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ARCHIVED - Speech before the Standing Committee on Health on Supplementary "C" estimates for fiscal year 2009-2010 and the Main Estimates for the Health Portfolio for the next fiscal year of 2010-2011

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March 16, 2010
Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

Good Morning, Madame Chair and Members of the Committee. It's a pleasure to be with you once again.

With me today from Health Canada are Deputy Minister Morris Rosenberg and Chief Financial Officer Alfred Tsang. And from the Public Health Agency of Canada: Chief Public Health Officer David Butler-Jones; and Chief Financial Officer James Libbey.

I'm here to address both the Supplementary "C" estimates for fiscal year 2009-2010 and the Main Estimates for the Health Portfolio for the next fiscal year of 2010-2011.

With reference to the Supplementary "C" estimates for Health Canada, there is a net increase of roughly $38 million dollars and for the Public Health Agency there is an increase of $54 million. As you would expect, a large portion of those increases were due to expenses related to the second wave of the H1N1 pandemic. For the Canadian Institutes of Health Research there was an increase of roughly $600,000.

With reference to the Main Estimates for 2010-2011, there is an increase of $50.7 million dollars over last year's Budget for Health Canada, $56.5 million for CIHR and roughly $30 million dollars for the Public Health Agency.

The significant increases for Health Canada's main estimates are primarily going to the First Nations and Inuit Health Services ($304M), the Official Languages Health Contribution Program ($14.8M), and the Food and Consumer Safety Action Plan ($12.9M). Because there are significant decreases from other programs that are coming to an end, the balance is $50.7 million.

Our priorities for the coming year are to continue making investments that will improve the health of all Canadians. We have also identified priority areas for investments in First Nations and Inuit health programs.

My last appearance before this committee was in early December. At that time, we were still in the midst of the national H1N1 vaccination campaign. That campaign has come to a conclusion.

Through working with our provincial, territorial, and First Nations partners, by the end of the campaign 15 million Canadians, nearly half of this country's population, had been immunized against the H1N1 flu virus. It was the biggest national immunization campaign ever undertaken in Canada.

Nowhere was the campaign more successful than in First Nations communities. More than 99 per cent of on-reserve First Nations communities held vaccination clinics. That success was thanks to the dedication of community volunteers who helped organize those clinics and who took the lead in other preparations for the second wave of the pandemic.

Health Canada and First Nations worked together in many ways to fight H1N1.

In September, I signed a Joint Communications Protocol on H1N1 with Shawn Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Indian and Northern Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl.

As part of that joint protocol, Chief Atleo and I co-hosted the Virtual Summit on H1N1 in First Nations Communities, which was broadcast live on the internet in November.

From a national perspective, we have continued to monitor reports of people with flu-like symptoms and at the moment, those levels are very low.

One of the characteristics of the H1N1 virus is that it is easily transmitted from one person to another. But with almost half of all Canadians now immunized, the pathways of transmission are blocked.

There were countless other valuable contributions from across the Health Portfolio. For example, the CIHR mobilized the research community to support our response to H1N1. That research helped us understand the virus. CIHR also worked with PHAC to establish a national network to evaluate the vaccine.

Now is the time to learn from our experience in responding to the H1N1 pandemic. Looking back and fully assessing how we managed this public health event will help to inform and improve future responses.

There is no greater priority for our government than the health and safety of all Canadians.

It was our motivation for introducing consumer product safety legislation. We know that stronger product safety is what Canadians want. Our Government made a commitment in the Speech from the Throne to reintroduce this important legislation. When passed, the safety of toys and hundreds of other consumer products available in the Canadian market place will be greatly improved.

We continue to work to help improve the health of Canada's Aboriginal people. Budget 2010 committed $285 million dollars over the next two years for the continuation of Aboriginal health programs.

Those programs have proven to be very effective in having a positive effect on the lives of thousands of Canada's Aboriginal people.

For example: The Aboriginal Diabetes Initiative has funded prevention programs on 600 reserves and trained 300 community workers who can now teach others on how to prevent this disease.

The National Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy has already funded 200 community-based programs. The Maternal Child Health program has served 2,500 families and trained 250 workers who can keep on helping new mothers.

The Aboriginal Head Start program helps Aboriginal children with their school work. It has helped 9,000 children in First Nation communities and another 4,500 living in urban centres.

The Aboriginal Health Human Resources Initiatives is designed to get young Aboriginal Canadians to become doctors or nurses, or pursue careers in the health-care field. So far, it has supported 62 Aboriginal medical students, 436 nursing students and nearly 2,000 others in a long list of careers in health care.

It is worth noting that our commitment to improving health in Inuit communities and First Nations will also be supported through Budget initiatives funded by other departments. For example, Budget 2010 commits $45 million dollars to making healthy foods more affordable and more accessible to people living in Northern and Remote communities.

Budget 2010 has also extended funding for a program that was due to come to an end. Another $60 million dollars has been allocated for the Territorial Health System Sustainability Initiative to fund it for another two years. By continuing on, we will be able to consolidate the progress made in reducing reliance on outside health care systems and medical travel.

We know that healthier food can lead to better overall health and so we have to make healthy food available if we want to see better results.

Our work in improving health is always guided by an understanding of the positive and negative influences on the human body. That understanding is based on science, and in order to make greater improvements, we must continue to fund scientific health research.

In the year ahead, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research will receive an additional $16 million in funding. It will expand the CIHR's base budget and build in flexibility to respond to new and emerging health priorities.

Investments in health research will pay dividends in many ways. A better understanding of the factors that affect health will help guide our policy in years to come.

A health priority for the Government of Canada is to accelerate the development of safe, effective, accessible and affordable HIV vaccines. It is a goal we hope to achieve in part through collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

An essential element of that development is to have facilities to test new vaccines.

A study to evaluate vaccine manufacturing capacity was commissioned by the Gates Foundation. The results of this study demonstrated that there is now sufficient vaccine manufacturing capacity in North America and Europe to meet research needs.

With that knowledge, the Government of Canada and the Gates Foundation jointly decided not to proceed with construction of a new vaccine manufacturing facility because it is no longer needed.

Let's be absolutely clear; the money that was earmarked for the new facility is still committed to the cause of preventing HIV and HIV vaccine development.

Given the importance of our objectives, we are examining all options and will take the time needed to ensure the direction we take and the activities we choose to support yield the best possible results.

Addressing the global disruption in the supply of medical isotopes will continue to be a priority for Health Canada, its portfolio partners and other departments. This commitment is reflected in budget 2010.

In the last year we have seen incredible resourcefulness and creativity in managing the existing supply. It is a credit to Canada's health professionals, provinces and territories that supply disruptions have not had a greater impact on our health system. For our part, Health Canada will work with stakeholders to optimize the use of medical isotopes in the health system.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research will fund a clinical trials network to help get research on isotopes and imaging technologies into clinical practice.

Health Canada has expedited the review of alternate sources of supplies to mitigate the impact of the shutdown of the reactor at Chalk River. Most recently, Health Canada authorized a new source of medical isotopes from the Maria reactor in Poland. While this is a small source of isotopes, it will bring additional supplies to Canada.

In the year ahead, we must continue the work that is already underway. We are in the process of making the improvements with regards to food safety recommended in the Weatherill report. To accomplish those goals, we are working with stakeholders and the provinces and territories so that all of the recommendations become reality as quickly as possible.

Budget 2010 renewed our commitment to invest $500 million dollars in Canada Health Infoway. We know that modernizing our health records system by bringing it into the electronic age will reduce a number of burdens on the health system.

As members of this committee know all too well, 2009 was an important year in terms of health legislation. We moved to remove flavouring from tobacco that would entice young people to smoke. We passed a bill to promote safety and security with respect to human pathogens and toxins. And of course, as I have already mentioned, we drafted new consumer protection legislation that will be re-introduced in the weeks to come.

In the year ahead, we will stay focussed on our long-term health goals while being ready to address any emerging health issue. I know that all members of this committee and all members of the House share a common vision of a healthier nation. We must continue to make improvements wherever they are needed in order to continue to be one of the healthiest countries in the world.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.