Public Health in New Brunswick: Question Period – October 31, 2017

M. Coon : En août, le gouvernement a annoncé qu’il allait décimer le bureau du médecinhygiéniste
en chef et répartir 70 de ses 110 employés dans trois autres ministères. Plusieurs organismes, y compris l’Association canadienne de santé publique et Médecins de santé publique du Canada, s’opposent à cette décision. Si jamais il survenait une crise de santé publique, pouvez-vous imaginer à quel point il serait difficile de coordonner tous ces employés dans quatre différents ministères? Ce serait une mission impossible. Pourquoi le ministre de la Santé fait-il le contraire de ce que disent un grand nombre d’experts en matière de santé publique au Canada?

Hon. Mr. Bourque: I would counterargue with that. If it would be mission impossible, as the
member of the third party states, why have Nova Scotia and Newfoundland done the exact same thing? Is he saying that they are not doing their jobs properly? I think that is a pretty big statement to make. This reorganization really is to better align similar-type work. Out of the 70 that are moving, 60- plus of those are inspectors. They will be moved to the Department of Public Safety to do inspection-type work. We are putting all the inspectors together, and—I have said this publicly, and I will say it again—they will remain fully accessible to the Chief Medical Officer of Health should there be anything that would be needed in that regard. I am fully, fully confident that the function of the Chief Medical Officer of Health will remain in full operation and work very well.

Mr. Coon: That is an interesting response because it does, to me, appear that this government is
putting politics before public health. The minister has been defending the indefensible. He is
forcing his members to defend the indefensible. A review of the efficacy of public health systems across Canada, published by the Canadian Journal of Public Health, found that some of the changes that he was referring to that have already been made in Nova Scotia are having negative consequences on the functioning of the Chief Medical Officer of Health’s office there. As he pointed out, some of these are the same changes that this government is making. My question is, Given the failure in Nova Scotia, what research was done in the decision-making process here to show that would somehow be the right direction to take in our province?

Hon. Mr. Bourque: Well, I can tell you that this reorganization . . . The fearmongering that is
being brought up by the member of the third party regarding if ever a pandemic or a crisis would come . . . First of all, there is the Emergency Measures Organization that takes care of that, first and foremost, and we saw that with the ice storm situation earlier this year. It is not the Chief Medical Officer of Health who would take care of such a crisis, and to insinuate something else is misleading. The other thing, as well, is that anything that has to do with any type of public health situation has to do with the Communicable Disease and Control Branch. That is the branch that remains 100% integral—nothing changes with that branch—and that is the branch that takes care of these situations. That will absolutely remain. The Chief Medical Officer of Health will have more time and effort and more energy to concentrate on that branch.

Mr. Coon: Let’s talk about the Chief Medical Officer of Health and not EMO, which I hope is
not going to be responsible for dealing with a SARS-like epidemic, if we ever should face such a
thing again. The government introduced a bill last week that it touted as promoting the independence of the Chief Medical Officer of Health. While this bill does allow the Chief Medical Officer of Health to issue reports to the public, she still must inform the minister 30 days before issuing those reports. The bill also fails to amend section 59 of the Public Health Act, which gives the Minister of Health the authority to appoint the Chief Medical Officer of Health and presumably fire the Chief Medical Officer of Health. If the minister can still appoint and fire that Chief Medical Officer of Health, this creates no independence whatsoever. When the minister receives his
day warning about a report he does not like or does not agree with or finds politically sensitive, what is to stop him from firing another Chief Medical Officer of Health in this province without cause, just as he did to the predecessor, Dr. Cleary?