Speaking Notes for the Hon. Rona Ambrose, Minister of Health – Commons Standing Committee on Health meets to hear witnesses on Main Estimates 2015-16


DATE/DATE: May 7, 2015 3:30 p.m.

LOCATION/ENDROIT: Room 237-C, Centre Block, OTTAWA, ON

PRINCIPAL(S)/PRINCIPAUX: 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

SUBJECT/SUJET: Commons Standing Committee on Health meets to hear witnesses on Main Estimates 2015-16: Votes 1 and 5 under CANADIAN FOOD INSPECTION, Votes 1 and 5 under CANADIAN INSTITUTES OF RESEARCH, Votes 1, 5 and 10 under HEALTH, Vote 1 under PATENTED MEDICINE PRICES REVIEW BOARD.

Ben Lobb: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our meeting. We’re here today to study the Main Estimates. This afternoon, we have the Minister here, as well as many of her officials. And Minister, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to appear today and have your officials all be here as well. You have a prepared statement we’ll allow you to present, and then followed by our standing round of questions. Thank you.

Hon. Rona Ambrose: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair and thank you to the committee. I want to thank all of you for the work you do on the Health Committee. I know many of you are passionate about the issues of health and I thank you for your commitment to that.

I’m joined by Simon Kennedy, our, Health Canada’s new Deputy Minister, Krista Outhwaite, our new appointed President of the Public Health Agency of Canada, Dr. Gregory Taylor, who you’ve met before, our, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer and I know he’ll be here for the second half. You might want to ask him about his trip to Guinea and Sierra Leone to visit our troops and others who are working on the, on the front dealing with Ebola. I’m sure you have (sic) some great things to share with you, Dr., sorry, Michel Perron is here on behalf of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, he’s also new, last time, I know you met Dr. Alain Beaudet, and, and Dr. Bruce Archibald, who’s the President of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. I think you’ve met Bruce as well.

So Mr. Chair, I’d like to start by sharing an update on some of the key issues that we’ve been working on recently. I’ll begin by talking about Canada’s health care system, the pressures it’s facing and the opportunities for improvement through innovation. I will then highlight some recent activities on priority issues such as family violence and the safety of drugs in food.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, Canada spends around $215 billion on health care just in 2014. Provinces and territories, which are responsible for the delivery of health care to Canadians, are working very hard to ensure their systems continue to meet the needs of Canadians. But with an aging population, chronic disease and economic uncertainty, the job of financing and delivering quality care is not getting easier.

Le gouvernement demeure un solide partenaire des provinces et des, et des territoires grâce à des montants inégals (sic) des transferts. Depuis 2006, les transferts fédéraux en santé ont augmenté de près de 70 et devraient passer de $34 milliards cette année à plus de $40 milliards par année d’ici la fin de la décennie, (inaudible) une somme sans précédent.

Cet investissement fédéral constant dans les soins de santé procure aux provinces et aux territoires la prévisibilité et la souplesse financière voulues pour répondre aux contraintes auxquelles leurs administrations sont confrontées et pour respecter leurs pro-, priorités.

In addition, of course, federal support for health research through the CIHR, as well as targeted investments in areas such as mental health, cancer prevention and patient safety are helping to improve the accessibility and quality of health care for Canadians. But to build on the record transfers and the targeted investments I just mentioned, we’re also taking a number of other measures to improve the health of Canadians and reduce pressure on the health care system.

Today, we’ve leveraged over $27 million in private sector investments to advance healthy living partnerships, and I’m very pleased with the momentum we’ve seen across Canada. Last year, we launched the Play Exchange in collaboration with the Canadian Tire, (sic) LIFT Philanthropy Partners and the CBC to find the best ideas that would encourage Canadians to live healthier and active lives.

We announced the winning idea in January. The Canadian Cancer Society of Quebec, their idea called TROTTIBUS, which is a walking school bus. This is an innovative program that gives elementary school children a safe and fun way to get to school while being active. TROTTIBUS is going to receive $1 million in funding from the federal government to launch their great idea across the country.

Other social innovation projects are encouraging all children to get active early in life so that we can make some real headway in terms of preventing chronic diseases, obesity and other health issues. We’re also supporting health care innovation through investments from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. In fact, our government now is the largest, single largest contributor to health research in Canada, investing roughly $1 billion every year.

Since its launch in 2011, the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research has been working to bring improvements from the latest research straight to the bedside of patients. And Budget 2015, I was pleased to see, provided additional funds so that we can build on this success, including important partnership with the Canadian Foundation for Health Care Improvement.

Mr. Chair, Canadians benefit from a health system that provides access to high quality care and support, supports good health outcomes, but we can’t afford to be complacent in the face of an aging society, changing technology and new economic and fiscal realities. That is why we have been committed to supporting innovation that improves the quality and affordability of health care.

As you know, the Advisory Panel on Health Care Innovation that I launched last June has spent the last 10 months exploring the top areas of innovation in Canada and abroad with the goal of identifying how the federal government can support those ideas that hold the greatest promise.

The panel has now met with more than 500 individuals, including patients, families, business leaders, economists and researchers. As we speak, the panel is busy analysing what they’ve heard and I look forward to receiving their final report in June.

I’d also like to talk about another issue. It’s one that does not receive the attention that it deserves as a pressing public health concern, and that’s family violence. Family violence has undeniable impacts on the health of the women, children and even men whoa are victimized. There are also very significant impacts on our health care and justice systems.

Family violence can lead to chronic pain and disease, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm and many other serious and lifelong afflictions for its victims. That’s why this past winter, I was pleased to announce a federal investment of $100 million over 10 years to help address family violence and support the health of victims of violence.

This investment will support health professionals and community organizations in improving the physical and mental health of victims of violence, and help stop intergenerational cycles of violence. In, in addition to our efforts to address family violence and support innovation to improve the sustainability of the health care system, we of course made significant progress on a number of key drug safety issues.

Canadians want and deserve to depend and trust the care they receive. To that end, I’d like to thank the committee for its thoughtful study of our government’s signature patient safety legislation, Vanessa’s Law. Building on the consultations that we held with Canadians prior to its introduction, this committee’s careful review of Vanessa’s Law, including the helpful amendments that were brought forward by MP Young, served to strengthen the bill and will improve the transparency that Canadians expect.

Vanessa’s Law, as you know, introduces the most significant improvements to drug safety in Canada in more than 50 years, and it allows me, as Minister, as you know Mr. Chair, to recall unsafe drugs and to impose tough new penalties, including jail time and fines of up to $5 million per day instead of what is the current $5,000 a day. It also compels drug companies to do further testing and revise labels in plain language to clearly reflect health risk information, including updates for health warnings for children.

It will also enhance surveillance by requiring mandatory adverse drug reaction reporting by health care institutions and requires new transparency for Health Canada’s regulatory decisions about drug approvals. To ensure the new transparency powers are providing the kind of information that Canadian families and researchers are looking for, we’ve also just launched further consultations asking about the types of information that are most useful to improve drug safety.

And beyond the improvements in Vanessa’s Law, we’re making great progress in increasing transparency through Health Canada’s regulatory transparency and openness framework. In addition to posting summaries of drug safety reviews now, the patients and medical professionals can use to make informed decisions, we are now also publishing more detailed inspection informations (sic) on companies and facilities that make drugs.

This includes inspection dates, license status, types of risks observed and measures that are taken by Health Canada. Patients can also check Health Canada’s clinical trials database to determine if a trial that they are interested in has met regulatory requirements.

Mr. Chair, another priority of mine is tackling the issue of drug abuse and addiction in Canada. There’s no question that addiction to dangerous drugs has a devastating and widespread impact on Canadian families and communities. And in line from recommendations from this committee, I am pleased that the marketing campaign launched last fall by Health Canada is helping parents talk with their teenagers about the dangers of smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse.

The campaign addresses both of those things because too many of our young people are abusing drugs which are meant to heal them. Our government also recognizes that those struggling with drug addictions need help to recover a drug-free life. From a federal perspective, of course we provide assistance for prevention and treatment projects under our national anti-drug strategy, and we’ve now committed over $44 million to expand the strategy to include prescription drug abuse and are continuing to work with the provinces to improve drug treatment.

I’ve now met and I’ll continue to meet with physicians, pharmacists, First Nations, law enforcement, addiction specialists and medical experts, and of course, parents, to discuss how we can collectively tackle prescription drug abuse.

And finally, Mr. Chair, our government continues to make very real investments to strength our food safety system. As only the latest example, I recently announced a five-year investment of more than $30 million in the CFIA’s new Food Safety Information Network. Through this modern network, food safety experts will be better connected and laboratories will be able to share urgently needed surveillance information and food safety data using a secure web platform.

This will put us in an even better position to protect Canadians from food safety risks by improving our ability to actually anticipate and detect and then effectively deal with food safety issues. This investment will continue to build on the record levels of funding we’ve already provided, as well as the improved powers, such as tougher penalties, enhanced controls on E. coli, new meat labelling requirements and improve inspection oversight.

So in conclusion, Mr. Chair, those are just some of the priorities that will be supported through the funding our government has allocated to the Health portfolio. This year’s Main Estimates notably include investments for First Nations health, for our ongoing contribution to international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and the key research in food safety investments that I’ve already mentioned.

I’ll leave it at that, and if you have any questions from committee members, my officials and I would be very pleased to answer them.

Thank you.