On Wednesday, November 4, 2015, Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canada's 43rd Prime Minister. A new chapter in federal Canadian politics began with the Prime Minister's appointment of a new 30-person Liberal cabinet. Dr. Jane Philpott, the Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville, was sworn in as Canada's new federal Health Minister.

About the New Health Minister

Dr. Philpott is a family physician and an Associate Professor in Family & Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. From 2008 to 2014 she was the Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital. In addition to practising medicine in Canada, Dr. Philpott worked in the Republic of Niger in West Africa for 10 years, where she practised general medicine and helped to develop a training program for village health workers in the region[1]. She is the founder of 'Give a Day to World AIDS', a movement that has raised millions to help those individuals affected by HIV/AIDS[2].

What Can We Expect?

The Health Minister will have a number of significant and, in some cases, time-sensitive issues to tackle as she steps into this new role.

During the campaign, the Liberal Party made several commitments, including:

New Health Accord  to negotiate a new Health Accord with the provinces and territories, which includes long-term agreement on funding and setting of common national public health delivery standards and goals. The previous Health Accord expired on March 31, 2014[3].

Home Care — to expand and prioritize home care so that Canada's primary-care system incorporates community, home and long-term care (for example investing $3 billion over the next 4 years so that patients can access quality in-home caregivers, financial support for family caregivers and as necessary, palliative care)[4].

Prescription Drugs — to improve access and reduce the cost of prescription drugs. The platform indicated this would include efforts to reduce over-prescribing of drugs, focus on the reporting of adverse effects and facilitate timely approvals for new drugs.

Health Innovation — to work in collaboration with the provinces and territories to move healthcare innovation forward, including by harmonizing appropriate and effective treatments, patient-centred care and overcoming obstacles (for example how to best use genomics in precision medicine).

Mental Health — to increase the accessibility of integrated, high-quality mental health services including to acute services, tertiary care referrals, housing, primary care and community and multi-disciplinary team management (for example establishing a national Expert Advisory Council on Mental Health to advise on the implementation of the Mental Health Commission's recommendations).

Public Health — to improve the health of children and families by[5]:

  • introducing new regulations for the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children (similar to the current model in Quebec);
  • introducing strict regulations for the elimination of trans fats and reducing salt in processed foods;
  • improving food labels that provide details on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods;
  • introducing plain packaging requirements for tobacco products;  and
  • increasing funding to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support a national strategy related to increasing vaccination rates and raising awareness of concussions.

Marijuana — to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana. The platform describes the creation of a new federal/provincial/territorial task force with experts from public health, substance abuse and law enforcement to develop a new system of strict marijuana sale, distribution and tax[6].

Physician-Assisted Dying — to convene an all-party special committee to provide recommendations for physician-assisted dying laws[7]. By way of background, on February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada in Carter v. Canada, struck down theCriminal Code prohibition on physician-assisted dying. The effective date of the decision was delayed by one year to give the federal and provincial authorities time to decide on a course of action. After the election results were delivered, Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister-elect at the time) asked the Supreme Court for an extension of time to study the matter and thoughtfully consider next steps.

With so many significant commitments, the first order of business for the new Health Minister and her team will no doubt be to set clear priorities and establish a well-defined strategy for moving forward.