Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Minister of Health, I am very pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-13, an act to establish the Canadian institutes of health research, at third reading stage.
Last week, on the very day that this House completed debate on the report stage of this bill, members of Canada's health research community gathered together to bid farewell to the Medical Research Council, and to greet the new era of the Canadian institutes of health research.
Farewells are often tinged with sadness. But that is not at all an accurate description of the prevailing mood. Instead of sadness, there was excitement. Instead of regret, there was tremendous optimism and hope.
Throughout the day, at the MRC-sponsored symposium, researcher after researcher spoke about the tremendous gains in knowledge that had been made by Canadian researchers under the Medical Research Council, and about the potential for new knowledge, for new discoveries, under CIHR.
The CIHR concept brought together the largest coalition of interests in the history of Canada's health research community. This concept was not imposed from above by government, but created and developed as a direct result of the efforts of so many members of the community from across the country. It would not be fitting to let this occasion pass without paying tribute to Canada's health researchers who took up the Prime Minister's challenge to excel in our areas of strength, in particular, members of the original task force on CIHR, as well as members of the interim governing council of CIHR. The interim governing council devoted tremendous time and energy meeting together and engaging the broader health research community in discussions to ensure that CIHR would meet the priorities of the health research community, of Canadians and of Canada as a whole.
Special mention must be made of the truly special efforts of Dr. Henry Friesen, president of the Medical Research Council, and chair of the interim governing council and the IGC vice-chairs Dorothy Lamont and Eric Maldoff.
The Canadian institutes of health research is an achievement that was brought about by the hard work and deep commitment of a great number of people
To the 75 men and women who served on the task force persuading the Government of Canada that this concept could become a reality and to the 35 members of the interim governing council who have worked so very hard to find solutions to the challenge of expressing that vision in legislation and addressing the tough issues of structure, processes and accommodation between diverse disciplines, I want to express my gratitude and my admiration.
As we all know, every great cause needs a leader, and a leader in the work to create these institutes was Dr. Friesen. Dr. Friesen had already secured his place of honour as a result of the remarkable leadership that he had provided as president of the Medical Research Council since 1992. He saw the possibilities and seized the opportunities as only a true leader can.
Let us not underestimate the size and complexity of the challenges that he overcame. In designing and defining the institutes, he must have sometimes felt that his task was like building an airplane in the air. Somehow he made it fly and somehow he has brought it safely to ground.
On behalf of Canadians and the health research community, I want to express our sincere appreciation to all these individuals for their tremendous contribution.
With Bill C-13, the Medical Research Council hands on the torch of health research to CIHR. Over the past 40 years, the MRC has been a godsend for researchers, providing them with the support they needed to devote themselves to research full time.
It is very easy to say that Canada's health researchers are among the best in the world. As I reflect on the MRC's legacy of excellence, from the early days, with Wilder Penfield and the surgical treatment of epilepsy developed in Montreal, to more recent achievements, such as the discoveries of Jude Poirier and Peter St. George-Hyslop in connection with Alzheimer's, May Griffith and her artificial cornea, and Arthur Prochazka and his bionic glove, I marvel once again at the talent and creativity to be found in our universities, hospitals and other research institutions.
Canadian researchers are making a difference in health, in the well-being of Canadians and of people the world over.
Today there are many reasons for all of us, no matter what our role, to feel a strong sense of occasion. We are, after all, sharing a moment of history as one great Canadian institution is retired to make way for another. What a past to celebrate.
For 40 years the Medical Research Council has nurtured and enabled the Canadian research community that has pursued excellence expanding human knowledge, improving human conditions, putting worldclass standards at the service of humanity both here in Canada and around the world.
Our purpose today is not only to celebrate that legacy and to honour that tradition. It is also to savour the new opportunities that are upon us and to prepare for a limitless future. We are about to embark on a new era in health research in this country. The Canadian institutes will transform our research enterprise providing a new and even better way to carry on the process of discovery, to broaden its scope and deepen its worth, to quicken its pace and to enrich its value.
We shall now move beyond medical research to health research linking investigators in the biomedical sphere to those who pursue inquiry in the clinic setting, connecting that work with those who would better understand how to deliver health services, and grounding it all in a better understanding of how illness can be prevented and how good health can be promoted. New and better treatments, better strategies for health protection and promotion and for managing the health system, all of these things will be crucial to improving and sustaining Canada's health system and the health of our people.
The concept of the institutes is as novel as it is simple. It will create a network of knowledge linking investigators who tackle similar issues from different angles.
I recall reading some months ago a simple explanation of how collaboration can enrich inquiry. An investigator wrote to a colleague in the following words “I give you my idea. You give me yours. Now we each have two ideas and together we have four”. That is the arithmetic of a shared inquiry, adding in order to multiply, sharing information in order to accelerate discovery.
The nature of modern health research is changing and the issues that arise are more difficult than ever. Today these issues cover a vast array of disciplines representing many perspectives and approaches.
The CIHR is a direct response to these contemporary challenges. It is based on a new integrated approach to health that is focused on understanding the factors underlying health and illness.
The CIHR will create a link between researchers in a broad variety of disciplines, enabling them share their knowledge and work towards common goals.
It will transform the manner in which health research is conducted in this country by giving a national character to Canadian efforts. By promoting the acquisition of new knowledge, CIHR will help to improve Canada's health care system and the health of Canadians. It will help make Canada's research community a community of hope and encouragement where the grants awarded to researchers will be comparable to those awarded in other countries. The CIHR will be the principal Canadian health research enterprise of the next century.
Thanks to additional large investments by the federal government, CIHR will do more than support excellence in existing research in Canada. It will promote new synergies among researchers, helping to resolve complex and difficult health issues through comprehensive, collective and multidisciplinary approaches.
The CIHR will build on research in Canadian universities, health institutions and research centres, provincial and federal government teaching hospitals, and the volunteer and private sectors.
The integration of health research into a network of virtual institutes will make it possible to address important health issues more effectively by using resources from four intersecting health research approaches: basic biomedical research, applied clinical research, research into health care systems and services, and research into the social factors underlying health.
The institutes will serve as centres for the transfer of knowledge to local communities and the monitoring of Canadians' social and health environment, as well as to present related reports.
For a new generation of researchers, this new orientation will result in the creation of training and innovation opportunities in Canada. As a result, Canada will be among world leaders in health research.
The creation of CIHR is a direct response by the federal government to the opinions expressed by health research directors, who were calling for change and modernization generally of this activity in Canada.
And they are not alone. There is also a vast coalition of researchers representing all views and disciplines in Canada. These researchers know that CIHR is the most innovative and best integrated approach to health research in the world.
Let me cite the enthusiastic and eloquent comments of our Minister of Health:
We believe that CIHR will help us to attain the health research policy objectives supported by Canadians throughout the country. It will improve the effectiveness of our health care system, further enhance Canada's image as a world leader in health research, create new jobs in key sectors of the new economy and, finally, curb the departure of our best researchers and clinicians. Above all, CIHR will help improve the health of Canadians.
CIHR will change the way we fund and carry out health research in Canada. It will make the main priority of all research endeavours in the country, first and foremost, about improving the health of Canadians. A closer examination of the objectives of CIHR as set out in its mandate reveals just how profound the change will be.
The main aim of CIHR will be to co-ordinate and support multidisciplinary health research across Canada. The legislation states that CIHR's mandate is “to excel according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence in the creation of new knowledge and its translation into improved health for Canadians, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system”. How will it do that? The legislation says that it will meet its objective by forging an integrated health research agenda across disciplines, sectors and regions.
CIHR brings together researchers from across regions and disciplines. It includes all four key areas of health research: biomedical; clinical; health systems and services; and population health research. It is an approach that will see research travel from laboratory to bedside and to communities.
Health research in Canada already involves a multitude of bodies with partnership potential. These are: the federal research councils, charitable organizations involved with health, universities, teaching hospitals, community groups, research institutes and private industry.
Associated with greater financial resources, this more integrated and more dynamic research framework that the institutes represent will generate new knowledge, which will result in improving the health of Canadians and improved health care, earlier discovery of new treatments, and enhanced possibilities of effective political intervention.
The institutes will foster the establishment of an integrated health research program which will make it possible to make discoveries earlier in identifying new health threats and their treatments. They will deal with the increasingly numerous statistics indicating that some of the most significant health factors are not being addressed by clinical and biomedical interventions.
The institutes will provide a far better liaison for the health research partners already in place, and will encourage co-operation with the volunteer, community and private sectors.
Hon. members will have understood that the role of these institutes is not, first of all, to invest in bricks-and-mortar structures, but rather to put into place in the form of a network in synergy with researchers in other disciplines with different horizons, within the framework of what we have already named the virtual institutes around various themes.
To give one example, in a research institute focussing on asthma, basic genetic research might be carried out in a hospital in Quebec, while clinical trials and evaluations of asthma treatments might be carried out in Saskatchewan or Ontario. Research assigned to social science specialists or public health authorities might be done in rural areas of Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador. Finally, evaluation of such a pilot project with a view to determining the best treatment approach might be done in another part of Canada, British Columbia or PEI, for instance.
Thus the institutes are intended to bring together researchers in the social sciences into a solid national network, which is then, in turn, part of a broad international health network. This national network would work in conjunction with scientists in other disciplines of health research, with researchers in such areas as sociology, psychology, education, social work, nursing, psychiatry, economics and public health, demographics, epidemiology, and public administration. All of these could be associated with health research in one way or another, according to the role planned for the institutes.
I would also like to point out that a number of organizational principles will guide the selection of institutes. First of all, there will not be just one model of institute.
Each institute will be able to take a different path as far as its programs, its structures and the number of projects funded are concerned, depending on the determined needs of the community. Second, all health researchers will have the opportunity of a place within the institutes.
Identification of the institutes, which will be 10 to 15 in number, will be based on several criteria, including their fundamental capacity to contribute to improving the health of Canadians.
The structure of the institutes must be simple and cost-conscious. Finally, the institutes will encourage interdisciplinary research in the four key health sectors already referred to.
A key element of CIHR's stated objective is to facilitate the Translation of knowledge into better health services and a better health care system for Canadians. Research has little value if its result cannot somehow be applied whether into new directions for further research, new ways to maintain the health of individuals and communities, new treatments and cures for disease or a new understanding of how best to deliver health care to Canadians.
By building the translation of knowledge gained from research into practical applications right into CIHR's legislative agenda, we are ensuring that we achieve the utmost value for our research investment.
There is another key element in the institutes' agenda. Promotion of research projects and assistance in their completion must be according to internationally accepted standards of scientific excellence. Peer review is the best guarantee available to government and to the Canadian public that taxpayers' dollars are being directed to science of the highest quality.
The institutes will build on a longstanding tradition in this country of rigorous evaluation of research proposals to ensure that we may continue to meet international standards of scientific excellence and take into account the special requirements of the institutes' expanded mandate.
The legislation before us provides as well that the institutes will carry out their mission by assuming a leadership role in Canada's research community and by co-operating with the provinces, volunteer organizations and the private sector.
Having the institutes organized by theme will bring together all the principal stakeholders—researchers, donor agencies, research users—to develop a strategic research program promoting researcher creativity while meeting the needs and priorities of Canadians. Herein lies the test of real leadership.
This leadership, need I point out, will be exercised in co-operation with the provinces, whose responsibility it is to provide health care to Canadians. This leadership will be exercised in the respect of provincial jurisdiction. We consider such federal-provincial-territorial co-operation vital not only to the advancement of health research but to the promotion, dissemination and implementation of new knowledge with a view to improving the health care system and services.
Canadians take a special sense of pride in their publicly funded health care system. They believe that leadership in the areas of health care, research and education are key elements of the Canadian advantage that will help us maintain a quality of life that the United Nations continues to consider the best in the world.
The government shares that belief. The institutes are part of a deep and abiding commitment that we have made to supporting health research in this country.
The Government of Canada understands that it must do its part if the new enterprise is to succeed. By next year in relation to 1998 we will have doubled the annual federal funding for health research in Canada to a total of almost $500 million per year. If as we expect the institutes' promise is fulfilled, that will not be the final point, it will be a new point of departure. The CIHR is only part of a determined effort by the Canadian government to encourage and reward innovation.
Over the past three years, we have invested more than $5 billion in direct and leveraged funding. We have continued to fund and expand the network of centres of excellence, seven of which focus on health related topics.
In 1997, we established the Canada foundation for innovation, and, this year, we contributed an additional $900 million to it. A total of $1.9 billion is helping to modernize and improve the research infrastructure in our hospitals, universities and other research institutions. We also established the Canadian health services research foundation to provide us with the data we need of how to deliver excellent, efficient and cost-effective health services to Canadians.
In the latest federal budget, presented a month ago, the Minister of Finance announced the creation of 2,000 Canada research chairs, a $900 million investment intended for researchers at the peak of their careers and the most promising researchers still at the start of their careers. As well in this budget the Minister of Finance announced a special one-time allocation of $160 million to Genome Canada to fund five genome science centres in Canada.
On top of all these initiatives, in two years, government investment in the institutes will be double the amount it had invested in the MRC. And this is only the beginning. We fully expect that, in future years, the federal government's investment in health research through the institutes will continue to grow. The end result of these investments will be a country where researchers see opportunities for support and innovation throughout their careers. A country others throughout the world see as the place to be for health research. A country which offers its citizens the very best in research and health care based on a solid foundation of excellence in this field.
I want to reiterate that our government understands these kinds of investments must continue to ensure that Canada can cultivate, keep and attract the very best and brightest. By creating an environment for research excellence where good people take up challenges with enthusiasm and confidence, we strengthen the vitality of our country and we enhance our economic dynamism and competitiveness in a shrinking world. We have produced results particularly when we speak of health research which makes our communities and families healthier and happier.
Someone once said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. I believe that is what those who have developed the institutes have done. Our future will be assured because of the hard work we are doing now which will be to the benefit of generations to come. What is more, the institutes will be an exercise in national solidarity linking not only scientists but also Canadians with each other in a common cause.
The institutes represent the most deliberately innovative and integrative approach to health research. They form a structure uniting individuals and networks of researchers in a broad range of perspectives on health research. I sincerely believe that the institutes will set the example for the world.
As the Prime Minister of Canada has said, the institutes will truly make Canada the place to be for researchers in the field of health.
The Standing Committee on Health heard from a wide range of witnesses during its hearings into Bill C-13, representing different regions, different areas of health research, different perspectives. Despite their differences, though, there was one constant point of similarity. Every individual, every group appearing before the committee began by expressing their strong support for the establishment of this new vision for health research in Canada.
I would like to salute these witnesses and thank them enthusiastically for their support and their contribution to the advent of the institutes. The expression of such unanimity during hearings for a piece of legislation is extremely rare, we must confess, but this is the extent of the support shown by the health research community: researchers, volunteer organizations, universities and the private sector.
In conclusion, I would like particularly to thank my colleagues, the members of the Standing Committee on Health, who made a considerable commitment to their work. In addition, I would encourage the members of this House—including those of the various opposition parties, whose co-operation during the examination of this bill I wish to recognize—to show the same commitment to excellence in health research in Canada through their unanimous support for this bill.