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Helene Laverdiere is the NDP's foreign-affairs critic. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Helene Laverdiere is the NDP's foreign-affairs critic. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

NDP seeks Tory support for revived generic-drug bill Add to ...

The federal New Democrats are trying once again to cut red tape that prevents generic companies from copying brand-name drugs and selling them cheaply to the world’s poorest countries.

Hélène Laverdière, the Opposition foreign affairs critic, has introduced a slightly modified version of a private-member’s bill aimed at untying the knots in Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR), which died last year with the fall of the Conservative minority government.

“About one third of the people suffering from HIV-AIDS have access to the necessary medication,” Ms. Laverdière told reporters on Thursday. “Children die every day from lack of access to proper medicine. We can do something about that.”

CAMR was passed by a former Liberal government as part of former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s Pledge to Africa but was so full of tangles that, in eight years of existence, it has been used by just one company to send one AIDS drug to one country.

Former New Democrat MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis introduced a private-member’s bill in May 2009 that attempted to fix the myriad of problems but her legislation had a tumultuous history.

It was passed by the previous House of Commons and arrived in the Senate just before the Conservative government was brought down in March of 2011. Although the bill had the support of a handful of Conservatives, it was not embraced by the party centre and Tony Clement, who was then industry minister, urged the Senate to vote against it.

The biggest complaint of the bill’s detractors is that it would erode the intellectual property rights of the brand-name pharmaceutical companies. There is also a concern that the drugs could be diverted to the black market of other countries.

But Ms. Laverdière said those concerns largely stem from misunderstandings and she hopes the bill will be treated in a non-partisan fashion when it hits the floor of the Commons.

“I intend to talk personally with many of them,” she said of Conservative MPs. And, she said, the bill’s measures mesh nicely with the maternal and child health initiative promoted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Private member’s bills, which are selected for debate by a lottery system, do not often get far in Parliament. But Ms. Laverdière has a spot that is high on the list and says the bill could come before the House in the spring or early next fall.

It is essentially the same as the legislation introduced by Ms. Wasylycia-Leis except some of the language had been tightened and refined.

The original bill was supported by celebrities like Canadian musician K’naan and writer Margaret Atwood. They tried unsuccessfully last year to persuade senators to fast-track the bill through the Red Chamber before the government was defeated.

On Thursday, more than 100 Canadian organizations and international humanitarian groups called for CAMR to be fixed.

“Central to the bill’s proposed amendments is the introduction of a ‘one-licence solution,’ which would allow a generic manufacturer to obtain a single licence for a given pharmaceutical product,” the groups said in a statement. “This would allow manufacturers more flexibility to supply eligible countries with medicines as their needs for medicines for HIV or other public health problems evolve over time.”

Bonnie Johnson attended Ms. Laverdière’s news conference on behalf of the Grandmother’s Advocacy Network, a group dedicated to raising awareness of AIDS orphans in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Trade Organization has said that allowances can be made to the rules governing international property rights in cases where people’s lives are in danger, Ms. Johnson said. “This bill will allow Canada to intervene and make those allowances in order to get the drugs [to developing countries]at a cost that the developing countries can afford.”

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