Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for giving me an opportunity to discuss with you the amendment to the Public Health Agency of Canada Act—which is presented in Bill C-43—and my role as Chief Public Health Officer of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
As you know, that amendment aims to redefine the role of the chief public health officer so that it would focus exclusively on the public health needs of Canadians. This amendment also aims to create a position of president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, who would be in charge of managing the agency.
I strongly support this amendment. My unique journey has allowed me to gain a lot of experience and come to this conclusion.
I started my medical career as an M.D. in a private small city practice. As a family physician I experienced the challenges of holding two jobs much like the position of chief public health officer. On one hand I was helping patients improve their health and essentially managing a business on the other, often causing tension between the two.
In the 20 years since, I've held progressive leadership positions in the federal government, specializing in public health, and I've watched the agency grow from a branch of Health Canada to a global leader in public health. Today with an ebola epidemic in the public spotlight, we're reminded why the country needs its leading public health professional to focus exclusively on one major task: public health.
Since the agency's inception, the competencies and experiences to lead national public health issues have grown, as have the skills needed to manage a growing public sector organization. The Public Health Agency of Canada now has over 2,000 employees across the country. It's annual operating budget is over $600 million.
For years now it's been clear to me and my colleagues that the CPHO role must evolve and complement that growth in a way that makes sense. Division 20 of this bill will allow my position to focus on moving Canada forward in public health issues, providing advice directly to the Minister of Health and to Canadians, collaborating with all partners and interacting with multiple key players including the Canadian public. At the same time, a dedicated agency president will provide focused strategic management and corporate leadership for a world-leading, vibrant and strong organization.
The president, as deputy head of the agency, will assume some of the management responsibilities currently assigned to the CPHO including accountabilities for finance, audit, evaluation, staffing, official languages, and access to information and privacy. These are all important functions requiring the attention of a senior leader.
The changes proposed do not diminish the role of the chief public health officer, they enhance it. In essence, they associate internal management and capacity issues with a dedicated agency head and direction on public health issues with the CPHO. It makes good management sense and good public health sense to make these changes.
It's a structure that works well for many provinces and territories, and for countries, including the United Kingdom and Australia. In fact, we've been moving this way as an agency for some time now and have, in fact, adopted this type of management structure since 2012. At that time we began to separate out the roles and responsibilities of the CPHO on an interim basis. My appointment as CPHO on September 24th of this year—the date of the agency's 10th anniversary—reflected the first step needed to move public health forward in Canada.
The next step will ensure we have the right people in the right positions focused on the right tasks for Canadians. I'm very proud of the agency's maturation. The agency has become a world leader in public health, and just as its profile of importance has grown, so have public expectations of our work. We need to enhance our public health connections globally.
After 10 years and many high-profile public health success stories, the agency and the position of chief public health officer are no longer young. We now need to adapt and advance in a way that makes good management and public health sense.
Mr. Chair, committee members, for these reasons I strongly support division 20 of Bill C-43 before you today that will amend the Public Health Agency of Canada Act.
The associate deputy minister and I believe these changes are the right thing to do for the health of Canadians. I thank you for inviting me today.