Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
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View Rona Ambrose Profile
CPC (AB)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the committee. I want to thank all of you for the work you do on the health committee. I know many of you are passionate about the issues of health, and I thank you for your commitment to that.
I'm joined by Simon Kennedy, Health Canada's new deputy minister; Krista Outhwaite, our newly appointed president of the Public Health Agency of Canada; and Dr. Gregory Taylor, whom you've met before, Canada's chief public health officer. I know he'll be here for the second half. You might want to ask him about his trip to Guinea and Sierra Leone to visit our troops and others who are working on the front dealing with Ebola. I'm sure he'll have some great things to share with you.
Michel Perron is here on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. He's also new. Last time I know you met Dr. Alain Beaudet.
We also have Dr. Bruce Archibald, who's the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I think you've met Bruce as well.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to start by sharing an update on some of the key issues that we've been working on recently. I'll begin by talking about Canada's health care system, the pressures it's facing, and the opportunities for improvement through innovation. I will then highlight some recent activities on priority issues such as family violence and the safety of drugs in food.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada spent around $215 billion on health care just in 2014. Provinces and territories, which are responsible for the delivery of health care to Canadians, are working very hard to ensure their systems continue to meet the needs of Canadians, but with an aging population, chronic disease, and economic uncertainty, the job of financing and delivering quality care is not getting easier.
Our government continues to be a strong partner for the provinces and territories when it comes to record transfer dollars. Since 2006, federal health transfers have increased by almost 70% and are on track to increase from $34 billion this year to more than $40 billion annually by the end of the decade—an all-time high.
This ongoing federal investment in healthcare is providing provinces and territories with the financial predictability and flexibility they need to respond to the priorities and pressures within their jurisdictions.
In addition of course, federal support for health research through the CIHR as well as targeted investments in areas such as mental health, cancer prevention, and patient safety are helping to improve the accessibility and quality of health care for Canadians.
But to build on the record transfers and the targeted investments I just mentioned, we're also taking a number of other measures to improve the health of Canadians and reduce pressure on the health care system. To date we've leveraged over $27 million in private sector investments to advance healthy living partnerships. I'm very pleased with the momentum we've seen across Canada.
Last year we launched the play exchange, in collaboration with Canadian Tire, LIFT Philanthropy Partners, and the CBC, to find the best ideas that would encourage Canadians to live healthier and active lives. We announced the winning idea in January: the Canadian Cancer Society of Quebec and their idea called “trottibus”, which is a walking school bus. This is an innovative program that gives elementary schoolchildren a safe and fun way to get to school while being active. Trottibus is going to receive $1 million in funding from the federal government to launch their great idea across the country.
Other social innovation projects are encouraging all children to get active early in life so that we can make some real headway in terms of preventing chronic diseases, obesity, and other health issues. We're also supporting health care innovation through investments from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In fact our government now is the single-largest contributor to health research in Canada, investing roughly $1 billion every year.
Since its launch in 2011, the strategy for patient-oriented research has been working to bring improvements from the latest research straight to the bedsides of patients. I was pleased to see that budget 2015 provided additional funds so that we can build on this success, including an important partnership with the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement.
Canadians benefit from a health system that provides access to high-quality care and supports good health outcomes, but we can't afford to be complacent in the face of an aging society, changing technology, and new economic and fiscal realities. That is why we have been committed to supporting innovation that improves the quality and affordability of health care.
As you know, the advisory panel on health care innovation that I launched last June has spent the last 10 months exploring the top areas of innovation in Canada and abroad with the goal of identifying how the federal government can support those ideas that hold the greatest promise. The panel has now met with more than 500 individuals including patients, families, business leaders, economists, and researchers. As we speak, the panel is busy analyzing what they've heard, and I look forward to receiving their final report in June.
I'd also like to talk about another issue. It's one that does not receive the attention that it deserves as a pressing public health concern, and that's family violence. Family violence has undeniable impacts on the health of the women, children, and even men, who are victimized. There are also very significant impacts on our health care and justice systems.
Family violence can lead to chronic pain and disease, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and many other serious and lifelong afflictions for its victims. That's why this past winter I was pleased to announce a federal investment of $100 million over 10 years to help address family violence and support the health of victims of violence. This investment will support health professionals and community organizations in improving the physical and mental health of victims of violence, and help stop intergenerational cycles of violence.
In addition to our efforts to address family violence and support innovation to improve the sustainability of the health care system, we have made significant progress on a number of key drug safety issues. Canadians want and deserve to depend on and trust the care they receive. To that end, I'd like to thank the committee for its thoughtful study of our government's signature patient safety legislation, Vanessa's Law. Building on the consultations that we held with Canadians prior to its introduction, this committee's careful review of Vanessa's Law, including the helpful amendments that were brought forward by MP Young, served to strengthen the bill and will improve the transparency that Canadians expect.
Vanessa's Law, as you know, introduces the most significant improvements to drug safety in Canada in more than 50 years. It allows me, as minister, to recall unsafe drugs and to impose tough new penalties, including jail time and fines up to $5 million per day, instead of what is the current $5,000 a day. It also compels drug companies to do further testing and revise labels in plain language to clearly reflect health risk information, including updates for health warnings for children. It will also enhance surveillance by requiring mandatory adverse drug reaction reporting by health care institutions, and requires new transparency for Health Canada's regulatory decisions about drug approvals.
To ensure the new transparency powers are providing the kind of information that Canadian families and researchers are looking for, we've also just launched further consultations asking about the types of information that are most useful to improve drug safety. Beyond the improvements in Vanessa's Law, we're making great progress and increasing transparency through Health Canada's regulatory transparency and openness framework. In addition to posting summaries of drug safety reviews that patients and medical professionals can use to make informed decisions, we are now also publishing more detailed inspection information on companies and facilities that make drugs. This includes inspection dates, licence status, types of risks observed, and measures that are taken by Health Canada. Patients can also check Health Canada's clinical trials database to determine if a trial they are interested in has met regulatory requirements.
Another priority of mine is tackling the issue of drug abuse and addiction in Canada. There's no question that addiction to dangerous drugs has a devastating and widespread impact on Canadian families and communities. In line with recommendations from this committee, I am pleased that the marketing campaign launched last fall by Health Canada is helping parents talk with their teenagers about the dangers of smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse. The campaign addresses both of those things, because too many of our young people are abusing drugs that are meant to heal them.
Our government also recognizes that those struggling with drug addictions need help to recover a drug-free life. From a federal perspective, of course, we provide assistance for prevention and treatment projects under our national anti-drug strategy. We've now committed over $44 million to expand the strategy to include prescription drug abuse and are continuing to work with the provinces to improve drug treatment.
I've now met and will continue to meet with physicians, pharmacists, first nations, law enforcement, addictions specialists, medical experts, and of course parents to discuss how we can collectively tackle prescription drug abuse.
Finally, our government continues to make very real investments to strengthen our food safety system. As only the latest example, I recently announced a five-year investment of more than $30 million in the CFIA's new food safety information network. Through this modern network, food safety experts will be better connected, and laboratories will be able to share urgently needed surveillance information and food safety data, using a secure web platform. This will put us in an even better position to protect Canadians from food safety risk by improving our ability to actually anticipate, detect, and then effectively deal with food safety issues. This investment will continue to build on the record levels of funding we've already provided, as well as the improved powers such as tougher penalties, enhanced controls on E. coli, new meat labelling requirements, and improved inspection oversight.
In conclusion, those are just some of the priorities that will be supported through the funding our government has allocated to the Health portfolio. This year's main estimates, notably, include investments for first nations health, for our ongoing contribution to the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the key research and food safety investments that I have already mentioned.
I'll leave it at that. If committee members have any questions, my officials and I would be very pleased to answer them. Thank you.
View Dany Morin Profile
NDP (QC)
What is very troubling about this is that worldwide the death rate has fallen by 45%—that is, globally since 1990—and that in Canada it is on the rise. So please look into this. It would be great if you could get back to us on this issue.
My next question is about food safety. We have heard conflicting numbers on the resources allocated to food safety inspection in this country. We know that the 2012 budget involved $56 million in cuts and the layoff of 308 staff members. Now an almost 10% decrease in projected spending is predicted.
Can you tell us clearly the number of staff at CFIA in 2011?
Bruce Archibald
View Bruce Archibald Profile
Bruce Archibald
2014-05-15 10:37
The total number of staff in 2012 was 7,291. In 2013 it was 7,119, which is a slight decrease. But I would also point out that the number of the inspection staff increased over that same time period; it went from 3,534 to 3,577.
So you're right, there was a reduction in the overall budget as a result of budget 2012, but the agency looked at a number of different places to find efficiencies and did not reduce the inspection staff or any of the food safety activities.
View Rona Ambrose Profile
CPC (AB)
As you know, members, in the recent Speech from the Throne, our government committed to expanding the national anti-drug strategy to address this very issue of prescription drug abuse. And I know that your work here at committee will provide much needed information on this important topic.
This is my first appearance before the committee as Minister of Health, so I would like to take a few moments to discuss how I will be approaching my role in general, before getting into some priority areas.
As evidenced in budget 2013 and also reiterated in the recent Speech from the Throne, health is a key priority for the government. In my opinion, one of the keys to success is finding new and better ways of working together. I can assure the committee that fostering partnerships and building relationships with the provinces and territories, with medical associations and health professionals, will be fundamental tenets of my time as health minister. This is noteworthy because we know there is nothing more important than good health.
Federally, we play a vital role when it comes to promoting healthy living, preventing chronic diseases, protecting Canadians from harm, innovating through research, and providing leadership on national health issues. But of course we can't do any of this alone. We all have a role to play when it comes to improving the health of Canadians.
A key achievement of our government has been to increase health transfers to the provinces and territories to unprecedented levels. Our record funding will reach $40 billion by the end of the decade, providing stability and predictability to the system. These transfer dollars support the provinces and territories in addressing the health concerns of their residents and allow all jurisdictions to focus on innovative solutions to their health care needs. As the new federal health minister, I take that responsibility very seriously, and I'm committed to each aspect of the portfolio. However, today I'd like an opportunity to highlight four key areas of interest before getting into the details of the portfolio's supplementary estimates. These include addressing family violence, fostering innovation in health care, working with partners on healthy living and injury prevention, and providing Canadians with healthy and safe food.
As I have in the past, I will continue to shine a spotlight on family violence, an important issue, and encourage Canadians to be part of the solution. Family violence, as you know, can wreak physical and emotional havoc on individuals, families, and communities. Violence in any form reverberates across our society, and of course across the economy as well. According to Justice Canada, spousal violence alone costs society at least $7.4 billion annually. Of that, approximately $6 billion was spent on medical treatment and psychological services alone.
From my perspective, family violence is a health matter—just as much as a criminal one.
To help address it, as you know, we have the federal family violence initiative that connects the work of 15 federal departments and agencies. The Public Health Agency of Canada is leading this work to make sure this initiative is focused on priorities that make a difference to Canadians.
Another focal point I'd like to touch on centres around innovation, technology, and research, all of which are obviously linked. At the federal-provincial-territorial health ministers meeting in early October in Toronto, I was very encouraged to hear from my colleagues that they've expressed their desire to make health care innovation our top priority in working together. It was also obviously well received at the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association as a priority for physicians. Federally, our government supports research and innovation through a range of initiatives. Most notably, of course, is the fact that we are the single largest investor in Canadian health innovation.
On any given day, thousands of federally funded research projects are under way involving more than 13,000 Canadian researchers. These researchers are developing cutting-edge technologies designed to help improve our health care system. We will continue to invest in research and innovation so that together with the provinces and territories we can continue to improve the quality, accessibility, and sustainability of our system so that it's there for Canadians when and where they need it.
On another note, ensuring that Canadian children and youth get the healthiest start in life is a key priority for our government. One in three children in Canada right now are overweight or obese. On average, only 12% of Canadian children take part in enough physical activity on a daily basis. These are truly alarming statistics. In the recent Speech from the Throne, our government committed to working with our provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as the private and not-for-profit sector, to support Canadian children and youth in leading healthy active lifestyles.
Awareness and momentum are growing. We are seeing strong leadership across the country to work towards the common objective.
Through the Public Health Agency of Canada, we are now mobilizing with groups like Canadian Tire, Right to Play, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, Air Miles, and the YMCA. By leveraging our resources and theirs and ideas across sectors, we're laying a foundation for sustainable change.
Another area of interest and focus that I have, and the department is working on, revolves around injury prevention, a topic of such importance that it was also specifically highlighted in the recent Speech from the Throne. Unfortunately, preventable injury is the leading cause of death for Canadians aged 1 to 44 years. Often considered accidents, preventable injuries are far more common than people think, and of course all are most often predictable and most often preventable. Preventable injury is also a concern from a health equity perspective.
An injury can happen to anyone at any time, but children, youth, seniors, aboriginal people, and those of low socio-economic status carry a higher burden of injury than other Canadians. By working together and leveraging our resources, we can reduce the number of preventable injuries in this country and make a real, tangible difference in the lives of Canadians. Going forward, we will continue to build on new partnerships, raise awareness about injury prevention, and give Canadians the tools they need to live safer, healthier lives.
I also want to touch upon the issue of healthy and safe food for Canadians and why this is such a focus for our government. As committee members know, Canadians are fortunate to have a world-class food safety system. But that said, we must always be looking for ways to improve it.
Earlier this fall our government moved the Canadian Food Inspection Agency into the broader health portfolio. This decision takes the three federal authorities responsible for food safety—the CFIA, the Public Health Agency of Canada, and Health Canada—and places them under one umbrella. We did this because food safety is not only a top priority for our government, but we do feel that by better connecting these three entities, we are improving the way we manage food safety, as well as regulating, sharing information, and communicating with Canadians about food safety.
One of the accomplishments stemming from that reorganization was the recent release of the document I just shared with you: the healthy and safe foods for Canadians framework. This framework outlines the portfolio's work on food safety as it pertains to three key pillars: promotion, prevention, and protection. With this in place, Canadians can have greater confidence in the food they buy and eat.
We're also improving food recall warnings by making important information easier to understand and more accessible by tapping into such things as social media. Whether it's Facebook, Twitter, or other tools, we are also trying to provide Canadians with essential, easy to understand information whenever and wherever they need it.
Now, under the healthy and safe foods for Canadians framework, we have all the researchers, inspectors, scientists, and public health officers working together with a common goal.
As outlined in the recent Speech from the Throne, we will continue and we are committed to strengthening Canada's food inspection regimes and ensuring that our food safety and recall system remains one of the best in the world.
As l've mentioned, with respect to this appearance, the agency is seeking an additional $39.9 million to further enhance its ability to maintain increased frequency of food inspections in meat processing establishments, improve online service delivery, and fund inspection verification teams.
To conclude, Mr. Chair, l'm proud of the vital role our government plays in health care in this country.
As Minister of Health, l'm committed to investing in health promotion by working with provinces, territories, and other partners, of course, on delivery of high-quality, cost-effective health care, by promoting innovation and health research, and by providing federal leadership on the areas that matter a great deal to Canadians.
Once again, thank you for inviting me to speak with you today.
My officials and I are pleased to take any questions you may have.
Thank you.
View Earl Dreeshen Profile
CPC (AB)
View Earl Dreeshen Profile
2013-11-25 16:44
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I welcome our guests today.
As a food producer, I'm extremely proud of what we've done as far as ensuring food safety goes. Certainly, we're world renowned for what we do. We've been involved with ParlAmericas and in discussions with Central America and South America in talking about food security and food safety. Of course, they look to Canada as a model.
But we still need to remain vigilant. Of course, food safety is important to all Canadians, and just as it's important that Canadian consumers remember their lessons from home economics class on proper food preparation, it's also important that those companies that handle our food prioritize food safety as well. So the fact that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has been transferred from the agriculture department to Health is truly a logical statement. I know that Ms. Fry spoke about that earlier.
Could you comment on the work that has been done so far to improve food safety even further?
Bruce Archibald
View Bruce Archibald Profile
Bruce Archibald
2013-11-25 16:46
Thank you for the question. There are a number of areas in which I think the government has made some significant investments in terms of improving Canada's overall food safety system, which, as you mentioned, is already highly regarded throughout the world.
I think some of the more recent investments that have been announced, coming out of a review of various programs, include the establishment of inspection verification teams that are going to help us improve the overall performance of Canada's entire food inspection system. This allows us to establish various teams across the country to move in and work on evaluation and ensure that the system is actually meeting its various objectives, and to continue to make investments to look at Canada's overall prevention and detection of food-borne diseases through our listeria response to the Weatherill report in terms of inspection in various areas.
We've also continued to make investments in the meat area, with a daily presence of inspectors in all our federally inspected meat facilities, to ensure that we comply not only with our own requirements, but also with international requirements that facilitate trade.
As well, we continue to work with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to improve detection of and response to food-borne outbreaks.
As you mentioned, I think there has always been good cooperation between the agency and the department and the Public Health Agency. I think these new reporting relationships actually allow us to strengthen that going forward in terms of our cooperation and working together.
Those are just a couple of examples of areas where we continue to make investments to further strengthen the system.
View Jay Aspin Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Welcome to our guests today.
I'd like to pursue a few questions with regard to CFIA, so I guess they would be addressed to Mr. Archibald and/or Mr. Mayers.
CFIA's authorities to date are just under $720 million, and it has requested almost $40 million in transfers and adjustments in these two supplementary estimates. There is about one-quarter of the requested funds, according to the supplementary estimates document pages 2 to 9, that are to go to maintaining an increased frequency of food inspections in meat processing establishments.
When and how did the frequency of inspections of meat processing establishments increase?
Bruce Archibald
View Bruce Archibald Profile
Bruce Archibald
2013-11-25 16:52
There was an international audit done in 2009 that identified a number of areas where Canada was doing inspection in various meat processing facilities for both domestic and international use. One of the audit findings concluded that there needed to be more presence in terms of the facilities to ensure we were meeting all our domestic and international requirements.
As a result of that, there was an initial investment in budget 2010 of $26 million over two years to deal with a daily presence of inspection at all federally inspected meat processing establishments, both export and domestic. We expanded the number of inspectors and supervisors of program specialists and the training related to that. The request in supplementary estimates that you see for this is a continuation of that work, a continuing daily presence for 2012-13, as well as going forward in 2013 and 2014.
The original work was a result of an audit that was done. The government made investments, and part of the supplementary estimates request is to continue that work.
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