Hon. Chantal Petitclerc: Honourable colleagues, I rise today to express my appreciation to our public health professionals, including those of the Canadian Public Health Association, for their leadership in the field. All over Canada, these professionals are concerned about our public health systems, which are in jeopardy.
You may remember, twenty years ago, public health in Canada was in disarray. After the SARS crisis in 2003, the Naylor report led to a commitment to strengthen public health across Canada, including the creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm for public health has faded over the years.
Public health professionals are alarmed, with serious concerns that cutbacks and restructuring of public health may further undermine the public health system effectiveness. We, too, should worry.
Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, P.E.I. and Newfoundland have undergone serious restructuring. We have seen cutbacks in Quebec. The Ontario government is cutting $200 million a year from public health.
In a recent article, Senator Eggleton reminded us that public health receives only 3 per cent to 4 per cent of health care funding. These cutbacks and restructuring efforts only add to the burden on our already underfunded public health systems.
As many senators have pointed out, the recent measles outbreaks highlight the importance of vaccination, as well as disease prevention and health promotion in general. Disease prevention and health promotion programs often have long-term economic benefits. The sign that these programs are working is that nothing is happening. But something could always go wrong, and that is the scenario that all levels of government must avoid at any cost by listening to our public health professionals.
In closing, I want to read you another quote from the Naylor report that I think still applies today:
Public health is taken for granted until disease outbreaks occur, whereupon a brief flurry of lip service leads to minimal investments and little change in public health infrastructure or priorities. This cycle must end.
Thank you very much.