Thank you very much, Chair, and welcome as well to members of the committee. It's always nice to be here.
I'm addressing the health portfolio's main estimates for 2008-2009, of course, and I have with me and am pleased to introduce our deputy minister of Health Canada, Morris Rosenberg; Alfred Tsang, who's the chief financial officer for Health Canada; and on the Public Health Agency of Canada side we have Dr. David Butler-Jones, who's the chief public health officer, and James Libbey, who is our chief financial officer. I may from to time, if it pleases the committee, turn to them to assist me with any technical matters that might arise in answering your questions.
To begin, I'm happy to be appearing before this committee during what has been a very active time for the portfolio.
We're taking action and making good on commitments for a healthier environment, safer communities, safer food, health and consumer products, along with more patient-centred health care. In doing so, we're building from the expertise of our officials as well as provinces and territories, health care stakeholders, first nations and Inuit community leaders, patients and industries.
Our range of partners needs to be broad because our policy spectrum is wide. Health policy is not only about working with doctors and nurses on dealing with illness, but working with all sectors of society on promoting health.
As written in the Ottawa charter, signed at the first international conference on health promotion on November 21, 1986,
||Health promotion goes beyond health care.
|| Health promotion policy combines diverse but complementary approaches including legislation....
It is characterized by action that
||...contributes to ensuring safer and healthier goods and services, healthier public services and cleaner, more enjoyable environments.
Mr. Chair, as you can see, those words do well at defining and explaining the approach of today's federal health portfolio, and therefore, I would put it to you and the committee, these main estimates.
For instance, we know that more than two-thirds of deaths in Canada are the result of chronic diseases. These estimates thus contain an incremental funding increase of $8.6 million, for instance, for our integrated strategy on healthy living and chronic disease, which encourages healthy living and includes disease-specific strategies for diabetes, for cancer, and for cardiovascular disease.
These estimates also include an increase of $2.7 million for new and ongoing public health information programs, including our healthy pregnancy initiative and the children's fitness tax credit campaign, which of course raises awareness of the credit and encourages families with children under the age of 16 to be more active.
In addition, I want to highlight that these estimates refer to $10.65 million annually to renew our response to hepatitis C. This will be spearheaded by the Public Health Agency as it works closely with community and provincial and territorial partners to implement a renewed prevention, support, and research program.
Planning our preparedness and response to a pandemic also remains a priority. We are implementing a balanced, multi-faceted approach that includes securing a domestic vaccine supply, as well as a comprehensive pandemic influenza plan. Stockpiling of antivirals, of course, and other public health measures are included to minimize the impact of a pandemic. Indeed, we have now reached our target for the purchase of 55.7 million doses of antivirals for the national antiviral stockpile, the number of doses estimated to treat all Canadians who become ill in a pandemic and who require and seek medical attention.
On top of this, the main estimates contain a $28.3 million increase for a cleaner, healthier environment. This includes a $17.4 million increase for the chemicals management plan. Through this plan we've committed to assessing chemical substances used by industry that are of potential concern. We are challenging industry to show they're using them safely and we're taking decisive action to protect the public.
Health Canada's assessment of bisphenol A is a great example of how we have moved forward, because as long as no new compelling information arises during the current public comment period, we will be moving to ban the importing, selling, and advertising of polycarbonate baby bottles. The assessment found that when it comes to its use of producing items like hockey helmets and DVDs, BPA is not a concern, but when it comes to polycarbonate baby bottles, there is a risk that very hot liquids may cause the chemical to leach into the formula, be ingested by newborns and infants, and possibly have negative effects on their development. As a result, we're acting promptly on our knowledge and taking action to best protect our kids' health.
Mr. Chair, our estimates also include a very important investment to protect the health and safety of our youth and communities. On April 29 I had the pleasure of joining the and in announcing $111 million for critical drug treatment and prevention initiatives for provinces and territories under the national anti-drug strategy.
Under this strategy, we're strengthening enforcement as well as treatment—and providing help to parents in talking to their kids and protecting them against the threat of illicit drugs.
I'm proud to say that these main estimates also include a contribution of more than $27 million to support our awareness-building efforts and implement our treatment actions. With the recent announcement of a $230 million investment over five years, our government is investing more than any previous government in order to safeguard Canadian families from illicit drugs.
Alongside this unprecedented action for safer communities, we're also moving forward with action for safer products. As you know, the announced Canada's food and consumer safety action plan last December. Although it is not covered in the main estimates and will be discussed later this year during supplementary estimates, budget 2008 backed this plan with a two-year investment of $113 million. On April 8 we moved this plan forward by tabling Bill and Bill .
Respectively, they seek to modernize the Food and Drugs Act, which has not been upgraded for some 40 years, and replace Part I of the Hazardous Products Act, which was written in the late 60s.
Together, they propose important tools to strengthen Canada's approach to safety.
These bills represent important action--the important action we need to take to better protect Canadians in a modern world. I look forward to discussing them in greater depth with you in the weeks to come, as those bills come before committee.
However, right now I want to address our proposed approach to strengthening drug safety under Bill . There are some who are maintaining that this bill will in some way weaken our drug approval process. I want to say right here and now that this is not the case--in fact far from it. The current process calls for a vigorous assessment of health products before they gain access to market, and under Bill that won't change.
That's quite true, Chair. Let me just say that this government is for more safety, not less, and when these bills come to committee we'll have an opportunity to thoroughly debate those.
I want to emphasize that we know full well of the immense importance of strong support for health research and health care. Our main estimates back this assertion with action. For example, we know very well that health research is the backbone of effective health policy. As a result, our main estimates include an increase of more than $59 million to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. With this funding CIHR will support excellent health research and turn the knowledge into concrete benefits for Canadians, including better health, a stronger health care system, and a stronger economy.
In addition, the estimates contain increases for quality health care. For example, there's an additional $60 million to address the health needs of the growing first nations and Inuit populations and to improve health care delivery through greater integration with provincial and territorial health systems.
There's also support for the commitment we made to working with provinces and territories to develop patient wait-time guarantees.
In March 2007, each province and territory agreed to develop and implement a guarantee by 2010, in either: cardiac surgery, cancer care, joint replacement, sight restoration or diagnostic imaging.
Budget 2007 provided more than $1 billion to support their efforts.
One key component of this investment, which is included in our main estimates, is funding for interested provinces and territories for pilot projects to test innovative approaches to establishing guarantees. So far I've had the pleasure of announcing projects in Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and P.E.l.
In closing, Chair, I'm very confident that the actions we're taking today within Health Canada, in research settings throughout Canadian society, and within these main estimates, along with the steps we're taking through legislation and regulation, are getting results for Canadian families. I want to assure you that our government is dedicated to building a safer, better Canada. The actions of the health portfolio are strongly supporting this objective.
With that, I want to thank you again for the opportunity to provide my comments. I would be pleased to take any questions that might crop up at committee.
Excellent. Thanks very much.
Thank you very much for coming. It is always a pleasure to be able to look at whether we're putting our money where our mouth is in terms of the most cherished program of Canadians. My questions will probably deal with three areas, more around partnerships and relationships than actually around the money. I think a laudable new goal for the Public Health Agency is around health disparities.
I'd like to just begin in terms of the rather lofty phrase at the beginning of your page 9, on “Health Canada: A Partner in an Interwoven Community of Stakeholders”. The number one bullet says:
||provinces and territories--who bear primary responsibility for health care administration...and have their own roles in health protection and promotion. A strong relationship with provincial and territorial counterparts is a critical factor in achieving our mandate;
I guess I would first like to ask the minister why, then, he cancelled the meeting with the other provincial counterparts in December and has again refused to meet with them this spring at all, particularly in view of the rather damning report of the Auditor General in terms of being able to get agreements with the provinces on the reporting of particularly infectious diseases, such that you wouldn't be able to report in a timely fashion to the WHO. She has identified the fundamental weaknesses in the surveillance system and is saying that this has not made satisfactory progress on strategic direction, data quality, due to gaps. You're not--particularly at the Public Health Agency--receiving timely, accurate, and complete information. It's impossible to get a consistent national picture on infectious diseases, and therefore you are unable to obtain the information necessary to prevent and respond to a disease outbreak.
So I'm very concerned that we can't meet around a table and negotiate this important next step, particularly when the public health network has been cited as one of the most important things in 30 years in Canada.
Out of the 10-year plan, things like being able to set goals and targets for improving the health status of Canadians through a collaborative process, all of these things that require partnerships you seem not to have done.
Sadly, at the committee, as we're doing the post-market surveillance, it seems that the national pharmaceutical strategy has ground to a halt in terms of even the federal co-chair not being named.
Tell me about how you're going to have a partnership with the provinces when they think they have no partner with you.
Thank you for your questions. I appreciate that very much.
First of all, it was unfortunate that the last federal-provincial-territorial meeting was cancelled. It wasn't cancelled by me. Unfortunately the co-chair was Saskatchewan. They were having the election, and then the post-election period in Saskatchewan, with the change in government. The collective decision of all of the partners, including the provinces and territories, was that this was not an ideal time. In fact, many health ministers cancelled out of the meeting before a decision was made by the co-chairs to not go forward.
I am very much looking forward to having our meeting this fall instead. In fact, I can assure this committee that I've had many successful bilateral meetings with ministers of health. Just recently, this week, I met with the Minister of Heath from Nunavut. Last week I met with the Minister of Health for Alberta. I could go through the list--the Minister of Health for P.E.I., and so forth.
That has been a priority of mine, to at least have these bilateral discussions as much as possible, in the absence of a multilateral meeting.
On infectious diseases, perhaps I might just defer very quickly. I know you want to preserve your time, but if Dr. Butler-Jones can talk about the Auditor General's report, I think that would be helpful to the committee.
Mr. Chair, I would like to focus on the money now, in that it seems disappointing, with the aging demographics and the challenges that the summary information shows, that by 2010-2011 the ministry will have less money than they will have this year.
I don't know how one explains that the budget for the whole health portfolio goes down, but particularly in terms of the main estimates for the Public Health Agency that it would go down from $658.3 million to $590.5 million. I think it is extraordinary that in things like health promotion, the planned spending can go down to $197 million by 2010. The money for public health capacity goes down, the money for infectious disease goes down. Emergency preparedness is the only thing that seems to stay. Is that not embarrassing?
And the one thing I'm sure the minister expected us to ask, and which every day we're being asked by community organizations: what is going to be the funding on HIV/AIDS? I wonder if the minister would like to tell me how many new HIV/AIDS infections there are per year and how he can justify cutting community funding and not even letting them know how much money they will have so they are able to plan.
These organizations want long-term, medium-term.... They don't even know the short-term funding now, and it's not clear in the estimates. I'd like to know whether the money for the vaccine initiative has been used. And when was the last time you met with the ministerial council on HIV/AIDS in terms of what I think is their concern?
So the community is furious, as you know. They don't know what to spend, and yet cases of HIV/AIDS are still climbing in this country.
With all due respect, minister, allow me to doubt the human resource and funding efforts made to give a real hand to one of the clienteles that is a federal responsibility.
On a number of occasions, I have asked that the Standing Committee on Health conduct a survey on aboriginal health. We will definitely be hearing from witnesses. I'm sure we will hear another story regarding aboriginal people's demands to improve their health and the support that could be given to them in that area. Then the committee can hear from you again and provide you with a completely different report, a much more pessimistic and less optimistic report than yours.
You also announced a grant of $59 million to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. I met a number of health researchers, and some told us that research demand had increased. However, as a result of a shortage of available funding, they had the impression that a number of research projects had been rejected in spite of the fact that they met the criteria.
How is it that a number of types of research projects are rejected and that the funding is lacking? Research laboratories often have to cut back their activities, even stop research, in some cases, for lack of money.
You say you're increasing the budget of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. That means it's possible the money is being distributed less effectively.
I'd like to thank the minister and his officials for coming to the committee today.
I think I'll follow up on some of the themes that the Bloc brought up.
Minister, our government has announced the Mental Health Commission and a national anti-drug strategy, and they seem to have some crossover at some level. As you know, we committed $110 million over five years to the Mental Health Commission to study the most effective ways to address mental health and homelessness. The commission was set up to research projects on housing and other types of supports in major centres like Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, and Moncton.
My first question is what does the government hope will be achieved by the Mental Health Commission as they undertake their research in areas of homelessness, mental health, and addiction? I'd also like to ask how it fits in with the national drug strategy. Our government announced $64.3 million over two years, and that strategy is designed to reduce and prevent the use of illicit drugs, particularly among youth and aboriginal peoples, treating those drug dependencies and combatting the illicit production and distribution of drugs.
As you are aware, Minister, there have been many questions from both the media and members of Parliament about what the government is doing on the illicit drugs in Canada, particularly in Vancouver's downtown east side. What is being done to address illicit drug use across Canada in these vulnerable communities, and how does it tie in with the Mental Health Commission. Or is there a tie-in? There may not be.
Certainly in a lot of distressed communities, where there's a high percentage of addicts, it's not just an addiction issue; it's a social supports issue generally. We feel that there has to be a national body of research on this—that was the money accorded to the Mental Health Commission—to pursue the pilot projects that you mentioned. It will create a national body of knowledge on how we can, through effective housing programs and social support programs, also have an impact on reducing addictions in some of these urban centres. Obviously it's not the whole solution for all of Canada, but I think it's a good start in dealing with these areas.
And of course one of the areas we're dealing with is the downtown east side of Vancouver. It's no secret that it's a distressed community, with over 5,000 injection drug addicts in a few square blocks. But at the same time, there are lots of people who do some wonderful work there. So we're going to be supporting them through treatment programs. We're going to be supporting them through these quick-response teams that we have funded, based on the announcement yesterday. And of course we're working in partnership with Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, with the mayor's office in Vancouver, and with the provincial government.
So there is a tie-in. You're dealing with not just an addiction issue or a homelessness issue, but also with a whole lot of social distress. That's why you have to look at it from a comprehensive point of view.
In terms of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, obviously there has been funding for that. There is also funding for research, for instance---about $124 million--going to cancer research this year.
The strategy involves--and you were involved with this, of course, in your days in opposition, so I want to publicly commend you for all of the spade work you did for the Canadian strategy for cancer control. As you know, it's broadly based. It's multi-faceted. We have the provinces at the table. We have the cancer societies at the table and oncologists and cancer survivors. So I really think it is the wave of the future in terms of how we want to proceed. Indeed, it is animating our discussions on other disease-specific national initiatives, such as the cardiovascular strategy that you mentioned; it is probably a couple of years behind the cancer strategy, but is rapidly catching up. The diabetes strategy has been retooled and revamped, for instance.
You mentioned some of the work we've done on the transfat issue, which was a very hot issue around this place a few years ago, as you know, and led to the creation of the transfat task force. When we were in government we approved of their recommendations, and we've been busy working with them to reduce the incidence of transfat in a number of different foods. In fact, it seems to be working. There's a lot less transfat around now. I think it has been reduced by over 50% already, and we look forward to seeing them meet their goals in the next couple of years.
You're quite right that the bisphenol A announcement was carried world-wide. If mimicry is the most sincere form of flattery in politics, I noted that Senator Hillary Clinton introduced a Senate bill, basically mimicking what we're doing here in Canada. So it must be right, if she's doing that.
Looking at it, though, that was only one piece of a broader strategy, which again is world-leading, the chemicals management plan. We reviewed over 25,000 chemicals, legacy chemicals, as they're called. We identified 200 high-priority chemicals we wanted to get some research on immediately. The next stage is another batch, you should know. I guess maybe I'm releasing this a couple of days early, but there's another batch that will be gazetted in the next couple of days. There's another series of about 16 chemicals, I believe, upon which we have the research back and we'll be making some decisions on those as well, so you'll be seeing that.
Thank you for the question.
I think the 5% number actually deals with family physicians; that's not a system-wide number.
In any event, you're an Ontario MP, and of course so am I, and I think we can honestly say that Ontario has to keep moving forward. They have not reached some goals. But if you were to travel to Alberta, British Columbia, the province of Quebec, other places, you will see that there has been a lot of movement in these areas. For instance, the capital health region, in Edmonton, and north, in Alberta, is going to be 100% EHR by the end of this year. So there are a lot of improvements happening.
Our goal, of course, is to make sure it's not lumpy. We have to make that happen throughout the country. That's why Infoway Canada is part of the solution.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Minister Clement, for being here again today.
I have three questions, and I'll just let you delve into them.
First, I remember having a conversation with you once about the recruitment initiatives the federal government has for doctors and the funds that were allocated over a four-year period. I found that intriguing. Perhaps you could share that with the committee, because in small towns we frequently hear about physician shortages. The role the federal government is playing in recruitment is something that needs to be better known.
Second, I always ask at my hospital what their issues are so I can raise them at the health committee. They certainly mention lots of the areas of success they're seeing with the influx of funds for wait-time reductions. But one issue they raised with me is that they're always at capacity: 96% to 98% of the hospital beds are in use. That problem is common around the country. Do you have any thoughts on the capacity issues hospitals are facing?
Third, Mr. Minister, I understand you had a Dr. Kellie Leitch produce a report on healthy ways for children, and I understand that you have taken action on some of her recommendations. I think that would be interesting for the committee to hear. It's certainly a good-news story on how we're helping the health of young Canadians.
Let me just say a couple of things about recruitment.
One of the bits of good news that perhaps needs a little bit more media attention is the fact that we're always worried about the brain drain, when it comes to our physicians going to the United States, for instance. But for three years in a row in this country, more physicians have migrated from the United States to Canada than have migrated from Canada to the United States. So we're winning the brain-drain war; we're getting the brain gain. That's a very positive step.
More has to be done. As you know, we've increased our transfers to the provinces, but we also have a $38 million per year strategy, health human resource strategy, with the provinces. Part of it deals with international medical graduates. Part of it deals with focusing on where the recruitment and retention should be advanced. We are going to continue on that. I want to see some results out of that. I don't just want it to be money thrown away. So that's certainly one of the things I'm working on.
The capacity issue is a big issue in the hospital system. A number of provinces are starting to increase capacity by pushing some of the hospital-based functions into community care, for instance. That's what Ontario is doing. B.C. has a strategy on that. And I think Alberta will be going down this route a little bit more too. Certainly we're encouraging that. When we, as the federal government, on behalf of the federal taxpayer, put in 25% of federal funding, that's something we're always very interested in and we certainly do support.
Dr. Kellie Leitch's report focuses on a bunch of things, including injury prevention for kids, and some other child- and youth-specific policies--obesity issues, for instance. That was raised earlier in the committee. Obviously we're examining those very closely. And we believe we can implement a number of things.
This level of government has never had a comprehensive strategy for child and youth health and wellness. We're going to try to pull together a number of departments in government as well as things within my ministry to accomplish that goal.
Thank you very much. I apologize, but thank you for juggling the schedule so I could get my time in with the minister. Forgive me if I ask anything that anyone else has asked.
I want to focus on the state of our health care system, of which we've been hearing so much as we deal with the ten-year review of the health accord. I guess what I'm a little miffed at is that in fact in your address today you don't even mention the terms “national health care”, or “medicare”, or the Canada Health Act. There has been no attempt on your part, that I can see, in the estimates or your speech or your actions, that would say to me and to Canadians that you are concerned about the erosion of our health care system and the growing evidence of people having to pay for things they need, the rise of private health group clinics, the growth in P3s, and just the incredible erosion of our system without any sense that you're going to hold the provincial governments to task and try to craft a system that resembles medicare and builds on our principles.
Is there anything you can tell us that you believe in in terms of health care? I know in the House when I've asked you questions, you say you're a great believer in the single-payer system and in the five principles of medicare, but it seems to me that you're sitting back and letting privatization, commercialization, and erosion happen by osmosis, by stealth. I don't see leadership from you to actually fix the problem. In fact I see the opposite. We hear about, obviously, the money and the budget for P3s, which by all accounts are going to lead to further problems in terms of public health care. We hear about a federally sponsored trade mission going to the Caribbean to support private clinics that are marketing surgeries. We hear all the evidence from the provinces and no action from the federal government. I think Canadians deserve to know what your plan to save medicare is.
I appreciate that. Although we've had good testimony from the Wait Time Alliance folks, most will say that the improvement in the wait-time issue is so slight as to hardly be noticed in many cases. It has not made a big impact on people's need to access the system on a timely basis.
Here are the crises we're facing overall in Canada, and I don't hear you mention any of them in your speech. A health human resource crisis--whether we're talking about doctors, nurses, technologists, or any other health care workers or professionals, on every front there is a serious shortage and crisis. We have a national pharmaceuticals strategy for which there has been no action on your part or the part of your counterparts that I can see, and it's sitting on the shelf gathering dust. There is no national emergency room strategy. There's no national birthing strategy. There's no national.... I could go on and on.
We've had so many representations from groups saying that in terms of a pan-Canadian strategy that will deal with the serious shortcomings of the system and help us sustain medicare and build on it, there's nothing. We don't even have an extension of the human resources strategy, which has ended as of now. There's no new program. Instead we have in the budget little cuts here and there, and no sustaining program. There are cuts to first nations and Inuit health. There are cuts to the Assisted Human Reproduction Agency. There are cuts to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board. There are cuts to graduate students and post-graduate students in public health. There are cuts to HIV and AIDS. There are cuts to the Public Health Agency.
In every instance where you'd expect to see some focus, some vigour, some energy, you're retreating. So where is the pan-Canadian strategy that is desperately needed on so many fronts?
It would come as no surprise to suggest that you and I might disagree on interpreting these things.
We're the first government in the history of the country to announce a national cancer strategy. I notice you didn't mention that. We are well on our way to a national cardiovascular strategy. Those two diseases together account for the great majority of deaths within the health care system, within society.
We've retooled the national diabetes strategy and we've been working on a number of other disease-specific strategies, and we will continue to do so. We have a strategy when it comes to obesity. We have a strategy when it comes to kids' health. These things are ongoing, and we will continue on that front.
You were not here for the health human resources discussion we had, but I did mention that there is within the health accord a $38 million per annum fund that we use with the provinces to assist them in some of their strategies, whether it's international graduates or, as we just finished talking about, medical schools and new places for human health resources within the education system. I did mention as well that for three years in a row we've actually taken more doctors from the United States than the United States has taken from us, so we've had a brain gain in those areas.
I'm not saying we're beyond the point of crisis. I'm saying that we are making steady progress, and the federal government is part of the solution.
I'm very concerned to hear today that you, Mr. Minister, have dismissed the idea of any kind of role for the federal government in providing home care or community care. That's been a longstanding belief among Canadians; it's the next stage of medicare, and you've dismissed it as something that's strictly local. Frankly, without being disparaging to provincial governments, I find your whole approach today is very provincial, very local, and not national.
You suggest that by raising these questions I should be back in Manitoba running for provincial politics. I suggest to you, Mr. Minister, that what we desperately need is a national vision around health care, and nowhere have you described your vision, have you put down on paper or said to this committee or the House how you intend to sustain health care.
At your convenience you use the argument of provincial jurisdiction, so when it comes to home care you're not going to tamper with provincial governments. But when it's convenient to you to put on this front of being tough on drugs and consumer products, you're going to tell all the hospitals and all the provinces they must collect information on adverse reactions.
When you want to, you do it; when it's convenient to you to do it, you will, but not when it comes to building on medicare, which would be advancing--as many experts in the field have always said--from hospitals and doctors, to drug coverage, to home care, and to community care. Frankly, I'm absolutely appalled at the lack of vision coming from you and your suggestion that there is no room on the part of the federal government to engage in these areas.
Have you totally dismissed the idea of national home care? Have you totally dismissed the idea of a national pharmacare strategy?
You talk about a national cancer strategy, which is great. Everybody appreciates that. But it stops short of research and prevention issues. You draw the line conveniently between research and development of drugs and prevention, and ignore people who are dying of cancer.
Sure. I appreciate that.
Certainly I wish to ensure that the record is accurate on this, because of course the federal government is involved in home care and in community care. It's called transfer payments. They have increased this year alone by 6%, $1.2 billion extra to the provinces.
I don't think you and your party wish to run on creating a whole new level of bureaucracy to deal with home care, rather than transferring the home care funds to the provinces so they can deliver better home care. You can run on that, go right ahead, but I'm not here saying we're going to have a whole new level of bureaucracy for home care and community care.
You talk about national vision. In my role as health minister we are focusing on the things the federal government should be focused on and we let the provinces do what is right in provincial areas of jurisdiction. If the NDP wants to run in our country on something different from that, I welcome you to do that.
But our vision on health care is that the federal government, for 40 years, didn't overhaul product safety and for 40 years didn't overhaul drug safety and food safety because it was too busy meddling in the affairs of the provinces. I'm letting the provinces do what they have to do, and I'm going to do what we have to do for Canada.
Actually, because we're so short of time, I'm going to put two questions to you and a comment. If you have time to deal with them now, please do, but if not, could you get back to the committee on them?
First, I want to thank you for staying beyond the regular hours at our committee. Unfortunately, the votes cut us short.
I want to come back to the question of surge capacity. You're a former minister of health in Ontario during the SARS time. You said then that you personally felt we had to build in more surge capacity. All the hospital administrators across the country are telling us this is a huge problem in the case of a pandemic, especially when you get yourselves in a situation where your front-line workers are at risk and are the first affected. So we need that surge capacity.
I recognize it's provincial administration, but I believe there's a federal role, and the following is a suggestion I would like you to consider. In federal-provincial relations in all departments across the board, I think if we look at what we do in social housing, if we look at the role that CMHC could play—a role that it has played in the past, and I think it could play again—in helping to build nursing home facilities, and those types of things, we could at least optimize front-line hospitals and not have that broken capacity, which I think would help in emergency medicine and with surge capacity in having that potential.
I'd like to bring up another point that I have discussed with you in the House in the past. The bills that you're bringing forward now—and I know we'll be discussing them fully—give authority where there was not authority before. There's always a danger that it becomes a responsibility that must be used at all times.
Right now, your department advises Canadians of the health risks of certain foods and of certain behaviours, and that's fine and necessary, but sometimes it crosses the line. We had one example this week with lobster tomali, on which you gave Canadians an advisory that there was a risk. It's an advisory from the Department of Health, which has a great reputation and which Canadians trust. But when you read the third paragraph of the advisory, it says that if you eat the tomali of more than two lobsters a day, there may be some risk of parasitic shellfish poisoning—if that happens to be in that population of lobsters. It's a very, very remote risk, but you may be putting a billion-dollar industry at risk in coastal Atlantic Canada.
So my question to you is, what process do you follow? Do you talk to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and all of those people, and the provinces, before putting out advisories?
If you have time, there's one more question you could answer, on the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. The act has been in place for a number of years now. A couple of years ago we had the first set of regulations on signing, or consent. Where are all the others? Where are the seven other sets of regulations? Why haven't they been coming forward? When can we expect them?