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Canadians Get in Gear for Advocacy
National groups declare agenda for Day, next federal election

IT may be the 'lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer' but in some circles big plans are reportedly being made to prepare for possible political changes at the federal level of government come Fall.

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Within the past three business days several groups have come out with an agenda for advocacy in preparation for Stockwell Day likely assuming a seat in Parliament as the leader of the Opposition and the further possibility of a federal election being called.

On Monday the Canadian Press quoted the Vice-President of EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) describing a plan "to mount an aggressive strategy of letter-writing, media awareness, pointed questions at public forums and possibly protests to force Day to reveal his thoughts ...." in response to Day's past position on gay issues.

Said Laurie Arron, "It clearly will be a mobilizing factor, and we certainly intend to do our best to make Canadians aware of his anti-gay prejudice.  There are some very worried people in the gay community."

EGALE was reported as joined by BC's Rainbow Coalition.

Bonnie Nilsen, a representative of that group in the West Kootenays region of the province, was quoted as saying many gays and lesbians are waiting anxiously to see what Day says publicly in the coming months.

"There's been some talk about what we're going to do to get some public answers out of him," she told CP.  "We're going to try and have people at public forums to ask some of these questions.  It's his move now - we'll have to see what he does."

Day is seeking a seat in the BC riding of Okanagan-Coquihalla.  It has been in this region of the country - BC's interior- where town mayors have refused to proclaim Pride Day.

On another front, the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) - which held its Annual General Meeting and People with HIV/AIDS Forum in Ottawa-Hull last week - announced at a press conference Friday that their federal advocacy strategy for the coming year had been launched.

CAS Chair Paul Lapierre spoke directly to the possibility of an upcoming federal election.

"Every party and all candidates for office will need coherent and proactive policy proposals to confront HIV in Canada, " he stated.  "Stockwell Day, and every candidate in every other party, will be tested.  We have no idea of the Canadian Alliance's formal stance on HIV funding ....  We will monitor the platforms of each party as they gear up for an election."

The national body representing local AIDS Service Organizations in Canada will also track each party's commitment to the existing Canadian Strategy on HIV/AIDS, it said.

We should seek out these benefits and deliver them to Canadians and to the world as an international leader, the way Canada can.

  - CAS Chair Paul Lapierre
Explained CAS Executive Director Sharon Baxter, "There are community-based AIDS service organizations in cities across the country, large and small.  Political action is not new to us.  AIDS organizations formed a strong, unified front during the 1997 federal election campaign in a successful effort to reinstate federal funding for AIDS.  Now, we'll have a close eye on every party's plans for the HIV Strategy and for federal health care funding."

Specifically, the Society wants the government to improve three areas of the Strategy, which was made permanent in May 1998 at $42 million dollars annually - essentially the same amount as through the eighties and early nineties.

Declaring that the new infection rate in Canada is proportionally higher than in Australia and Britain, Baxter urged that the shortcomings in prevention in this country be addressed.

Explained Al McNutt, Coordinator of the Truro Outreach Project, "Community based prevention efforts have been successful in the past, but current funding shortcomings keep us from maximizing our prevention outreach.  Community groups are too busy delivering support services to people already living with HIV, and to emerging populations affected by HIV."

The second area of increased funding needed is community development, CAS stated, explaining that local groups serve a wider variety of at-risk groups like women, injection drug users, aboriginals and youth.

Research was the described as the third area in need of more resources.

"Canada should double or even triple the money it spends on HIV/AIDS research and apply its skills in biotechnology and immunology to vaccine development, better [and] less expensive treatments, and groundbreaking prevention tools like microbicides," said Lapierre.  "We should seek out these benefits and deliver them to Canadians and to the world as an international leader, the way Canada can."

CAS earlier applauded Health Canada's funding boost of $350,000 for microbicide - invisible condom - research at Laval University in Quebec City as well as the Canadian International Development Agency's (CIDA) HIV/AIDS Action Plan which includes a contribution of $5 million to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.