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Mercédes Benegbi, the executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, celebrates after the House of Commons voted to compensate survivors of thalidomide.

Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

The NDP motion to support Canada's thalidomide survivors was adopted unanimously in the House of Commons on Monday, a critical victory for a group that has seen more than its fair share of government indifference. It's up to the Harper government now, led by Health Minister Rona Ambrose, to move quickly in dispensing the financial support the motion explicitly refers to.

Parliamentary motions are symbolically important, especially when they bring the entire House together – an event almost as rare as a Stephen Harper laughing fit. But let's not forget that Ottawa has never needed House unanimity to properly support thalidomide victims – a well-tuned conscience would have done the job a long time ago.

Let's also not forget that the people who have suffered the terrible consequences of the government's decision to approve thalidomide in 1961 have lived through generations of political handwashing. This is a wrong that surpasses party lines: Successive Liberal, Progressive Conservative and Conservative governments have never fully acknowledged Ottawa's responsibility.

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History has left it to Ms. Ambrose to finally do the right thing. Yes, she was only roused from her stupor by the insistent courage of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada and by this newspaper's reporting. But now she has met with the victims' association and says she is ready to act.

Good. Better yet, she already knows what to do. The Thalidomide Victims Association's proposal to give each of the survivors a lump sum of $250,000, followed by annual needs-based support of $75,000 to $150,000, is reasonable and just. It provides the survivors immediate relief and compensation for their suffering, and then allows them to plan the second half of their lives in the knowledge they will get the care they need.

As well, the amounts are in line with those paid out by countries, such as the U.K. and Germany, that have done a far better job to date of helping thalidomide victims. It will not require much effort to find the money; there are fewer than 100 Canadian thalidomide survivors left to care for. Get it done, Ms. Ambrose, and bring this story to its proper close.

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