Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Hello to all my colleagues from all side of the House. It's great to be here.
I will try to keep my remarks within the 10-minute allotment so that we have ample time for conversation, and I want to thank everybody for your thoughtfulness.
First of all, I am excited to talk about my mandate and to be here with my incredibly hard-working officials: Dr. Stephen Lucas, who just joined us as the deputy minister of health; and Tina Namiesniowski, who is the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Also, arriving just as I am announcing her is Dr. Tam, who most of you should know and if not—
Voices: Hear, hear!
Hon. Patty Hajdu: Yes, go ahead and give these officials a round of applause because they have been working full out for Canadians for several months—well, obviously longer than that, but most intensively on the coronavirus for several months.
Catherine MacLeod, who the chair has already introduced, is the executive vice-president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and Dr. Siddika Mithani is the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Of course, as you all know, I will turn to them for more technical answers as necessary, but I think first it would be appropriate if we start our conversation with the coronavirus or the COVID-19 outbreak.
As you know, and as I have been saying for two and a half months, this is a situation that is very fluid. It has been evolving across the globe, and we see it is evolving very rapidly here in Canada as well. The number of cases in Canada and around the world continues to increase, and globally now there are more than 100 countries affected. I am sure you all saw that the World Health Organization has declared that this is a pandemic. However, that is not shocking to us because we have been acting as if it had this potential in the early days, and certainly over the last several weeks and months we've been working to prepare Canada for a worst-case scenario.
We obviously see rapid change globally and indeed as we see this week, in terms of new cases and the kinds of stories you're all reading in the newspaper, Canada is clearly not immune in the case of a global pandemic. In full disclosure, I spent nine years in public health, and pandemic and epidemic are always part of the conversation no matter what you do in a public health agency, but I think it's at times like these that we see how important it is to have a strong, coordinated approach to health care and public health in a country.
Public servants at all levels of government have been working extremely long hours to protect Canadians. I want to recognize them for their dedication and professionalism in the face of this international health threat.
I'll say it again in English because I think it's super important to repeat. This is the face of the leadership team that has been managing the coronavirus crisis, but behind them are hundreds, if not thousands, of health professionals who are working incredibly long hours with them. I am enormously grateful for the amount of work that people have been putting in on this issue to protect Canadians.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is working closely with provinces and territories to ensure there's a consistent, evidence-based approach to addressing this crisis. At the federal level, we're conducting national disease surveillance and providing guidance on public health measures.
I have weekly meetings with my provincial and territorial health counterparts. I have worked closely with health ministers of the most severely affected provinces on an as-needed basis. We have each other's phone numbers and we talk to each other as situations arise.
Our National Microbiology Laboratory is helping to confirm new cases of COVID-19 and conducting research to advance our understanding of the virus.
Last week I announced that the Canadian Institutes of Health Research is investing nearly $27 million over two years in coronavirus research. This investment will support research and diagnostic tools and candidate vaccines, as well as strategies to tackle misinformation, stigma and fear and to understand how this experience that we're all going through as a world, and particularly in Canada, will change our population's thoughts and behaviours.
That announcement has obviously now been surpassed by the announcement today of the additional $1 billion towards COVID-19 that will include a substantial commitment to additional research. It won't take us long to dispense that money to the incredible researchers we have across the country. One thing that I've been extremely proud of in being part of the Liberal government is investing in science, research and the capacity of researchers to rapidly begin trials and studies. In fact, the announcement today will ensure that the other great applications that we received will be able to move forward. I look forward to hearing more about that as those announcements come forward.
Ensuring access to vaccines and antivirals is a top priority. While there are currently no drugs specifically authorized to treat COVID-19, there are a variety of authorized treatment options that include general antiviral drugs that are being used to treat patients infected with COVID-19. Health Canada encourages companies and researchers with drugs that could be effective in the treatment to contact the department. Clinical trials can be authorized and established very quickly, particularly in urgent situations like this.
Health Canada is also leading federal workplace health initiatives to ensure regulatory preparedness and to provide occupational health and safety guidance to federal employees.
As Minister of Health, I'm focused on how this virus is affecting the health of Canadians and our health care system. However, there's more to it than that. The coronavirus 2019, or COVID-19, has already had a negative effect on the global economy. We must prepare for the possibility of a wide range of effects.
Last week the Prime Minister announced a new cabinet committee to oversee the federal response to COVID-19. This committee, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Freeland, will ensure government-wide planning and proactive response to protect the health and safety of Canadians, to respond to impacts on workers and businesses, and to ensure that the government can continue to deliver its services to Canadians across a range of scenarios.
You can see by today's announcement that this committee is working incredibly hard and very quickly to ensure that we have those responses ready and available.
COVID-19 is a serious public health challenge, but we are working diligently to be ready. The government is working on all fronts to protect the health, safety and well-being of Canadians. We will continue to work with the provinces and territories, indigenous communities and leaders, businesses and community-level groups to minimize the health, economic and social impacts of this rapidly evolving public health issue. Of course, I will keep this committee informed of any new developments as they arise, as I have been doing with Canadians since the appearance of the virus.
Our response to COVID-19 illustrates the government's commitment to protecting the health and well-being of Canadians, one that I share deeply. While my mandate as Minister of Health is far-reaching and touches many important issues, obviously the coronavirus is taking an enormous amount of energy and time. I will reassure you that the other work is proceeding under the wise leadership of Deputy Lucas, and I appreciate the hard work of Health Canada to make sure that the items that are in my mandate continue to have a path forward.
As minister, I am leading the government's work to strengthen public health care for all Canadians. We're working towards a national universal pharmacare program so that Canadians can access the prescription drugs that they need without worrying about the cost. We've already strengthened our regulatory approach to pharmaceutical pricing, and this will help lower the prices Canadians pay for patented medicines and will make pharmacare more affordable. Budget 2019 provided support for Canadians who need access to high-cost drugs for rare diseases, as well as funding to create a Canadian drug agency, which will lower drug costs even further.
While access to medication is an essential element of health, Canadians must also have access to a doctor or a primary care physician when they need one. This is especially important when faced with an emerging crisis, as we are facing now. Our goal is to ensure that each and every Canadian has timely access to a family doctor or a primary health care team.
Because there can be no true physical health without mental health, we're working to set national standards for access to mental health services. It is incredibly important that Canadians have access to mental health services when they need them.
Canadians should also have better access to home care and palliative care. I'm pleased to say that we've made progress through the framework on palliative care in Canada and our supporting action plan, which aim to make home care and palliative care more accessible all across the country.
For some, having access to medical assistance in dying, MAID, is an important aspect of end-of-life care. As you know, a few weeks ago the Minister of Justice and I introduced amendments to the existing MAID legislation, and the proposed amendments are designed to make MAID more accessible to those who qualify for it, while ensuring that vulnerable individuals continue to be protected.
As Minister of Health, I'm also focused on addressing problematic substance use. As you know, Canada remains in the grip of a deadly opioid overdose crisis, one that has claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 Canadians since 2016. This crisis requires a comprehensive, compassionate and evidence-based response.
We must protect Canadians from lethally potent and illegally produced synthetic drugs, such as fentanyl. These psychoactive substances are now found in communities across the country and are the main cause of overdoses.
We must also tackle the root causes of substance use and addiction, such as mental illness, trauma and pain. This includes the experience of stigma, which unfairly marginalizes people and prevents them from getting help. Through our public education and awareness efforts, we are working to end the discrimination experienced by people who use substances to make it easier for them to get the care they need and deserve.