Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-5, which provides the statutory framework for the Public Health Agency. As well, Bill C-5 establishes the position, the powers and the duties for the Chief Public Health Officer.
In my discussion today I will talk about why I think this legislation is important. I also want to comment on whether public health needs a national voice and whether we are actually interfering with provincial jurisdiction. I will be dealing with these questions throughout my discussion.
Public health is a field of health care that is often out of the spotlight until there is a crisis. Let us face it, most of us take our public health needs for granted. We all assume that the water coming out of the tap is safe to drink. We all assume that when we go to a restaurant, the facilities are clean and the food is safe. We all assume that our immunization system protects us from communicable diseases, including tuberculosis.
However, when there is a crisis, the interest in public health suddenly comes into focus. In a crisis, our public health care professionals and the public health care system become the centre of attention. In a crisis, Canadians deserve, want and should get solutions and answers, and they should get them immediately.
In my previous job as a regional councillor in the region of Halton I experienced first-hand the vital role public health plays in the lives of my constituents. I appreciate its importance and firmly believe the Government of Canada has a role in gathering information, providing advice and responding to emergencies in public health.
Canadians expect their federal government to care about their public health needs. The past outbreak of SARS and in my area the introduction of the West Nile virus have been two important public health issues in my riding. Public health officials have played a key role in informing the public on the risks and actions that people need to take to protect themselves.
Public health in today's environment is facing a number of challenges, including the potential of a pandemic influenza outbreak. Our Public Health Agency can play a vital role in preparing and preventing such an outbreak in all parts of Canada. A planned and coordinated effort will help prevent a Canadian public health crisis in the future and our Canadian Public Health Agency should be at the forefront of this effort.
Members of the public expect the government to provide them with the necessary information to protect them in a timely and accurate manner. I see this as the key role for the Public Health Agency. The agency is and will continue to be the catalyst for information sharing and will be the central clearing house for public health data as it relates to trends and issues facing public health in this country. I support this important role for this agency, as we can work cooperatively with the provinces and our municipal partners in preparing and responding to public health threats.
Not only will this agency be the connection for public health in Canada but it will also be a key link in the public health issues and best practices that are facing other nations around the world. The agency will work closely with other important international health agencies, such as the World Health Organization.
I also support having a Chief Public Health Officer who will be the lead spokesperson on public health issues at the federal level. We need a credible spokesperson who has the trust and faith of the Canadian public. The bill will make the Chief Public Health Officer the deputy head of the agency and accountable to the Minister of Health. The Chief Public Health Officer will use his or her expertise to assist in policy development in public health.
In addition, the Chief Public Health Officer will also be required to submit to the Minister of Health for tabling in Parliament an annual report of the state of public health in this country. The Chief Public Health Officer will have the authority and expertise that is needed to give Canadians confidence that our public health concerns are being addressed.
Are we interfering in provincial jurisdiction? I say no. I view the Public Health Agency as complementary.
I took it upon myself to contact the public health doctor for the region of Halton, Dr. Nosal. I asked his advice on whether he felt that an additional level of scrutiny of information was important. He told me directly that he and his colleagues throughout Ontario believe it is important to have a national voice in public health.
As a regional councillor, my personal experience in public health issues included SARS. A hospital in the community of Burlington was closed to the public during the SARS outbreak. Constituents called me in tears. They could not get into the hospital to see their loved ones. They wanted to know what was happening. It was something new for us. Information was not as available as we would have liked it to be. We got the answers, but if at that time there had been a national agency that had that type of information on how to respond to emergencies and to a crisis that could have been shared with other communities and provinces, then we would have been able to react in a quicker and more efficient manner.
Another public health issue which I think is more localized for me but could occur in other parts of the province and country is West Nile virus. It is a virus carried by mosquitoes. It tends to grow in stagnant water and can cause a public health issue.
We had a major reaction in Burlington on what to do about West Nile virus. Would it not be great if we had a national agency that could act as a clearinghouse to provide information so that all public health agencies across the country would how we handled the issue, what worked and what did not. Then if it became an issue in another parts of the country they would be able to react quickly to those issues.
That is why I believe we are not interfering with any provincial jurisdiction. What we are doing is standing up for the health of Canadians everywhere.
In addition, there was a study done on whether there was a need for this agency. There was a full consultation with experts in the field and public health stakeholders and they all agreed there was a need and desirability for a national public health agency. In discussions with our provincial and territorial partners, they indicated a need for a federal public health voice. They indicated a particular need for federal involvement in emergency situations.
This legislation does not expand the existing role that the federal government plays in public health. The legislation simply provides the agency with the mandate to assist the Minister of Health in exercising his or her powers, duties and functions in public health.
Of course we want to work cooperatively with our provincial, territorial and municipal partners. In addition, the agency will play an important role with international organizations and other public health experts around the world. Public health threats to Canadians often have no borders.
In conclusion, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Chief Public Health Officer deserve our support. Whether it is preparing for a pandemic influenza outbreak, maintaining the national emergency stockpile system, consulting with other international organizations, or responding to other public health crises, Canadians can be reassured that the federal government takes public health seriously.
I look forward to supporting the bill all the way through the legislative process.