During the weekend’s formal debates and votes on policy resolutions, coming from delegate panels on Friday, there were several attempts to bring forward resolutions on HIV/AIDS and foreign aid. The panel called “Reclaiming Canada’s Place in the World”, which I was part of, got bogged down in its opening minutes (which seemed like hours) over the ranking of priorities instead of debating the issues at hand. Then, on Saturday, the convention took nearly all the time allotted to RCPITW to debate the Afghanistan resolution. (Also passed were the “Iraq Composite” and a resolution on the public ownership of all Canadian border crossings.)
I was not alone in wishing to speak to delegates on Saturday, as I had to the working group on Friday, regarding the HIV/AIDS issue. In fact notwithstanding Stephen Lewis’ passionate speech Friday night (that’s us at the fundraising reception which followed) – he can speak for me any time! – many members of the Friday panel had encouraged me to do so after the room gave me a standing ovation – something I don’t recall ever experiencing. What a gratifying rush that was!
I had made the case that, even with my belief that most party members would be supportive of the resolutions – with little or no debate – we, as a party, needed to underline to Canadians the shame we feel for the former Liberal government’s cynical Bono-fide promise to deliver generic HIV/AIDS drugs to Africa and other developing regions. Of course, to our national embarrassment, not a single pill has been delivered and it is difficult to imagine the Conservatives acting any faster.
I also called on our party to encourage, in Canada, the “re-radicalization” of HIV/AIDS in the public square and told them of my experience: diagnosed in 1989, near death by the mid-1990s, then granted a new lease with antiretrovirals. What makes my life more valuable than someone else – anywhere else – with HIV/AIDS? Nothing!
I challenged New Democrats to remember that it was through protests that western persons with HIV/AIDS gained access to then-experimental treatments. The HIV/AIDS community, together with the broader activist communities within the NDP, need to go “back to the barricades” to agitate for our brothers and sisters everywhere living and, too often, dying in this pandemic.
Alas the HIV/AIDS issue, and the broader question of Canada’s level of development assistance, were left out of the Saturday debates due to time constraints and attempts to re-insert them on Sunday were thwarted, again due to lack of time. While I have no doubt the party is with me on this a loud public declaration from the convention floor would have been very meaningful.