Category Archives: Health

Federal News Highlights and Parliamentary Business for October 25

parliament-daily-news-updateFederal Government announces new Food Health Strategy to revamp Canada Health Guide and improve food labelling.

 

 

 

Health Minister Jane Philpott announced Monday a new food strategy  comprised of policy measures that include revamping the Canada Food Guide, making the nutrition labels on food more readable, reducing harmful food additives such as trans fats and sodium, and restricting the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children.

The main components of the strategy are as follows:

Firstly,  she has asked Health Canada to come up with a replacement for the venerable Canada Food Guide in the form of a “suite of products” – from the classic chart you can stick on the fridge to an app – that are: Evidence-informed, relevant, written in plain language, easy-to-understand and follow and adaptable to food preferences. There will be a 45 day public consultations process beginning October24.

The second major initiative is to improve the Nutrition Facts labels on food. The plan here is to modify the labelling rules so there are standard serving sizes, more info on sugars, identifying additives such as dyes with common names and making the ingredients easy-to read, and actually put labels on the front of packages.

The third initiative in the minister’s food program is a plan to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, something Quebec has has been doing for over a decade with some success.

The fourth element in the strategy is the reduction of harmful food additives such as trans fats and sodium. In a written statement , the Heart and Stroke Foundation said it was “especially pleased to see regulations forthcoming to prohibit artificially produced trans fats in our foods and restaurants. This is important because although we have made great progress, there are still high levels of trans fats in baked products and foods often consumed by children.”

All of the actions announced by the minister were part of the Liberals campaign platform and her ministerial mandate letter.

In developing and implementing the details of the policy, Philpott will have to contend with intense behind-the-scenes intense lobbying from groups such as Food and Consumer Products Canada (FCPC), the lobby group for Canada’s packaged food industry. In its release in response to the food strategy announcement, the industry lobbying group said that the strategy represented “an unprecedented amount of change that will require an unprecedented level of investment and resources (on the part of the industry) in an unprecedented timeframe. This will change what’s in our products, what’s on our product packaging and how those products are marketed”.

In an excellent article in the New York Times published October 5, noted food expert Michael Pollan detailed the enormous resources that the American food industry threw into derailing President Obama’s healthy food initiatives.

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Medical assistance in dying legislation passes in Senate and becomes law

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Late Friday the Senate concurred with the Liberal Government and passed a bill that was more restrictive than many groups, including the courts, had argued for.

After an expedited vote in the House of Commons late Thursday, an amended Bill C – 14 (medically assisted dying) went back to the Senate for consideration Friday. The Government refused to back down on the clause that a patient’s natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order to qualify for medical assistance in dying – a clause that was removed by the Senate earlier in the week.

But in the end, senators deferred to the elected Commons and passed the bill in a vote of 44 to 28 late Friday.  The bill then received Royal Assent and became law.

As explanation for the Friday reversal, some senators said they worried about access issues without a federal law, while others believed safeguards would be stronger with the Senate amendments accepted by the government. And several felt it was simply not their place as an unelected body to effectively veto the wishes of the elected Commons. Continue reading

Is Canada finally getting a national pharmacare program?

Pharmacare health minister Jane philpott Trudeua

Health Minister Jane Philpott has been tasked by Prime Minister Trudeau with finding solutions to Canada’s prescription drug affordability problem.

Momentum has been building for a national pharmacare program since a June meeting of provincial health ministers.

Canada’s new Health Minister, Jane Philpott, says she plans to be in touch with her provincial counterparts to begin the preliminary work of establishing a new health accord which, according to some health experts, could include at least the broad outlines of a national pharmacare program. The 2004 Health Accord expired March 31st, 2014 after the Harper government refused to renegotiate it.

So what can Canadians expect from their new federal government when it comes to making prescription drugs more affordable?

In contrast to other policy areas, the Liberal election platform planks on pharmacare were strikingly vague.  According to the platform:

“We will improve access to necessary prescription medications. We will join provincial and territorial governments to negotiate better prices for prescription medications and to buy them in bulk – reducing the cost governments pay to purchase drugs.”

Not too many clues here as to where the new Trudeau government might end up on pharmacare. That said, Ontario’s Liberal government  has been a strong provincial advocate for an aggressive approach to drug coverage and was extremely critical of the Harper government’s hands-off approach to the issue. Given the close ties between the two Liberal governments, most observers expect the new federal government to be active in future national pharmacare talks.

That next health ministers meeting is expected to take place on January 21-22, 2016 in Vancouver and federal health Minster Philpott has said she will be attending. Continue reading