Critics see fishy timing in Liberal plan to make top health officer ‘independent’ – CBCNews – 19 October 2017


Author by : Jacques Poitras/CBC
Photo by : Jacques Poitras/CBC

It’s absolutely not a coincidence. To me it’s as clear as the nose on my face. It’s pretty appalling. – David Coon

Health minister Benoît Bourque was vague on details but said a bill would be introduced in the next session of the legislature. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Critics say the Liberal government’s plan to make the chief medical officer of health independent is too little, too late.

Health Minister Benoît Bourque says the Liberals will introduce legislation in the upcoming session of the legislature to make the position independent.

‘It’s absolutely not a coincidence. To me it’s as clear as the nose on my face. It’s pretty appalling.’ – David Coon, Green Party leader

“There will be an act, a bill coming forward that will provide a framework for the chief medical officer, to guarantee his or her independence,” Bourque said Thursday. He said he wasn’t able to provide further details.
That would appear to fulfil a 2014 campaign promise by the Liberals.

But the news comes just two months after the government moved large sections of the public health office to other departments — where they won’t come under the independence of the organization.

* Province restructures Office of Chief Medical Officer of Health


Ian Culbert, executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, says having an independent chief medical officer of health without any staff makes no sense. (CBC)

“It’s somewhat of an empty victory for the health of New Brunswickers,” said Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, which has objected to the reorganization.

“You’re giving an officer of the legislature some responsibility, but they have no authority and no resources. So it’s really creating an empty office at the end of the day.”

Green Party Leader David Coon says the Liberals have deliberately waited until after they overhauled the office to give it independence.

“It’s absolutely not a coincidence,” Coon said. “To me it’s as clear as the nose on my face. It’s pretty appalling.”

It’s not clear whether the chief medical officer of health will become an officer of the legislature, similar to the auditor-general, or will be made independent in some other way.

‘Full access’

Bourque said it was too soon to provide details on that. But he said the chief medical officer of health will be able to use the staff relocated to other departments.

She “will have full access to these resources and will be able to do any type of report that she feels is necessary,” he said.

“All of the appropriate resources will be at his or her disposal.”

Culbert and Coon both pointed to the report the former chief medical officer Eilish Cleary did on the possible health impacts of shale gas development.

Resources questioned

At first, the then-Progressive Conservative government suggested the report would not be released publicly. But Cleary eventually did release it.

Some of the staff who worked on that report are among those being moved to other departments, where they won’t be independent, Culbert said.

“If those resources are not available to the chief medical officer of health, how is he or she supposed to do any in-depth research on the impacts of any government policy?” he said.

“Who do those inspectors report to? Because no matter where your scientific direction comes from, the work that you do and the reports that you file will be directed by your political master.”

Campaign promise

The Liberals promised in the wake of Cleary’s fracking report to make her position independent.

But in 2015, she was fired by the Brian Gallant government while working on a report on glyphosate, a decision that renewed calls for the position to be made independent.

* Glyphosate report shows no increased health risk: Dr. Jennifer Russell

David Coon, leader of the Green Party, says the Liberals deliberately waited until all the staff were moved to new departments to make the position independent. (CBC News)

Under the reorganization, staff who promote healthy environments are moving to the Department of Environment and Local Government, those who work on population health are going to the Department of Social Development, and inspectors will be based at a new centralized inspection office at the Department of Justice and Public Safety.

Last week, the deputy minister of health, Tom Maston, told a committee of MLAs the changes would lead to “more rigour around the day-to-day inspection process, [while] allowing the clinical people to focus on the clinical side of the business.”

* Top health bureaucrat calls overhaul of public health a ‘straight resource issue’

But Coon said the staff being moved to other departments will now be subject to political pressure.

He cited Cleary’s fracking report, as well as a report the public health office did on the health risks of alcohol consumption that he said “flies in the face of other agendas around increasing sales at NB Liquor.”

“Those are just two examples that you could imagine would not happen again under the current arrangement now.”

Bourque said the new legislation will ensure New Brunswickers have “an independent source of information” on public health and “we will provide all the resources that are needed for that.”