HESA Committee Report
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Presented by the Bloc Québécois MPs
Christiane Gagnon (Québec) and Luc Malo (Verchères – Les Patriotes)
A. INVOLVING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
1. Juvenile obesity: an important issue
The Bloc Québécois members recognize the gravity of the epidemic of juvenile obesity raging through Quebec and Canada. This situation is not, moreover, limited to Quebec and Canada, since many western countries are grappling with the same problem.
There is consensus on the Committee’s findings based on the evidence it heard during the study. The Bloc Québécois members agree with the Committee’s observations in chapters 1 to 5 of the Report. The Bloc Québécois feels that this situation is extremely serious and is paying careful attention to the issues raised by the Committee. Juvenile obesity is an important issue that requires quick and effective action. Quebec, in any case, has responded, by announcing an action plan to counter this epidemic in autumn 2006.
2. A question of jurisdictions
The Standing Committee on Health agreed in June 2006 to begin a study on juvenile obesity in Canada, “with a particular focus on the responsibility of the federal government for First Nations and Inuit children.” The Bloc Québécois finds it regrettable that the Committee deviated from its original mandate by extending the study to areas that are outside the federal government’s jurisdiction.
The Committee’s hearings demonstrated beyond any doubt that the overall health of members of the First Nations and Inuit is much worse than that of the rest of the Canadian population. Here alone there are massive challenges facing the federal government, which is constitutionally responsible for the healthcare of these populations. Rather than seeking to extend its efforts into areas where it does not have the expertise, the federal government should be seeking to distinguish itself in its approach to its own client groups.
B. WELL UNDER WAY IN QUEBEC
The Bloc Québécois feels that the Standing Committee on Health’s report contains recommendations that, were they to be applied by the federal government, would constitute an unnecessary duplication of the efforts already being made in Quebec.
1. Acting within its areas of jurisdiction
The 10-Year Plan to Strengthen Health Care adopted by the federal, provincial and territorial first ministers in September 2004 recognizes the Government of Quebec’s authority to carry out its responsibilities for planning, organizing and managing health care services within the province. The agreement calls for Quebec to apply its own strategies for health promotion and prevention of chronic diseases, which includes, de facto, any question of obesity.
The Government of Quebec reports to the public on its use of healthcare funds.
2. A well-defined strategy
Within the framework of the 2004 agreement, the Government of Quebec undertook a study of juvenile obesity that culminated in the Plan d’action gouvernemental de promotion des saines habitudes de vie et de prévention des problèmes reliés au poids 2006-2012; Investir pour l’avenir [Government action plan to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent weight-related problems 2006-2012]. This process represents a major step in the prevention of juvenile obesity in Québec.
The Quebec plan Investir pour l’avenir [Invest for the future] covers all the areas covered by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health report. Nutrition, physical activity, advertising, research, health, education and infrastructures are all issues that Quebec has given careful consideration. The process involved seven departments and three government agencies, as well as private-sector and community partners.
The results of this exercise led to targeted and quantifiable objectives in priority areas. A total of $400 million is to be invested over 10 years, including $20 million a year from the Government of Quebec.
Open federalism notwithstanding, the Bloc Québécois members are not surprised to note that the Standing Committee on Health, despite the change in government, continues to interfere in areas of Quebec’s and the provinces’ jurisdiction rather than concentrating on its own areas of jurisdiction, which in this case include the government’s responsibility for First Nations and Inuit children.
The Bloc Québécois also finds it regrettable that the Standing Committee on Health did not agree to recognize in its report that Quebec can conduct its own initiatives and obtain its fair share of the funding for federal initiatives on juvenile obesity, in complete compliance with its areas of jurisdiction and the 10-Year Plan of 2004.
That is why the Bloc Québécois recommends:
v That, if the federal government takes actions to counter juvenile obesity, these actions not restrain Quebec;
v That the federal government’s initiatives on juvenile obesity in areas of provincial responsible include an unconditional right for Quebec to withdraw with full compensation.
C. TARGET THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S INTERVENTION
1. Act immediately for the First Nations and Inuit communities
Although it exceeded the federal government’s jurisdictions, the Standing Committee on Health did examine the situation of the First Nations and Inuit. The Bloc Québécois members support the recommendations relating to these communities,1 provided the communities are allowed to participate in the development and evaluation of the initiatives to counter juvenile obesity.
The Bloc Québécois urges the federal government to make these recommendations a priority and quickly implement measures that will allow it to effectively attack the problems experienced by these communities.
2. Respect Quebec’s and the provinces’ areas of jurisdiction
Under the 10-Year Plan of 2004, the Government of Quebec is to share information and best practices with the governments of the other provinces and territories. Quebec is meeting its obligations, since a number of mechanisms are in place, such as FPT round tables2, formal and specific agreements, and regular and continuous contacts with the other provincial governments and the federal government.
Given that it is respecting its commitments, Quebec should not be required to acquiesce to federal initiatives impinging on its areas of jurisdiction, such as research, education, advertising, etc. The Bloc Québécois cannot agree to recommendations 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 and 13 of the Standing Committee on Health report. If the other Canadian provinces agree to give the federal government responsibilities in the fight against juvenile obesity, Quebec should, at the very least, be given an unconditional right to withdraw with full compensation.
For example, what would be the point of creating a new knowledge exchange structure (Recommendation 6) when such exchanges already occur between Quebec, the federal government and the provinces? One might also question the relevance of the federal government’s evaluating Quebec legislation on advertising to children (Recommendation 9) and of measures aimed at schools (Recommendation 11) when this is clearly an area of provincial jurisdiction. Finally, what justification is there for the federal government’s imposing conditions on the provinces’ management of infrastructure programs (Recommendation 13)?
3. Better targeted federal action
The Bloc Québécois members recognize that the federal government may act within its areas of jurisdiction to combat juvenile obesity. That is why it supports recommendation 11 on the evaluation of the children’s fitness tax credit. We also support Recommendation 4, to limit the amount of trans fat, which is supported by the report from the panel of experts who studied the question in 2006.
 Recommendations 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 10 and 12 contain sections on the First Nations and Inuit.
 FPT: federal-provincial/territorial.