Lyme Disease bill clears another hurdle

I write this from the House of Commons where for the sixth night I am working until the appointed hour of adjournment— midnight. Although tonight I will not be leaving the Chamber until 12:30am. I am on deck for a postadjournment session of additional debate as I have a chance to pursue my question to the Prime Minister of last week on the Canada-China Investment Treaty.

The purpose of late-night sittings, since late May, is reputedly to make Parliament work harder. The real goal is to push through numerous bills fast before summer recess. Most of the bills are egregious: changes to plant breeders rights; a bill to allow a Canadian citizen, born in Canada, to be stripped of citizenship rights; and the omnibus budget bill C-31, with the law the US wanted Canada to pass, requiring confidential tax information from so-called ‘US persons’ to the IRS, the socalled cyber-bullying bill that will deal a serious blow to Canadian privacy rights, and a dreadful and unconstitutional new prostitution law that takes us backward.

In the midst of all the bad bills, there are many innocuous ones (eg: a bill to call for stiffer penalties for anyone who kills a police dog or horse in course of its duties, a victim’s bill of rights, a bill to offer civil service jobs to returning veterans). And there is one government bill that is a good bill calling for greater transparency from the pharmaceutical industry — C-17, Vanessa’s Law. The bill is named in honour of the daughter of the Conservative MP from Oakville, Terrence Young. Vanessa, at age 13, died suddenly due to taking the prescription drug, Prepulsid. That tragic event turned Terrence Young into a champion for better regulation of Big Pharma.

The bill will, for the first time, give the Minister of Health the right to recall a dangerous drug. It will require better and more explicit warnings of side-effects. It has cleared second reading and gone to committee, where many of us, including Terrence, will work for amendments to strengthen it.

Meanwhile, on June 3, my bill, for a national approach to Lyme Disease, C-442, cleared another major milestone. My bill has received extraordinary levels of non-partisan support. In fact, it cleared second reading unanimously. That vote took it to the Health Committee where we heard from advocates for action on Lyme Disease—including Nicole Bottles, a brilliant young woman from Victoria suffering with Lyme. And we heard from medical researchers. The acting Director General of the Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control within the Public Health Agency of Canada, Steven Sternthal, testified that, ‘It (Lyme) is one of the most rapidly emerging infectious diseases in North America.’ He stated that the agency has tracked a four-fold increase in Canadian Lyme patients from 2009 to 2013, confirming that Health Canada recognizes its range is expanding due to climate change. The Agency now estimates that, given the experience in the US, Canada can expect that Lyme will ‘affect over 10,000 Canadians per year by 2020.’

All the witnesses painted a picture of a complex and dangerous disease that is as complex as it is misunderstood.

We had it confirmed by experts what I have heard from literally hundreds of Lyme sufferers—that the laboratory tests are not reliable, that treatments have to be pursued in the US, and that left untreated, Lyme sufferers can face long-term disability and even death. On the other hand, if properly diagnosed and treated quickly, recovery is swift and complete.

Fortunately, the all-party support for my bill has allowed it to clear committee, having accepted amendments to reduce any potential conflict with the provinces. We had a remarkable event in committee, although it would not have been anything other than routine under previous governments. While we were in Health Committee and already in our clause by clause review of the bill, I spotted an error in an amendment put forward by the Conservatives. Following quick consultation with all MPs around the table, and an amazing dose of goodwill, the Conservatives moved a change to their own amendment; thus, protecting one key part of the plan to develop a national approach. It is the first time anyone has seen such a change in any committee in the last three years.

As I write this, I do not know if we will be able to achieve passage through the House before we rise for the summer. It is possible, but it will require more all-party support, unanimous consent motions and a lot of lucky timing. In this context, sitting every night till midnight helps. Following its passage in the House, we need a Senator to champion it and sponsor it in the Senate. Once passed there, we will have a new law.

I hope the new law will continue in its collaborative fashion to bring patients and doctors, federal and provincial health ministers, and experts together to establish superior programs of education and awareness, better approaches to diagnosis, acceptance of clinical diagnosis as preferable to known tests, bringing rapid relief to those afflicted. On top of all these changes, we desperately need research and fresh approaches for the recovery of those who have suffered over a prolonged period of time; those who were not promptly diagnosed and whose disability is severe.

Lyme disease is increasingly severe. It’s time to take action to keep it from destroying more lives.