Good afternoon, everyone.
Madam Chair and members of the committee, it's a pleasure to be back here to discuss the main estimates for the health portfolio. With me today are Glenda, Krista, Dr. Greg, and James. I believe this is the last appearance for James before this committee. He will be retiring on Friday.
Some hon. members: Hear, hear!
Hon. Leona Aglukkaq: I'm sure he's quite happy about that, so give him a good time today and don't be too hard on him.
Over the past year, the committee has discussed and considered many of this country's most important health issues. During my last appearance before the committee, in November, I highlighted our government's efforts to reduce the deficit, and our emphasis on protecting the front-line health care services within the health portfolio. I am pleased to report that we have honoured and continue to follow through on these commitments.
Madam Chair, we remain committed to sound financial management. Building on budget 2012 commitments, we are increasing effectiveness and efficiencies across the portfolio. We're reducing redundancies and aligning efforts, where possible. As well, we are focusing on core mandates to help us meet emerging demands and adapt to new realities.
The main estimates for the health portfolio represent a net decrease of $104.9 million over last year. This decrease is mainly due to the savings identified as part of our economic action plan 2012, and sunsetting programs. However, for a more complete picture of the future direction of the health portfolio, we also need to consider the government's investments in health, as outlined within the economic action plan 2013.
As highlighted in economic action plan 2013, our government invests over $2.4 billion annually for first nations and Inuit health, including primary health care for on-reserve communities, as well as non-insured health benefits. On top of this investment, economic action plan 2013 provides $52 million over the next two years to improve access to quality health services for first nations and Inuit. This funding will help expand electronic health services, including telehealth within the remote and isolated first nation communities, and it will expand the number of accredited health care facilities on reserves, as well as mental wellness teams.
The funding is on top of the $90 million in main estimates that will also be dedicated to the continued implementation of both the residential school settlement agreement and the first nations water and wastewater action plan. Once these funds are added in the future supplementary estimates, the health portfolio planned spending for 2013-14 will increase over the 2013 main estimates level.
Our government has once again confirmed that health remains a key federal priority. As confirmed in economic action plan 2013, this government will not balance the books on the backs of the provinces and the territories. We are on a sustainable, long-term track for health transfers to the provinces and the territories that will see funding reach a record high of $30.3 billion this year, and it will continue to grow. This will help ensure health care services are there for Canadian families, when needed.
Federal action on health doesn't stop at annual transfers. The federal government remains the largest single investor in Canadian health innovation, primarily through the grants made by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. We are supporting ongoing health innovation with advanced research through an additional ongoing investment of $15 million per year for Canada's strategy for patient-oriented research. Again, this will help ensure patients are placed at the centre of care.
The federal role in health extends far beyond health care services. This week I delivered a keynote address about how our government is supporting Canadian families. I announced several important new initiatives that demonstrate how we are strengthening the safety of consumer products, food, and drugs.
Today, I would like to echo those remarks in the context of the estimates and our priorities moving forward.
Health Canada is always on the lookout for emerging threats to health. For example, it's clear that some products containing small powerful magnets pose a danger to children. These magnets are found in some novelty sets and some children's toys. If more than one magnet is swallowed in a short period of time, the results can be very serious or even fatal. Under the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, Health Canada is taking actions to identify these dangerous products and contacting companies to have the products removed from the marketplace.
Our government wants to make sure that playpens remain safe, which is why Health Canada is proposing to strengthen regulations for playpens, including adding new requirements for playpen accessories, which will result in the application of even higher standards for their construction and safety features.
I also noted this week that the safety of our medication is also of vital importance to Canadians and their families, which is why we're improving safety standards. We're ensuring that hospitals have strong systems in place for reporting adverse drug reactions. We're working with industry to improve drug-naming practices to reduce the number of products that are confused because their names look or sound alike. This will help Canadians to better understand what they're taking and prevent dangerous mix-ups of drugs, particularly among our seniors.
With regard to natural health products, we have listened to the industry and consumers, and we have streamlined our approaches while maintaining safety as our top priority. This means that Canadians will benefit from access to over 60,000 authorized products.
Canadians need to know that the products they buy, use, and eat are subject to strict safety standards. They need to know that their government can detect and correct problems quickly, and they need to know that the information and labelling that they see are helpful and accurate. This is particularly true with food safety. For people with food allergies, for example, proper labelling is essential. Now when people shop for groceries, they will find more straightforward ingredient labels. These labels declare allergens and gluten sources that may not have been disclosed in the past. It's about helping Canadian families to get the information they need to make healthy, safe choices.
In terms of emergency preparedness, we continue to be prepared to respond to a range of public health issues. More recently we have been monitoring events in China related to the H7N9 virus. While the risk to Canadians remains low at this time, we continue to share information with the public, communicate with our public health experts in China, and work in close collaboration with our many partners.
l'm also proud to report that we're expanding our food-borne illness surveillance program, known as C-EnterNet, with a third surveillance site. This is one way we're able to track food-borne illnesses and their sources, and to help prevent diseases from occurring. Through close collaboration between the Public Health Agency, Health Canada, and all our food safety and surveillance partners, we are committed to providing Canadians with the best possible food safety protection.
We've also demonstrated our commitment to protecting families when and where they need it. In partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation, we're going where Canadians are, to help ensure safe environments that are both active and healthy. For example, earlier this year Prime Minister Harper announced a four-year initiative to support the installation of automated external defibrillators in hockey arenas across Canada. It's one way we're reaching Canadians in their communities. This is technology that we know works, is easy to use, and can help save lives.
We need to be there for Canadians when they want advice or guidance, and that's why our government is also tapping into the power and reach of social media. HealthyCanadians.gc.ca allows even the busiest parent to stay informed. The latest alert on unsafe products, information on food, and tips on nutrition or quitting smoking are all on the HealthyCanadians site, as a one-stop shop.
Madam Chair, families, and all Canadians, want their government to be that kind of a partner in their health—not to lecture them, not to interfere in their daily lives, but to be there when they need it, to make sound policy decisions based on solid research, and to provide practical and clear advice as the world around them changes.
Today l've outlined some of the ways we're partnering with families across the country. As we look to the year ahead, l'd like to thank all members for their hard work and their shared commitment to Canadians.
I would be happy to take your questions this afternoon.
Thank you, Madam Chair.