OTTAWA – Canada’s new health minister Jane Philpott says she plans to engage with provincial and territorial counterparts as soon as next week as the Liberals set the wheels in motion to establish a new health accord.
In an interview, Philpott said the government perceives the agreement to be a high priority because executing other aspects of the Grit platform will depend on developing a strong relationship with the provinces and territories.
The 54-year-old physician also said she will attend a health ministers meeting scheduled for January.
In the coming months, the Liberals will try to usher in a new era of federal-provincial relations, especially on the health file.
The party was very critical of the previous Conservative government’s decision to allow Canada’s health accord – an action plan backed by billions of federal dollars to establish shared goals – to expire.
Philpott also faces critical legislative issues in her portfolio including a Liberal pledge to legalize marijuana.
The government’s first step toward giving adults the green light for recreational pot use involves establishing a provincial, territorial and federal task force with public health, substance abuse and public safety experts.
“I will clearly have the opportunity to be involved from a health perspective and looking at the health aspects of new legislation,” she said.
Philpott also noted the Liberals will need to get started quickly to accomplish its ambitious mandate.
“I suspect that we will begin work on that very shortly,” she said. “It is a complex issue and we need to be sure that all of our decisions are based on really excellent evidence, so there will be many perspectives on this issue.”
The second pressing issue will be responding to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on doctor-assisted death.
In February, the country’s top court recognized the right of clearly consenting adults who endure intolerable physical or mental suffering and wish to end their lives to do so with a doctor’s help.
Parliament was given one year to deal with the legislation.
“As Canadians might expect, the minister of justice and the department related will obviously play a very large role in that and we will be happy to work with them in that,” she said. “I think the other thing we talked about in our platform is making sure that there is fair opportunity to have a broad input from Canadians on this incredibly important issue.”
Philpott, a mother of four, led an impressive professional career before entering the political ring – a decision she made after realizing it would require “more than medicine” to help people live healthier lives.
The MP for the Toronto-area riding of Markham-Stouffville spent most of the first decade of her medical career in West Africa where she practised general medicine and helped establish a training program for village health workers.
The experience has had a lasting impact on Philpott’s life and she remains involved in global health issues.
“I think those things help you to sort of see health and health care from a global perspective and help you understand issues of equity and help you to understand what it takes for people to be healthy,” she said.
Philpott also believes she will bring a special perspective to her role as minister after being involved on the front lines.
“I think health-care providers do bring a special perspective to the role, and obviously having been involved in health care delivery is going to be very helpful in terms of understanding that part of the health-care system,” Philpott said.
As she prepares to tackle an enormous file, Philpott said she is grateful she will be guided by a strong team of civil servants.
“I have a lot on my plate but I have an incredible team of people helping me out on that,” she said. “I’ve learned to be a reasonably good listener and I will be doing a lot of listening … I know that Canadians trust us to be thoughtful and to make wise decisions on their behalf.”