping people with disease live fulfilling and productive lives. As I mentioned yesterday in a response to a question here in the House, it is part of the very holistic approach CIDA takes to development because it works.
I used the example of what we are attempting to do in building the capacity of countries in the developing world to provide the kinds of health services so desperately needed, and of course to have the structures and systems in place to dovetail with the present and future availability of less expensive drug products. Indeed, improving access to those medications is essential, but as I say, in order to maximize their benefits, the health systems must be improved and we are actively involved in doing so.
This means, then, ensuring that there are enough doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics to administer the medicine and to ensure the follow-up, so different from here in Canada. The care prior to the ravages of disease and the post-hospital or post-clinic care are imperative to treating the diseases that we are aiming to treat.
It also means ensuring that there is adequate access to clean water and sanitation, which curtails the spread of the disease. Some 60% of the diseases so rampant in developing countries are caused by a lack of clean water, so CIDA has many programs dedicated to the provision of clean water and to dealing with all the causes of contamination. In that regard, we partner with many very effective NGOs to accomplish that objective.
In addition to all of what we do to build up the health care systems, we of course have committed very serious and large amounts of our budget to address the HIV-AIDS pandemic generally. In the years from 2000 to 2005, our investment is in the area of $270 million. When we add to that an additional $1.2 billion allocated for health and nutrition initiatives, all a part of what we are attempting to achieve, it shows the very serious priority that we assign to health care and to the prevention and treatment of diseases in developing countries.
I have made reference to my efforts as minister for international development in international venues where I find myself. It is a great opportunity, as a member of group of six like-minded donors called the Utstein group, including Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, England and Canada, that I am able to convey to them what we have done, being the first out of the gate with Bill C-9, and the first one to come into compliance with the TRIPS agreement, which we all signed as members of the WTO. Let me say that quite frankly I put an onus on them. They are very ready to bear that onus and very keen to receive all the details of this legislation, which has been the result of an excellent partnership of five departments of government, stakeholders in the community and in Canada, and a great willingness to come together to make sure that not only will we pass that legislation but that it will be an excellent piece of legislation.
I am delighted that we will have accomplished this today. It is a very exciting day. I think it is a wonderful news story. I hope that the media, who are very quick to note areas that they determine to be newsworthy, will make a major news story out of the passage of Bill C-9 in this House on this date, because it is a day that we all should mark.
Finally, let me say that yesterday I spoke briefly to the bill, along with other colleagues, and I made sure I stayed in the House to listen to the remarks of the hon. member for Calgary East, who spoke of his support for the bill and the work that he too brought to the process. He originally came from Tanzania and I had the opportunity to be in that country with him, long before I was given this position, to meet members of his family and to observe first-hand the experiences he has shared with the House. He has told us of the situation in that country as it faces the ravages of diseases and of the commitment it instilled in him to be a very supportive part of the team that brought this bill forward. I thank him for his remarks. I think Canadians should know that it is the Liberal government bringing in this bill but with tremendous support from all around this House.
Mr. Speaker, I almost am reticent to bring not a sour note to the debate, as clearly on the substance of the bill itself the member preceding me has spoken very eloquently, and certainly it is reflective of the position of the Conservative Party and I think of all members of this House. We want to proceed with the bill.
I would just point out, though, one of the difficulties that we in the Conservative Party of Canada are experiencing at this point. It is the fact that on this bill, which is probably one of the most worthy bills that has come before the House in recent history, and on other bills that are presently before the House, we are at a third reading point. We are at a point of them being able to pass from this House to the other place, on through that process and to royal assent, and we consistently have the Liberal members filibustering their own bills.
I am not suggesting that this member's speech was a filibuster. It was not. It was a statement of where she is coming from and a very clear, eloquent statement of where her party is coming from, and, as I say, joined by all of us. I was interested, though, that at the end of her 10 minute time when she was informed that she had some more time--you will have to take a look at the blues, Mr. Speaker--I think there was something along the lines of “well, I guess I should keep going”. It was much the same way for the member for Yukon on the previous legislation immediately prior to this debate on this bill, where he was clearly just marking time.
So I would ask this member if she might not feel that it would be appropriate, at this point, subject to what our colleagues from the BQ and the NDP want to do, for her to just terminate the debate on the part of the Liberals so that we can get on with this and get on to other business in this place, rather than them continuing to filibuster their own bills.
Mr. Speaker, I am sorry if I worded it poorly. I think that is all that can be the cause of this misunderstanding. As the minister for international development, this is a huge day for me and for my colleagues.
Having finished the prepared notes, realizing that I cannot make you out all that clearly without my glasses on, Mr. Speaker, I was therefore not sure how much time I had, which was the reason for my asking. Learning from you that I had a little more time, I have to be honest and say I really did want to continue to exude on the substance of the bill, on the process that brought us the bill. If I have misled the hon. member, I sorely regret doing so.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to take part in this debate on Bill C-9. As I was saying yesterday, I do so with the belief that, to some extent, we are contributing not only to the north-south dialogue, but we are clearly making history, since this bill was passed unanimously and therefore received extremely strong and continuous support from all parties.
As members know, all the parties committed to working together to ensure speedy passage of the bill, in hopes that the other place will do likewise. However, we know this is another matter entirely.
Bill C-9 addresses the important issue of the contribution of companies manufacturing pharmaceutical products. My caucus colleagues know that, for about ten years now, I have taken an interest in the actions of drug companies, both the generic products industry and the innovative drug industry. I am extremely proud to say that I do not think I have ever been too critical, as the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes knows.
Today, I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to the innovative drug industry, which has assumed its responsibilities. Let us take a closer look at this issue.
In 1989, the Conservatives, under Brian Mulroney, ended the compulsory licensing program. In other words, it was possible, before Bill C-22, which became Bill C-91 under the Conservatives, to obtain a licence from a company with a monopoly. This licence was granted to a generic drug company, which had to pay royalties to be able to produce and reproduce the drug.
We must not forget that, back then, the term of a patent was ten years. What is a patent? I think that the President of the Privy Council has doubtless thought about this. A patent is important because it is a social contract. The President of the Privy Council will agree with me that it is a social contract by which society gives exclusive right to the protection and production of an invention or pharmaceutical product.
Furthermore, 18 months after the patent is filed, a full description of the invention is made public. There are, however, three criteria that must also be met. There are three criteria for patentability, at least in Canada.
First, the invention must be new. A search is conducted worldwide, not just in North America. The Commissioner of Patents conducts an international search to ensure that it is a new invention.
Second, the invention must show ingenuity.
Third, the invention should be useful.
If these three conditions are met, a patent is granted, and it provides trade exclusivity and complete protection. Copying the invention or chemical process is against the law, and there can be counterfeit charges. This is an extremely strict system.
In matters of copyright, we have case law and judicial mechanisms, since extremely important trade issues underlie the whole concept of copyright.
In 1989, the Conservatives did away with compulsory licensing. From then on, Canada was in line with what was being done in other countries. That was very important for Montreal, since the biotechnology industry is concentrated there. The Conservatives set the patent protection at 20 years, once the patent has been granted by the commissioner and the three conditions—new, useful and not obvious—have been met. Patent protection is then provided.
However, when Bills C-22 and C-91 were enacted, they also had provisions forbidding the export of drugs. It was illegal to export drugs, and sanctions could be imposed.
Since 1989, another factor has been added, and this is intellectual property rights. Governments signed what has been called the TRIPS agreement.
Moreover, two years ago a bill was passed to harmonize all Canadian patents. Some were still in the 10-year system, others 20. There was a challenge by the U.S. under the TRIPS agreement, and the mandatory arbitration went against Canada.
A noteworthy point about the WTO is that the relative clout of the countries has no importance. There are dispute settlement mechanisms in place that allow a country like Costa Rica to win out over the United States. Canada lost and so it has to harmonize all of its patents to the 20-year period.
Today we have a bill before us that will make it possible to export drugs, but not to export them just anywhere, just to designated importing countries listed in the schedule to the bill. Basically, these are the developing countries.
The list was incomplete in the first version of the bill, and the Minister of Industry has revised it. To all intents and purposes, the countries able to import drugs fall into the category classified as developing countries.
How will this be possible? Countries wishing to obtain drugs issue a call for tenders on a web site, so the competition is international, of course. Canadian companies will be competing with others in the U.S. and Europe.
When a company wants to compete in order to supply drugs to a third world country, there are two things in the bill that govern this. First, generic companies will be able to obtain the contract. Initially the bill contained what was termed the right of first refusal. This meant that companies holding a patent could, even if the contract had been negotiated by the generic companies, be the first supplier because they were the patent holders.
All of the international cooperative bodies criticized this bill, from Development and Peace to Doctors without Borders. All those involved in delivering humanitarian aid said that this was impossible, that if this right of first refusal were maintained there would be a dissuasive effect on the generic companies which might want to negotiate contracts.
At least in this one instance, though far from a regular occurrence, the government did heed the stakeholders in committee, and the right of first refusal was done away with.
The supply of drugs is not a trivial issue. Just think that, every year, 10 million children die from diseases relating to malnutrition which could have been avoided. Every year, one million people, most of them children under the age of five, die of malaria. Every day, over 8,000 people in the world die of AIDS. We know that the HIV-AIDS epidemic is concentrated in certain parts of the world, particularly in African countries.
Why are these figures important? Because, for each of the diseases that I mentioned, there is a drug available. However, if this drug is not accessible at a lower cost to countries that are facing these epidemics, we will not be able to fight these epidemics.
Even if Canada, through cooperation agencies such as CIDA, allocated $100 million per year for the development of third world countries, if the nationals of these countries are not themselves active, productive and healthy citizens who can make a commitment to help build and improve their country and their economy, these developing countries have a major problem on their hands.
We need legislation that will allow third world countries to have access to drugs at a lower cost. The way drugs are being produced—and that includes the factory price and the distribution to retailers—it is clear that the system is not competitive.
Of course, in Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board was established when the Conservatives passed Bill C-91. The board is a quasi-judicial tribunal. Let me give an example. When Merck Frosst produces a drug, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board monitors the situation to ensure that, once the drug leaves the factory and is distributed to wholesalers and retailers, the price charged is not prohibitive or exorbitant. We have a price index to determine if prices are excessive. If they are, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board may ask the company to refund the overcharged amount. Such a measure has been taken in a number of cases.
When it comes to exporting drugs from Canada, the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board has no jurisdiction. It was up to the international community to amend agreements on intellectual property rights and trade in order to make these drugs accessible at a better price, a cheaper price. This raised a number of issues.
I think that everyone in this House understands how this works. A voluntary licence is issued by the patent holder. If the latter refuses to issue the licence, the patent commissioner may issue an order. The agreement amended in August 2003 does not require the patent holder to transfer their drug.
A royalty of roughly 2% of the commercial value of the product has to be paid out. This is not a donation. Companies that hold the patents will receive royalties for the person or company that obtained this voluntary licence. If there is disagreement on the royalty or the terms of the licence transfer—which initially has to be voluntary—the patent commissioner can be asked to rule and the licence, which was to be voluntary, will become mandatory.
Concerns were raised during the work at committee on how NGOs fit into this. For example, there is Doctors Without Borders, and Development and Peace, which are Canadian NGOs working in third world countries. Some NGOs, if not all, would have liked to be able to negotiate directly with the manufacturer. Obviously, thought needed to be given to this. There was a risk of interfering in national sovereignty.
Governments are subject to international law. In major international conventions, government means something. One of the first conventions provided a definition of sovereignty. That word simply rolls off my tongue. Sovereignty was defined in 1934 at Montevideo. It was said that a government has five characteristics: a functioning government; a permanent population, of course; control over a territory, which is increasingly being described as a defined territory; the capacity to recognize citizenship; and, of course, international relations.
Once a government or administration is in office, it is responsible for the delivery of health care. I understand the industry minister has amended the bill to ensure not that NGOs can directly negotiate with the manufacturers but that they can be involved in the negotiations since they have the ultimate responsibility for service delivery. That is one of the responsibilities governments have.
Parliamentarians also wanted to ensure that the additional pharmaceuticals needed to supply third world countries are manufactured in a manner that distinguishes them from the products sold on the domestic market. Under the bill, pharmaceuticals for export would be differentiated through different colours and different labels.
This is an extremely humane and responsible piece of legislation. I want to say a few words about the companies grouped under Rx&D. I remember having breakfast at the parliamentary restaurant with representatives of that organization, along with our industry critic, the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, and also, of course, our international trade critic, the hon. member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes. The hon. member for Trois-Rivières, who has a long-standing interest in the third world, also joined us. I even recall that he asked very relevant questions. He was most interested in Africa.
We understand, of course, that pharmaceuticals would not only be exported to Africa. They could also be exported to Central and South America. However, I remember how much emphasis the member for Trois-Rivières put on Africa.
We wanted to ensure that the member companies of Rx&D would co-operate. It is clear that if the companies had not been interested in issuing voluntary licences, we would have found ourselves in a very embarrassing situation. Various arbitration mechanisms would have led to compulsory licensing. The commissioner of patents would have had to intervene and it is clear that it would have caused undue delay.
I must say that the innovative companies have behaved very responsibly in this matter. I hope that this sense of responsibility is reflected in the various domestic debates we shall have.
Perhaps I could take a few moments to talk about what is going on in Canada with respect to the price of pharmaceuticals, even though I know this is about the international level. Members are aware that it is the largest expense in all health care systems. In fact, each year in Canada, a total of $120 billion is spent on health. The fastest growing budgetary item in that area is the cost of drugs; the hon. member Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik knows this because he has sat on various regional health boards.
I had proposed a number of solutions to my caucus, in order to fight the rising cost of pharmaceuticals. In fact, the cost of medicine is rising at a faster rate than costs in the health care system in general. On average, health care costs in Canada, in each province, are rising by 5% per year, but the cost of medicine is rising more than that.
I shall conclude by saying that we are going to support the speedy passage of Bill C-9, because it is a good bill for third world countries, for our international obligations, and for the north-south dialogue.
I salute the innovative companies that have shouldered their responsibilities. I congratulate all members of this House—in particular, the hon. member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques—who have worked very hard in committee. I hope the other place will enjoy the same kind of energy that has characterized this House's work on Bill C-9.
Hon. Dan McTeague (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.)
Mr. Speaker, I want to salute the member for Hochelaga—Maisonneuve, as well as members on this side.
I know he is aware of the fact that, in 2000-01, it is this member who intervened with Oxfam and Doctors without Borders. He brought this issue to the attention of our caucus and the then prime minister, Jean Chrétien, after whom this bill is now named.
We had to ensure that something was done with regard to drug patents to relieve the burden of people living in Africa. Canada had to find not only the means to help regions such as South Africa, but also the delivery methods to help people in the field, that is doctors and the humanitarian infrastructure that is there now.
I was also pleased to see that, perhaps for the first time, the Bloc Quebecois is starting to change its rigid views on the drug patent issue. Indeed, the price of patents and drugs is increasing quite considerably, and this bill is very important for all the regions in our country.
Could I simply ask him whether he thinks that we can still send generic drugs to Africa, since previous court decisions on the drug patent system prevent these generic drugs from being produced in Canada?
It seems to me that this is only about one issue, that is, as was mentioned, the fact that pharmaceutical companies and the big innovative companies that form Rx&D are the only ones that are capable of making these products. Does the member not think that we could correct this flaw if we looked at the whole issue of drug patents?
Mr. Speaker, first I would ask my colleague to forgive me because I do not remember the name of his riding. But I know that he is a hardworking member of Parliament.
However, he is a bit devious because he has shifted the debate from an international consensus to national considerations. There is one thing I want to tell him.
The Bloc Quebecois has an honest and powerful debate tradition. As critic for the health portfolio, I am very well aware that the status quo is not acceptable. Basically, what the member is asking for is some support towards the abolition of the liaison rule.
There is nothing to indicate that this is the way my party will go, but I suggest he look at the four proposals that I have tabled with the Standing Committee on Health. His colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik knows it.
I think that we have not achieved a balance in favour of consumer protection. Some current drug practices will have to be revised. I know that some pharmaceutical companies have behaved in a reprehensible fashion.
What is of concern here is not the 20 year intellectual property provision. I want to tell the member, who will hopefully listen, that what is more disturbing is the offensive behaviour of some of the innovative companies grouped under Rx&D where the patents are constantly renewed. I think that this has to be addressed.
However, we will defend the principle of a 20 year intellectual property because to me, if the pharmaceutical companies invest money—it cost about $800 millions to market a new drug—it is just normal that they get a return on their investment.
Consequently, we have to strike a balance between our obligations towards the intellectual property and the interest of consumers in getting pharmaceutical products at the lowest cost possible. In this regard, I do agree with him that we have to look at a number of practices that are unfavourable to consumers.
Mr. Speaker, I too want to commend my colleague from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve for his very good speech. He knows what he is talking about and is very sensitive to the problems facing developing countries.
Does he not think that this is a great example of what can be accomplished where there is political will to tackle a problem and try to solve it within our means, that is the means of Canada?
Also, yesterday, at the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, I had the privilege to meet a senior representative of the World Health Organization who reminded us that 6 million people die every year of HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, that is 6 million deaths. There are currently no war or genocide causing as many deaths. It is almost a structural issue.
Although we may want to congratulate the Government of Canada for his actions, on a more structural level, given that the UN had recommended that international assistance reach 0.7% of GDP and that it does not even stand at half of that in Canada, far from it actually, should we not decry the government's lack of political will to uphold its international responsibilities, since we know what our country can do, as shown by this bill?
Mr. Speaker, I would say that the member for Trois-Rivières is a humanist akin to those of the 18th century. I am certainly not referring to his date of birth, but to the culture and tradition of the time.
I think he is right. The bill may be very positive and reflect a consensus, but we have to bemoan the fact that Canada has not lived up to the expectations of the international community with regard to the proportion of the GNP it has earmarked for international cooperation. I know there was a slight increase for that item in the last two budgets. However, I think that all parliamentarians should try to convince the government that it must allocate a higher percentage to international cooperation.
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.
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to thank the House for giving me this opportunity today to speak to Bill C-9.
The purpose of this bill is quite clear and simple; the bill amends the Patent Act to facilitate access to pharmaceutical products to address public health problems afflicting many developing and least-developed countries, especially those resulting from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other epidemics.
I would like also to indicate that it would be quite appropriate in this discussion to congratulate the member for Algoma—Manitoulin, the chair of the industry committee, for the outstanding work that he has performed in getting this bill through. There were, I am told, over 200 amendments and they were dealt with very thoroughly through hard work and extended hearings. Finally, the bill was reported back to the House for third reading yesterday. It recognizes the dedication of the chair and the members of the committee to this cause. It is only appropriate that we should recognize this because the working committee is seldom publicized and brought to the attention of constituents.
Next, it is desirable to indicate that while the title of the bill reads in a rather cut and dry manner, an amendment to the Patent Act and Food and Drugs Act, which would be very obscure unless it was explained at large, it also carries a subtitle to which other speakers in this debate have already made reference. The subtitle, which is in brackets, and I am very glad to see it, reads “The Jean Chrétien Pledge to Africa”.
I find this most appropriate and desirable considering the tremendous effort that the former prime minister made in advancing the cause at international fora, particularly at the G-8 meetings, to the dramatic and tragic situation of the African continent. He did that on a number of occasions, particularly in Kananaskis in 2002, when the NEPAD policy was launched with the support of the G-7. Africa was put on the political map of those gathered at Kananaskis with complete support, by way of funding, by all the leaders who met on that occasion.
It seems to me, and I take into full account the comments just made by my colleague from the NDP, that perhaps there are many who have advanced the cause of dealing with pandemics in Africa. It is most appropriate that the leadership of the former prime minister be recognized and given appropriate exposure in this legislation and hopefully also beyond Canada's boundaries.
The purpose of the legislation is of course much larger than just the scope of the bill. The legislation intends to be part of a larger government effort intended to provide aid and medicinal assistance to countries in need. It is my understanding that Canada has already committed $100 million to the global fund to fight HIV and AIDS, and in addition to that some $62 million to the Canadian fund for Africa.
Therefore, we can see that the legislation is coming in as a reinforcing element within the framework of a broader policy effort, and it is most appropriate and timely. It is also a demonstration that the global community is taking on a responsibility for a problem that is hundreds of miles away, but nevertheless touches us all because we are all members of a human community that ties us together.
The situation in Africa is desperate. It is important to put on the record some data. It is a fact that there are some 36 million people apparently who are affected by AIDS at the present time. Two-thirds of these 36 million souls live in five countries: Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. In five other African countries, namely, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, one adult out of five who registers positively on tests for AIDS or has already incurred into the AIDS pandemic. This data is from the World Health Organization.
As a result, the average life expectancy in many African countries has been reduced by 23 years. When we are witnessing a trend in the opposite direction, namely longer and longer life expectancies, we have a continent where the life expectancy is going down and being reduced as a result of this pandemic. There are other countries which seem not to be completely exempt from this terrible disease. Reference has been made to the Bahamas, Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and to Haiti where it is expected that the average life expectancy is to be reduced by at least three years.
These statistics necessarily are cut and dry, but they hide another very important social reality. That is that as a result of the deaths within a population, there is a dramatic decrease in the number of teachers in the schools, workers in agriculture and in industry, clerical workers, people in the health care sectors, in hospitals, et cetera. Therefore, the fragile and limited structures in these countries are affected by this disease. In other words, there is an impact on numbers and social structures in the countries I mentioned earlier. These are poor countries which lack the resources to remedy the situation, in particular to provide, acquire and purchase the medicines and drugs necessary to stop the spread of this pandemic.
Therefore, we have these initiatives by Canada and other like-minded countries in trying to come to grips with getting to the root of the problem and to prevent the spread of this disease. In this respect we are all very proud of the fact that Canada is in the forefront of this initiative. This is why this bill is so important, why it has received the support of every party and why there is an element of urgency attached to the bill itself.
I would like to continue in my presentation by adding some words on the intervention yesterday by the Minister for International Cooperation. However, since you wish me to recognize the clock, Mr. Speaker, I will yield the floor and perhaps resume my comments after three o'clock.
Mr. Speaker, the animal cruelty legislation introduced years ago in another Parliament is now Bill C-22. In its previous form, it passed through this House to the Senate, where the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs proposed several amendments.
After years of debate, this important legislation is still stuck in the Senate. This is legislation that is important to all those who care about animals. It is equally important to those who own pets as it is to farmers who care for their livestock.
This is not draconian legislation. It simply brings old provisions designed to protect animals into the 21st century. Enough is enough.
I urge the Senate to return this legislation to the House of Commons for immediate passage into law.
Topic: Statements By Members
Subtopic: Cruelty to Animals
Mr. Speaker, the government is discriminating against woodlot owners under the Canadian agricultural income stabilization, or CAIS, program. The wood from woodlots has been arbitrarily excluded, even though it was covered by NISA. Woodlot owners are having a particularly difficult time with the softwood dispute, beetles, wildfires and hurricanes.
The Minister of Natural Resources said that the CAIS program covers tree farming. However, the CAIS website states clearly that wood is not covered. Since anything other than Christmas tree farming produces primarily wood, most woodlots are excluded. CAIS staff in Winnipeg confirm this.
Tree farmers who legitimately produce farm income are being selectively excluded. The CAIS program must be amended to include wood from woodlots. This is only fair and complies with the minister's own words.
Topic: Statements By Members
Subtopic: Forest Industry
Mr. Richard Marceau (Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier, BQ)
Mr. Speaker, this is Quebec mining week. It should be a proud moment and a time to commemorate the hard work of thousands of miners, but it has become, in the Thetford Mines region, a real nightmare for over 450 workers.
Chrysotile fibre is not like the asbestos of the past. What explanation then is there for the Liberal government's failure to adequately defend the responsible and safe use of this mineral.
The most serious consequence of this inaction is the indeterminate closure of the Lake Asbestos Mine in Black Lake and its disastrous effects on the regional economy.
In order not to upset certain trading partners, the Liberals chose to ignore a region unlike any other in the world and reneged on their commitments in favour of chrysotile.
On behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, I want to tell the workers at LAB Chrysotile, their families and everyone in the Thetford Mines region that we are on their side.
I also want to take this opportunity to highlight the outstanding work of the president of the PROAmiant Chrysotile movement, Rénald Paré, whose dedication to the region is well known to all.
Topic: Statements By Members
Subtopic: Quebec Mining Week