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Liberals call for investigation into scrapping of HIV vaccine plant

Posted on February 23, 2010

OTTAWA – Amidst allegations of political interference, an independent third party must  investigate the Harper government’s decision to cancel the construction of an HIV vaccine manufacturing facility, Liberal MPs said today.

“This entire process has been highly suspicious,” said Liberal Health Critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett. “Here we have a government cancelling, and then un-cancelling, and then re-cancelling an $88-million project, with no valid explanation as to why. The government’s behaviour cries out for an investigation by Canada’s Auditor General or at Parliamentary committees.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the announcement for the plant three years ago with Bill Gates as part of a joint commitment towards the search for an AIDS vaccine.

The government allowed the competition between four competitors from Quebec City, London, Winnipeg and Peterborough to progress to a second phase last spring. Last week, a posting appeared on a government website saying the Conservatives were not moving forward with the facility. That posting was then retracted with claims it was an “administrative error.”

The government quietly cancelled it again late last week on a website, claiming “none of the applicants were found to be successful in meeting the pre-established criteria” and that “there is currently sufficient vaccine manufacturing capacity in North America and Europe to meet research needs.” (http://www.chvi-icvv.gc.ca/index-eng.html)

Liberal Public Health Critic Dr. Kirsty Duncan said the government must explain how it plans on using the money it set aside for the facility now that it is cancelled.

“With or without this facility, we still need funding for HIV/AIDS research, prevention and treatment, while those living with HIV/AIDS still need supports and services,” said Dr. Duncan. “We need the government’s assurances that the dollars budgeted for the vaccine facility will be applied to the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

Liberal Industry, Science and Technology Critic Marc Garneau said not only has the entire bidding process been highly suspect, but their final explanation for rejecting the project doesn’t pass muster, he said.

“The government’s claim that no one in Canada is qualified to build this facility is beyond belief,” said Mr. Garneau. “Canada has some of the most leading-edge researchers in the world, and our government should be doing everything it can to keep them here. This facility had the potential to bring us to the cutting edge of AIDS research, drawing in research scientists from around the world, while at the same time creating much-needed jobs.

“Is it any wonder that our top researchers are leaving this country to pursue research opportunities elsewhere, in the face of the constant short-sightedness and partisan wrangling of this government,” Mr. Garneau said.

Dr. Rafick-Pierre Sékaly, one of Canada’s top AIDS researchers who played a key role in selling the project to Ottawa and the Gates Foundation, moved his 25-member team to the U.S. last year due to science funding cuts. He called the decision to scrap the HIV vaccine facility “mind-boggling” and a “very severe setback for Canada.” (Globe and Mail, Jan. 28, 2010)

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Contact:
Office of the Hon. Dr. Carolyn Bennett, MP: 613-995-9666
Office of Kirsty Duncan, MP: 613-995-4702
Office of Marc Garneau, MP: 613-796-0103