Grandmothers to Grandmothers told MP Michael Chong Monday they are up against big pharmaceutical companies – but it is doubtful that powerful lobby group can bring as much pressure and passion on a politician as they did at a packed Elora Legion.
Chong is chairman of the committee reviewing the Canada’s Access to Medicine’s Regime, a private member’s bill. The original one was passed with unanimous support about five years ago, and was supposed to allow shipments of generic drugs to Africa. The Grandmothers want a new Bill 393 passed with next to no changes so drugs can start flowing to desperately ill people. They say it will cost Canadians nothing – and the old bill saw one drug shipment before it got bogged down in red tape.
They cited a poll last November stating Canadians are 80% in favour of the bill. The group included grandmothers from Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Arthur, and Wellington-Halton Hills.
Organizer Sharon Ogden asked Chong, “What is more basic than the right not to die from lack of treatment?”
The group supports the Stephen Lewis Foundation that is working to provide relief for women in Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, where thousands of people die annually of AIDs and other diseases. Grandmothers are raising grandchildren because their parents are dead.
Chong’s committee will start hearings Sept. 20, and he explained the process it will use. He got a round of applause when he said, “You’ve got my commitment that Grandmothers to Grandmothers will be invited to appear.”
Ogden asked what influence the committee will have in a vote in parliament, and Chong said, “A lot.” He explained the committee vote is a preview of what is likely to happen. There will be hearings, and the committee will go through the bill clause by clause. If people on the committee are pleased with what is there, they will more than likely support it in parliament.
Chong said the Conservative government does not have an official position yet, and when the committee recommendation is set, it can support it as a party, not support it, or allow a free vote.
He said with the G8 and G20 summits in Canada this year, the Conservatives could have chosen to focus on economic matters, but, instead, chose maternal health issues, and he hopes the prime minister can tie CAMR to those talks. He got a round of applause for that statement.
He will talk to his committee members about the issue.
Grandmothers asked him what is the best approach to take to getting the bill passed. He said there are two. The first is to lobby strongly for the cause. The second is to talk to pharmaceutical companies that oppose the bill, and convince them the that the industry will not lose tens of thousands of jobs.
He said the alternative is to simply fight the other lobby group, but that guarantees producing a loser on the vote. Finding ways to alleviate the fears of pharmaceutical companies means everyone could win. He noted MPs and parties cannot accept funds from companies, but job loss is a big argument for any group supporting or opposing legislation.
Ogden said the committee should focus on the humanitarian side of the issue.
Chong said, “When lobbyists approach us, we know what their job is.”
Ogden replied, to much laughter, “Yes, but you don’t need to fall for it.”
Chong said that lobby group is “very afraid,” of the Grandmothers’ position.
Ogden said the pharmaceutical lobby can hire expensive lawyers, but Chong quipped “Nobody likes lawyers.”
He promised, “They will have no more influence than you have.”
Chong said he will talk with committee colleagues to determine their concerns, and see what compromises can be made so the bill does what it was intended to do.