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Rare co-operation breathes life into generic-drug bill

It has been a long road for the NDP bill that aims to fix problems with a Canadian initiative to send generic copies of brand-name drugs to the world's poorest countries.

On many occasions, even its most ardent supporters have though it was dead in the water.

But Bill C-393, which was introduced by now-retired MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, was saved once again this week by unexpected co-operation between the four parties in the House of Commons.

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When Ms. Wasylycia-Leis left federal politics to take a run at the Winnipeg mayor's job, the private-member's bill was essentially orphaned. All bills need sponsors as they move through the various stages of debate and, if the Conservatives – who oppose the legislation – had refused to let it change hands, it eventually would have died.

But NDP House Leader Libby Davies persuaded the other parties to allow her NDP colleague Paul Dewar to be recognized as the bill's new sponsor. Mr. Dewar has a slot near the top of Parliament's order of precedence for private members' bills, which means Bill C-393 could go to a final vote as early as March.

"We saw proof today that Parliamentarians really can get things done together," NDP industry critics Brian Masse, who has been fighting for the bill since Ms. Wasylycia-Leis's departure, said in a press release.

"Six million people die each year in the developing world today from treatable illnesses like TB, malaria and HIV/AIDS. Keeping Bill C-393 alive is our best shot at getting life-saving drugs to these people. This was a good day."

The bill would make significant changes to Canada's stalled Access to Medicines Regime, an initiative by the previous Liberal government that is so full of loopholes it has been used successfully just once in its six-year history to send just one batch of drugs overseas to one country.

Even if it now has a sponsor, the bill still faces major hurdles in becoming law. In addition to Conservative opposition, there are several Liberals – including industry critic Marc Garneau – who disagree with it and say it would infringe on intellectual property rights.

But supporters say the existing regime is a failure and only a significant overhaul like the one that would be provided by Bill C-393 can rescue it.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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