Evidence of meeting #34 for Health in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was know.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Glenda Yeates  Deputy Minister, Department of Health
  • David Butler-Jones  Chief Public Health Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Jane Aubin  Chief Scientific Officer and Vice-President of Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research

9:10 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Our government understands the burden that chronic diseases place on Canadians and the health care system. As I stated in my comments, we are committed to reducing their impact. We are helping to create the conditions for healthy aging by preventing and delaying the onset of chronic disease. We are also helping to prevent the complications when those diseases occur. This is achieved through a number of federal investments, initiatives that allow us to better understand the wide range of factors associated with aging. As an example, we launched the $15 million four-year national population health study of neurological conditions in collaboration with Neurological Health Charities Canada. This study will cover a wide range of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, dementia, and Parkinson's.

As well, the CIHR, through the Canadian longitudinal study on aging, will examine health and socio-economic issues of Canadians aged 45 to 85 over the next 20 years. In addition to filling the knowledge gap, our government is working with a wide range of partners to provide information and tools to promote healthy aging and prevent chronic disease. Preventing chronic disease and promoting healthy, active living are themes that cut across all of our disease strategies, including the Canadian partnership against cancer, the Canadian diabetes strategy, the Aboriginal diabetes initiative, the national lung health program, and the Canadian heart health strategy and action plan.

In addition to that, as I mentioned earlier, there was the federal-provincial-territorial meeting that endorsed the declaration on prevention and promotion in September 2010, which gives priority to the promotion of health and the prevention of disease, disability, and injury. Through the age-friendly communities initiative, we're also working with the provinces and the territories to bring older Canadians into the planning and design of their communities to create a healthy, safe, supportive environment where they can live and thrive. Those are examples of initiatives.

Thank you.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you very much, Minister.

We'll now go to Dr. Fry.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

I want to thank the minister for coming to answer questions today, and to discuss the supplementary estimates.

I want to go straight to something that my colleague, Libby Davies, from the NDP talked about. I see that one of the major points made by the minister is that maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy diet, as well as doing regular exercise, will ensure the numbers of health-related issues in this country, including chronic diseases, go down.

The minister then went on to discuss the importance to the health care system of decreasing chronic disease and managing chronic disease well. The minister also spoke about signing a health promotion and disease prevention initiative and focusing on that.

I know, as the minister said, that there are more than 10 ways to skin a cat. But the only really important way to skin the cat is the one in which evidence has proven is the most effective way to skin the cat. We know that the most effective way to get healthy weights in this country and to bring down chronic diseases, such as diabetes caused by obesity, chronic heart disease, is to look at three very important issues: salt, trans fats, and sugar.

The minister absolutely has in her power the ability to mandate those amounts. Her own department has told her so. Advisory committees have told her so. All of the health care providers she's met with have told her so.

I'd like to know why the minister doesn't follow evidence-based decision-making in her department. It would seem to me that all of this is just a lot of talk, which we have been hearing since 2006, and nothing has been done to deal with this most significant issue.

I would like to know why the minister has in her power the ability to do this and has done absolutely nothing about it.

There is a second thing I want to ask the minister. She talks about money being spent on HIV/AIDS for a vaccine. This is good. This is very good. But is the minister aware of the fact that in British Columbia there is a proven, again evidence-based, drug that will not only treat the patient who has HIV, but by the second dose will bring down the viral load so completely that HIV will be prevented from then on. If I could not think of a better way to look at something in place of a vaccine while we're waiting for a vaccine, that's the way to do it.

I would hope that the minister would work with provinces to talk about a way of ensuring that this is part of a major HIV/AIDS strategy. It's called the HAART program. British Columbia is spending $18 million a year to treat every single person who is HIV-positive. This is a smart, evidence-based way of doing things.

So that's the second thing I want to ask the minister about.

There is a third thing I want to ask the minister. She talks very much about the crown and first nations model of health governance. Since the money for the aboriginal healing fund was transferred from the aboriginal communities into Health Canada, can the minister give me an update on how that aboriginal healing fund has progressed within Health Canada? How much of that has gone to actual aboriginal communities to work on healing, to make a difference?

In fact, INAC originally told us it was so effective they hoped this fund would continue within aboriginal communities. Health Canada should give evidence to me about the outcomes that are better than the aboriginal healing fund outcomes.

Finally, on personal health, the minister talked about a genetic profile and that you cannot pick different things to solve a problem. Well, does the minister believe that genetic profiles are the only things that cause disease? What about poverty and unemployment? What about the environment? What about smoking? What about obesity? What about alcohol? Those are things that also create disease, not merely your genetic profile.

If the minister has that kind of money to spend, I would like to know why the minister isn't dealing with bringing down chronic diseases.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

On the issue of the sodium conversation, our government has taken a number of steps to help Canadians make healthy food choices, including mandatory nutrition labelling that requires that sodium content be declared. We have also revised Canada's Food Guide. Consumer information on Health Canada's website is also available.

We have also released a national sodium reduction message, in October 2011. The provincial, territorial, and federal partners, in collaboration with industry and health and other stakeholders, are working together to lower the sodium intake of Canadians to 2,300 milligrams per day by 2016. We are on target and we are moving forward.

Health Canada, with its partners and stakeholders, is moving on three fronts to reduce sodium consumption. That includes education, awareness, and guidance to industry on efforts to reduce sodium in processed food, and research—

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Minister, we only have seven minutes, and with all the respect in the world—

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

The sodium-reduced diet is part of broader efforts to improve the healthy outcome—

9:20 a.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

—could you answer my question about why you have not gone to mandatory—

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

—so we are moving forward in the area of sodium reduction.

In the area of tobacco, it was this government that introduced the legislation. My first legislation was to deal with big tobacco marketing their products to children. That legislation was passed, and we have seen a significant reduction in young people smoking in this country. It's the lowest it's ever been. We're quite proud of that, and we continue to move forward in tobacco warning labels.

As an example, we are working with the provinces and territories to combat this issue. These are the collective efforts of provinces and territories in reducing smoking by our young children.

In the area of evidence-based HIV...I think the initiatives that we have undertaken—in partnership, again, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—are to pull together the experts in developing a vaccine. After 25 years of doing research in areas of HIV, we were concerned that the investments we were making were not resulting in the production of an HIV vaccine. So in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we pulled together the experts, to focus the experts and the resources we have, in coming up with a vaccine. This is, again, an innovative way of dealing with and moving forward in addressing the issue of developing a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Joy Smith

Thank you, Minister.

Now we'll go to Mr. Gill and Mr. Brown.

Mr. Gill will begin.

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I also want to thank the minister for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us here today, and also all the officials.

I also had the opportunity to participate in the drug shortages debate that we had last night. I want to thank Health Canada for the role it is playing and also, under the leadership of the minister, for doing a tremendous job. I have full confidence that issue will be addressed in the very near future.

My question, Minister, is related to obesity. Canada is facing an obesity epidemic. I understand that addressing childhood obesity is a complex problem, but I believe it is critical we do so. I believe that all sectors of society and all levels of government will have to work together to find the solutions.

I understand that you recently participated in a summit on healthy weights. What was that all about, and will it help us to address this issue?

9:20 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Thank you, and thank you for participating last night in the debate.

Reversing the trend in childhood obesity is very important. The World Health Organization declared last year that obesity is a global epidemic now—not tomorrow—today.

As you've mentioned, it will require action from all sectors of society, all levels of government, the private industry, the communities, the families, and individuals. I'm very happy to say that all these groups were at the summit I hosted this past month.

We recognize that we all have to work together, and that was the key point at the summit. I am therefore happy to say that Canada's ministers of health made the commitment to also work together with other sectors of society to address the issue of obesity.

The summit was another important step in creating the conditions that will help children, youth, and their families achieve healthy weights. It was an important step in continuing our efforts to take action across sectors to reduce childhood obesity in Canada. It followed the dialogue held last year, “Our Health Our Future: A National Dialogue on Healthy Weights”, which engaged Canadians in a conversation about approaches to tackling the obesity challenges we face.

The summit also challenged us all to think outside the box. We laid out the foundation of new ways to promote healthy weights. We owe it to our children and our youth to give them the healthiest possible start in life. This conference was historic, but I can say that there are great initiatives occurring across the country, in partnership with provincial and territorial ministries, in addressing the epidemic of obesity that we are seeing in Canada. This conference was the first of its kind to address that very important issue.

Thank you.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Parm Gill Brampton—Springdale, ON

Thank you very much.

I'd like to now share my time with Mr. Brown.

March 13th, 2012 / 9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

Minister, a few years ago we had a chance to meet an individual from Barrie by the name of Derek Walton, who had been living with ALS for eight years. I know that Derek is part of a growing number of Canadians who have neurological disorders. The Rising Tide report from the Alzheimer Society certainly illustrated that neurological disorders are becoming a greater challenge for our health care system every year.

I know that I was impressed, as I think most parliamentarians were, by the $100 million brain trust that this government announced. Could you outline a little bit what that brain trust will mean for our battle against neurological disorders in Canada?

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Nunavut, NU

Thank you for your question.

As you know, this is Brain Awareness Week. I'm very pleased to speak on our efforts to support brain research. This government understands the importance of brain research for the one in three Canadians who will be affected by a mental disease or disorder in their lifetime.

Diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and spinal cord injury lead to a profound deterioration in quality of life. Equally important, they have a profound impact on patients' families as well as caregivers. We are committed to supporting research and initiatives to continue the research for new treatment, prevention, and cures. We are committed to supporting initiatives that could eventually relieve social and economic burdens and relieve suffering.

The CIHR makes significant investments in neuroscience and mental health research. For its part, the Public Health Agency of Canada adds to the understanding of brain disease and mental disorders by also administering the national population study on neurological conditions.

Canada is regarded as a leader in neuroscience. We've signed an international MOU with France, Germany, and the U.K. on Alzheimer's research. Our universities pursue world-class and cutting-edge research. Our NGOs, such as Brain Canada, are establishing a strong infrastructure to support research in this area. But we also understand that more can be done.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Patrick Brown Barrie, ON

I assume I have a little bit more time, Madam Chair?