Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to address Bill C-5, an act respecting the establishment of the Public Health Agency of Canada. As my colleagues have indicated, this legislation represents a key piece in supporting the federal government's efforts to promote and protect the health of Canadians.
As members may know, following the outbreak of SARS, there were discussions and debates on the state of the public health care system in Canada. Two subsequent expert reports, one completed by Dr. David Naylor and other by Senator Michael Kirby, pointed to the need to establish a federal focal point to address public health issues. Specific recommendations included the establishment of a Canadian public health agency and the appointment of a chief public health officer for Canada.
In response, the Public Health Agency of Canada was created in September 2004 through orders in council. However, it currently lacks parliamentary recognition in the form of its own enabling legislation. As such, this legislation provides the statutory footing for the Public Health Agency of Canada and it gives the agency and the Chief Public Health Officer the parliamentary recognition they need.
Beyond the benefits to Canada are the benefits that this agency will bring to Winnipeg and my riding of Kildonan—St. Paul. I intend to touch upon how the legislation affects Winnipeg, Manitoba, and also how the agency will rank against other institutions all around the world.
Winnipeg remains the location of Canada's only level 4 microbiology lab for human health and a world leader in research, training, commercialization and innovation in addressing the threat and impact of infectious diseases. However, the agency will continue to maintain offices, staff and expertise all across Canada, including its federal laboratories, its surveillance networks, its regional offices and national collaborating centres. What this means for Winnipeg is that we will continue to experience the benefits of our leadership in combating infectious disease.
With regard to how the legislation will affect Manitoba, the legislation does not expand on the existing federal role in public health. Nothing that the federal government is currently doing in public health has changed.
Rather, the legislation simply provides a statutory footing for the agency and gives it a mandate to assist the Minister of Health in exercising his or her powers, duties and functions in public health. The minister recognizes the importance of continuing to foster collaborative relationships with federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments as well as international organizations and public health experts.
This is an objective that is clearly set out in the preamble of the bill. It is also why we have established the pan-Canadian public health network, currently co-chaired by the Chief Public Health Officer and the provincial health officer of B.C. The network is a forum for multilateral, intergovernmental collaboration on public health issues and it respects jurisdictional responsibilities in public health.
It is also important to note that the legislation does not explicitly define the functions and responsibilities of the agency. This was purposely done in order to provide the Minister of Health the necessary flexibility to assign powers, duties and functions in the area of public health, either to the agency or to Health Canada. This flexibility is further enhanced by not defining the term “public health” so that future governments will be left with the flexibility to define the federal role in public health in keeping with emerging issues and new challenges.
Both the American CDC and our Public Health Agency of Canada are part of their respective governments' health portfolios, working on core public health functions such as infectious disease control and prevention, emergency preparedness, chronic disease prevention and health promotion.
The CDC is not a separate departmental entity within the U.S. administration, but rather one of 13 major operating components within the U.S. department of health and human services. There are also some differences in the mandates of the two organizations. For example, the USCDC has responsibility for policy and programming on environmental health, occupational health and safety, and health information and statistics. In Canada, these issues are handled by Health Canada and other departmental agencies.
The director of the CDC in the U.S. reports to the secretary of the department of health and human services through the deputy secretary. In the U.S. the surgeon general, who has no direct connection to the CDC, has traditionally been the lead federal spokesperson on public health issues.
By contrast, Bill C-5 gives the Canadian Chief Public Health Officer a unique dual role. In addition to serving as deputy head of the agency reporting directly to the Minister of Health, the Chief Public Health Officer will also serve as Canada's lead public health professional, able to communicate directly with the public on public health issues.
I would like now to discuss the role of the Chief Public Health Officer, another critical element of this legislation.
One of the key recommendations from the Naylor report was not only the establishment of a Chief Public Health Officer for Canada, but that the Chief Public Health Officer head up a new Public Health Agency of Canada and serve as a credible, official voice on public health nationally. Actually, that is the deputy head; the minister heads it up. This legislation responds to his recommendation by formally establishing the position of the Chief Public Health Officer and recognizing this unique dual role.
First, as deputy head of the agency, the Chief Public Health Officer will be accountable to the Minister of Health for the day to day operations of the agency and will be expected to advise the Minister of Health on public health matters. Further, as deputy head, the Chief Public Health Officer has the standing to engage other federal departments and is able to mobilize the public health resources of the agency to meet threats to the health of Canadians.
In addition to deputy head, the legislation also recognizes that the Chief Public Health Officer will be Canada's lead public health professional with demonstrated expertise and leadership in the field. As such, the Chief Public Health Officer will have legislative authority to communicate directly with Canadians, to provide them with information on public health matters and to prepare and publish reports on any public health issue.
Stakeholders have made it clear that they expect the Chief Public Health Officer to be a credible trusted voice able to drive real change by speaking out on public health matters and issuing reports. Providing the Chief Public Health Officer with the authority to speak out on public health matters and ensuring that the Chief Public Health Officer has qualifications in the field of public health will help confirm this credibility with stakeholders and with Canadians.
This dual role of the Chief Public Health Officer may be unique, but it is not without precedent in certain provinces as it brings certain advantages. For instance, as deputy head, the Chief Public Health Officer has the standing to engage provincial ministries of health and work with the Canadian public health network to receive the best advice from his provincial and territorial colleagues.
At the same time, with the authorities granted in legislation, the Chief Public Health Officer is able to communicate with the Canadian public and provide them with the best public health advice on key issues.
I have spoken on how the legislation represents a critical piece in the ongoing improvements the government is making to strengthen our public health system.
By giving the agency its own enabling legislation and positioning the Chief Public Health Officer as a credible voice on public health, the government will not only bring greater visibility to public health issues or threats facing Canadians, it will have taken a key step to renew and strengthen the public health system as a whole.