The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (“the committee”) is empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management, and operation of Health Canada. This includes its responsibilities for the operations of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA), an internal Health Canada body. The Committee is also responsible for the oversight of four agencies that report to Parliament through the Minister of Health:
The mandate of the Standing Committee on Health also includes reviewing and reporting on matters referred to it by Orders of Reference from the House of Commons relating to Health Canada and its associated agencies such as health-related bills, the budgetary estimates of Health Canada and its associated agencies, study of reports tabled in Parliament that relate to health, and examination of the qualifications and competences of Order in Council appointees.
The Standing Committee on Health may also study matters the Committee itself chooses to examine. It holds public meetings and considers evidence from witnesses. At the end of a study, the Committee usually reports on its findings and makes recommendations. The Committee may request a Government response within 120 days of the tabling of the report.
A standing committee dealing with health matters was first established as the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare in 1965, which then became the Standing Committee on Health, Welfare and Social Affairs in 1968. By 1991, the committee was named the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare, Social Affairs, Seniors and the Status of Women. It covered a wide range of topics through multiple subcommittees on health, senior citizens’ health, status of women, poverty, and fitness and amateur sport.
The Standing Committee on Health was first established in its current form in 1994 to reflect the fact that the Department of Health and Welfare had been separated into two components: Health and Human Resources Development. By November 1995, this departmental restructuring was formally recognized in Bill C-95 (Department of Health Act).
In the execution of its functions, each committee is normally assisted by a committee clerk, an analyst and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. All of these individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs his or her duties and responsibilities under the direction of the committee and its Chair. As an expert in the rules of the House of Commons, the clerk may be requested to give advice to the Chair and members of the committee should a question of procedure arise. The clerk is the coordinator, organizer and liaison officer for the committee and as such will be in frequent contact with members’ staff. He or she is also responsible to invite witnesses and to deal with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for, in particular, the organization of committee meetings and the publishing of documents on the committees’ website. The committee assistant works with the clerk to meet the needs of committees.
The Library of Parliament’s analysts provide authoritative, substantive, and timely research, analysis and information to all members of the Committee. They are part of the Committee’s institutional memory and are a unique resource for parliamentarians. Supported by research librarians, the analyst works individually or in multidisciplinary teams.
Analysts can prepare: briefing notes on the subjects being examined; detailed study plans; lists of proposed witnesses; analyses of an issue with a list of suggested questions; background papers; draft reports; news releases; and/or formal correspondence. Analysts with legal training can assist the Committee regarding any substantive issues that may arise during the consideration of bills.
OTHER RESOURCES AVAILABLE AS REQUIRED
Within the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) are available to assist Members who are not in Cabinet in the preparation of private Members’ bills or of amendments to Government bills or others.
At various stages of the legislative process, Members may propose amendments to bills. Amendments may first be proposed at the Committee Stage, during a committee’s clause-by-clause review of a bill. Amendments may also be proposed at the Report Stage, once a bill returns to the House.
Once bill is sent to Committee, the clerk of the Committee provides the name of the Parliamentary Counsel (Legislation) responsible for the drafting of the amendments for a particular bill to the Members.
The legislative clerk serves all members of the Committee as a specialist of the process by which a bill becomes law. They are available to give, upon request from Members and their staff, advice on the admissibility of amendments when bills are referred to Committee. The legislative clerk organizes the amendments into packages for committee stage, reviews all the committee amendments for procedural admissibility and prepares draft rulings for the Chair. During clause-by-clause consideration of bills in committee, a legislative clerk is in attendance to assist the committee concerning any procedural issues that may arise. The legislative clerk can also provide Members with advice regarding the procedural admissibility of Report Stage amendments. When a bill is sent to committee, the clerk of the committee provides to the Members the name of the legislative clerk assigned to the bill.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO)
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) has a mandate to support Parliament and parliamentarians in holding the government to account for the good stewardship of public resources. The Federal Accountability Act of 2006 mandates the PBO to provide independent analysis to the Senate and to the House of Commons regarding the state of the nation’s finances, the government estimates and trends in the national economy.
The enabling legislation also provides the PBO with a mandate to provide analytical support to any committee during its consideration of the estimates, as well as provide advice to any Member of Parliament regarding the financial cost of proposals.
The Committee examined Canada’s radiofrequency exposure limits that are established by Health Canada’s Safety Code 6, and the potential health impacts of wireless devices such as cell phones. Among other things, the Committee recommended that Health Canada ensure the openness and transparency of its processes for the review of Safety Code 6, and that the Government of Canada develop an awareness campaign about the safe use of wireless devices.
The Committee examined best practices and federal barriers related to the scope of practice and skills training of healthcare professionals. Included among the Committee’s recommendations was “that the federal government work with provincial/territorial governments and with health professional associations to promote a consistent pan-Canadian approach to scope-of-practice expansions”, and “that the federal government, through Health Canada, work with provincial and territorial governments to support the development, implementation and evaluation of interprofessional team approaches to the provision of primary healthcare and that it support research in this direction.”
The Committee examined the potential risks, benefits and challenges associated with electronic cigarettes. It recommended that a regulatory framework for e-cigarettes be established either by amending the Tobacco Act or by establishing new legislation to, among other things, prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, restrict advertising and promotion, prohibit their use in federally regulated public spaces, and prohibit the use of flavourings that are designed to appeal to youth.
Among other things, the Committee recommended that the Government of Canada develop an awareness campaign about the health risks and harms of marijuana use. It also recommended that the Government of Canada work with health professional organizations to increase their awareness of scientific evidence related to the health risks and harms of marijuana use.
The Committee examined prescription drug abuse, at-risk population groups, and best practices for prevention of and raising awareness about abuse. Among other things, the Committee recommended that the federal government establish an awareness campaign aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse and that Health Canada work with the provinces and territories to evaluate existing prescription drug monitoring systems.
The Committee focused on technological innovations in healthcare, including in the areas of e-health, pharmaceuticals and nanotechnology. It made a number of recommendations identifying ways in which the federal government could further promote technological innovation in health care in Canada.
Bill C-17 was introduced in December 2013 and received Royal Assent in November 2014. Similar amendments had been proposed in April 2008 in the form of Bill C-51, but that bill died on the Order Paper before being referred to the Committee for study. Bill C-17 provides the Minister of Health with the authority to recall a therapeutic product if it “presents a serious or imminent risk of injury to health.” The Minister can now also order changes to therapeutic product labels or packaging.
Bill C-36 was introduced in June 2010 and received Royal Assent in December 2010. The bill was substantially similar to two earlier bills: Bill C-6, which was introduced in January 2009, and Bill C-52 which was introduced in April 2008 and was a companion bill to Bill C-51, which would have amended the Food and Drugs Act. Among other things, Bill C-36 prohibits the sale, manufacture, import and advertisement of certain listed products, requires manufacturers and others to report dangerous incidents caused by products, and authorizes the Minister of Health to recall products that pose a danger to human health or safety.