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.
Detailed information on the role and powers of House of Commons committees can be found in Our Procedure and in Chapter XIII of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons.
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, one or more analysts and a committee assistant. Occasional assistance is also provided by legislative clerks and lawyers from the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel. These individuals are non-partisan and serve all members of the committee and representatives of all parties equally.
The clerk performs their 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. They are also responsible for inviting witnesses and dealing with all the details regarding their appearance before the committee.
The committee assistant provides a wide range of specialized administrative services for 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, who are subject-matter experts, 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 analysts work 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 with 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 a 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 with 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) is an officer of Parliament created by the Parliament of Canada Act who supports Parliament by providing analysis, including analysis of macroeconomic and fiscal policy, for the purposes of raising the quality of parliamentary debate and promoting greater budget transparency and accountability.
The Parliament of Canada Act also provides the PBO with a mandate to, if requested by a committee, estimate the financial cost of any proposal over which Parliament has jurisdiction. Certain committees can also request research and analyses of the nation’s finances or economy, or of the estimates.
Further information on the PBO may be found at: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/en/
The section below highlights some of the major studies that were carried out and legislation that was reviewed by the committee during the 1st Session of the 43rd Parliament and the 42nd Parliament.
A complete list of the committee’s studies and reports can be found on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health’s website under WORK OF THE PAST SESSION.
1st Session, 43rd Parliament
The committee examined the Government of Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic from January to July 2020. The study focused on the federal government’s role in pandemic planning and preparedness; the implementation of border measures; addressing shortages in drugs and medical supplies; diagnostic testing, contact tracing and public health surveillance; the development of public health guidelines; the research and development of treatments and vaccines; and the impact of the outbreak on the health care system, as well as vulnerable populations and various economic sectors. Finally, the study also looked at international dimensions of the federal government’s response.
The committee began a study on palliative care in Canada, including an examination of the delivery of palliative care in other countries. It held one meeting as part of this study during which it received a briefing from federal officials from Health Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information.
The committee examined reports of the forced sterilization of women in Canada. The study highlighted the need to gain a greater understanding of the full scope of the issue; develop better accountability and reporting mechanisms; provide supports to victims; and engage more closely with Indigenous women’s organizations.
The committee’s study focused on the health inequities faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, asexual and two-spirit (LGBTQIA2) communities in Canada. The committee’s report identified ways that the federal government could address these inequities through public awareness, education, health programs, legislation, data collection and research.
The committee examined ways the federal government could address rising methamphetamine use in Canada. The committee’s report and recommendations focused on public education and awareness; building resiliency among youth and families; harm reduction measures; treatment services; housing and social supports; and enforcement.
The Subcommittee on Sports-related Concussions in Canada conducted a study that focused on raising awareness about concussions; providing support for the Federal-Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Concussion in Sport; funding for concussion research; and enhancing collaboration with stakeholders.
The committee’s study examined the challenges facing individuals living with diabetes in Canada. The committee recommended that the federal government work collaboratively to create a national plan to help prevent and manage diabetes in Canada.
To improve access to treatment for individuals living with rare diseases and disorders, the committee recommended establishing coordinated processes for the approval and reimbursement of drugs for rare diseases; amendments to the Patented Medicines Regulations; options for covering the costs of medications; and research support.
The committee examined how the federal government could help strengthen Canada’s organ donation and transplantation system by supporting the adoption of best practices; promoting conversations among family members regarding organ donation; creating more opportunities for registering organ donation decisions; and funding for research and data collection.
The committee’s study focused on identifying ways of better regulating beverages with high alcohol and sugar content sold in single-serving containers to help mitigate their health risks.
The committee’s study focused on how to establish a universal single payer public prescription drug coverage program in Canada. The Committee recommended expanding the Canada Health Act to include prescription drugs dispensed outside of hospitals as an insured service.
Bill S-5 was introduced in November 2016 and received Royal Assent in May 2018. In response to the committee’s report entitled Vaping: Toward a Regulatory Framework for E-Cigarettes, Bill S-5 amended the Tobacco Act to regulate the manufacture, sale, labelling and promotion of vaping products.
Bill C-45 was introduced in April 2017 and received Royal Assent in June 2018. Bill-C-45 provides legal access to cannabis under certain circumstances and establishes a framework to control and regulate its production, distribution and sale. Following the study of Bill-C-45, the committee’s Chair wrote a letter on behalf of the committee to the Ministers of Health, Justice and Public Safety outlining concerns with regards to the legalization of cannabis.