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Liberal MP Ralph Goodale arrives at a news conference on Conservative funding for AIDS research in Ottawa on July 20, 2010. (The Canadian Press)
Liberal MP Ralph Goodale arrives at a news conference on Conservative funding for AIDS research in Ottawa on July 20, 2010. (The Canadian Press)

Liberals assail Tory AIDS strategy Add to ...

A plan by the Conservative government to reinvest money in AIDS research and prevention is being dismissed by the Liberals as a half measure layered with right-wing ideology.

Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, who is in Vienna this week at a major international AIDS conference, announced Tuesday the government will invest $60 million in the program - with half going to AIDS research and the other half to the maternal-health initiative Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced at last month's G8 and G20 summits.

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The promise of funding comes a little more than six months after the government scrapped a plan to build an $88-million vaccine plant with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, part of a $111-million commitment toward the search for an AIDS vaccine that was announced three years ago. The Gates Foundation will contribute up to $28-million of the new initiative.

But Ralph Goodale, the Liberal House Leader, told a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday the new money touted by Ms. Aglukkaq is really old money.

"Today's announcement by the Minister of Health, some $30-million for undefined research and another $30-million for maternal health, all comes from this prior unspent $111-million commitment," Mr. Goodale said. "All of which leads us to ask: where is the remaining $51-million and where are all the other required elements to have a decent Canadian plan?"

The announcement of three years ago went off the rails this year when the government determined that its main project - a plant to produce small batches of vaccine for clinical trials - was no longer needed.

Mr. Goodale also took Mr. Harper to task for his decision not to participate in the Vienna conference. The meeting is attended by many world leaders, but the Prime Minister did not go even when it was held in Toronto in 2006.

Julio Montaner, the Canadian who is president of the International AIDS Society, said this week that Mr. Harper, was invited to be a plenary speaker but he refused.

Mr. Goodale said there is a lack of leadership from Canada in the fight against the disease that is driven by Mr. Harper's narrow right-wing ideology.

The government recently committed to spending up to $16-billion on jet fighters, he said, "but they will do very little, certainly nothing new or additional to meet our obligations to alleviate suffering and poverty associated with HIV and AIDS whether here or internationally."

The Conservatives point out that Ms. Agukkaq is, in fact, at the conference as Canada's representative and will be meeting with numerous stakeholders.

They also say that, over the past four years, the Canadian International Development Agency has provided more than $640-million to partner countries and other organizations for the prevention and treatment of AIDS and HIV in the developing world.

NDP MP Libby Davies, meanwhile, is at the Vienna conference to take part in an international panel of politicians on Wednesday that will discuss controversial issues including harm reduction for intravenous drug users. The safe-injection site in Vancouver that the Harper government is trying to shut down is in Ms. Davies's riding.

Safe-injection sites have been very successful in reducing the spread of diseases like AIDS and yet there has been resistance, not just by the Canadian government but by governments around the world, she said in a telephone interview.

"I do think that there are elected officials out there who know what's going on," Ms. Davies said, "and they need to feel the reinforcement that they have from civil society, from non-governmental organizations, from other parliamentarians, that they can speak out the truth and they can survive, they can be re-elected."

With a report from Elizabeth Church in Toronto

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