Via The Globe and Mail, André Picard writes: New chief is a welcome end to Ottawa’s dithering on public health.
‘All’s well that ends well.”
That’s how Dr. Chris Simpson, president of the Canadian Medical Association, greeted the news that Canada finally has a new chief public health officer, and he’s right.
The new CPHO, Dr. Gregory Taylor, is the right person for the job.
What is perplexing is that it took Health Minister Rona Ambrose (or, more precisely, the apparatchik in the PMO who ultimately makes this sort of decision) 16 months to figure it out.
The government of Stephen Harper is so dogmatically determined to disassociate itself from the health-care file that it dithers over important decisions such as the appointment of Canada’s top doctor.
It is by sheer luck that, in the 16 months the post remained vacant, there was an unusual lull in domestic public-health disasters.
And it is doubly lucky that Dr. Taylor, who has held a number of positions in the Public Health Agency of Canada, has done yeoman’s work by filling the position on an interim basis.
But the worrisome spread of Ebola, the imminent arrival of flu season and the fact that the federal election is just a year away, seem to have finally convinced the PMO that it was time to check this task off the list.
Now, hopefully, they can stay out of Dr. Taylor’s hair and let him do his job.
His public preoccupation, of course, will be Ebola.
His administrative priority will be hiring a new head of the National Microbiology Laboratory (NML), another key public-health post that has been vacant since March, when Dr. Frank Plummer, a world-renowned HIV-AIDS researcher, stepped down from the job he had held since 2001.
Canada is a world leader in Ebola research, so it’s incumbent that the NML be firing on all cylinders.
There has been only one other chief public health officer. David Butler-Jones was hired in 2003 when the Public Health Agency of Canada was created in the wake of SARS, an outbreak that hit Canada hard and highlighted how our public health infrastructure had been so neglected that it left the public at risk.
Dr. Butler-Jones managed to build the PHAC into a respectable institution with a staff of 2,500 and a $600-million a year budget. But he suffered a stroke in May, 2012, and was unable to return to full-time work and formally stepped down in June, 2013.
With those two stalwarts of Canadian public health stepping aside, it was time for a new era to begin. Ottawa’s foot-dragging has essentially left things in limbo.
If governments are smart, they will recognize that the role of the CPHO is to speak truth to power, to deliver public-health messages that are necessary but not always popular or aligned with the platforms of political parties.
Messages such as: Vaccination is essential, fluoridation is necessary, e-cigarettes need to be regulated (not banned), and harm reduction measures such as supervised injection sites save lives.