Canada Finally Gets New Top Doctor
The federal government has named a new chief public health officer to fill a job left vacant for the last 15 months.
Dr. Gregory Taylor, already acting head of the Public Health Agency of Canada, became Canada’s top doctor Wednesday, a move cautiously welcomed by opposition politicians.
“In this job, I get an opportunity to make a difference (to) all Canadians,” Taylor, 59, told the Citizen. “This will be the pinnacle of my career, in helping make a whole country move forward and focus on health.”
The bilingual Taylor replaces Dr. David Butler-Jones, who served as Canada’s first chief public health officer from 2004 until he stepped down in June 2013. Taylor had been running the agency, with its staff of 2,500 and an annual budget of $600 million, since Butler-Jones suffered a stroke in May 2012.
“There’s big, huge shoes to fill and I’ll do my best,” said Taylor.
The chief public health officer is meant to provide a professional, non-political voice to Canadians during health crises such as epidemics or pandemics, and to promote ongoing campaigns such as diabetes prevention. The top doctor also co-ordinates Canada’s health response across provinces and territories, as well as internationally.
“One of my top priorities immediately is to continue protecting Canadians from the Ebola crisis,” said Taylor.
He said Canada has gradually understood that health systems need to make prevention a priority. Decades ago, he said, a city’s public health officer was “considered a pre-retirement job for docs who couldn’t handle it anymore.”
Now, Taylor said, “it’s moving exactly in the right direction,” with provincial public health offices collaborating with each other as globalization and climate change bring new diseases to Canada. “We need to continue to adapt. We need to continue to be prepared for what we don’t know about. We don’t know what the next Ebola’s going to be.”
The head of the Canadian Public Health Association welcomed the appointment, saying he’s glad the government didn’t rush to fill the position.
“I can imagine the constraint of working within a large bureaucracy could be less-than-attractive to people who are qualified for the position,” said Ian Culbert. He said he hopes the new appointment will prod Canada into dedicating more money to public health.
“It’s no wonder we have serious concerns about the sustainability of our system when we spend so little to keep people out of it,” he said.
Health Minister Rona Ambrose said in a release that Taylor had done “a remarkable job” as deputy public health officer during the bird flu outbreak (H5N1), as well as in handing ongoing concern about Ebola (of which there are no confirmed cases in Canada).
Appointed to a five-year term, Taylor will present an annual report to Parliament on the state of public health, and will represent Canada at international bodies such as the World Health Organization.
Health critics for the NDP and Liberal parties hailed Taylor’s expertise, but worried about how freely he will be able to speak his mind.
Health Canada would not disclose Taylor’s salary, and he said he couldn’t recall even a rough number. The agency then ended the interview.
Official Opposition health critic Libby Davies speculated last week that the government had undercut both the independence and pay that go with the job, making it hard to fill.
“I do hope (Taylor) will see that a big part of his role is direct communication with the public,” Davies said. “It’s a very trusted position. He has that mandate so I hope he’ll make sure that mandate is fulfilled.”
Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett said she hopes Taylor will soon hold a press conference on Ebola.
“We hope they’re putting the public back into ‘public heath,’ ” said Bennett. “I hope he’ll be able to speak directly to Canadians without political interference.”
The renowned National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg is still lacking a director. Dr. Frank Plummer stepped down in March after battling cancer. The agency hopes to fill the spot next month.
Dr. Gregory Taylor: At a glance
– Completed MD and residency at Dalhousie University in Halifax
– Family doctor in Guelph, Ont.
– Studied public health at University of Ottawa
– Joined Health Canada in 1995 to study disease control
– Joined Public Health Agency of Canada in 2007
– Became the Deputy Chief Public Health Officer in 2012
– Continues as University of Ottawa adjunct professor of epidemiology and community medicine
via Ottawa Citzen