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Budget bill: Government refocuses public health czar's job

The Conservatives plan to create a new public health czar to focus solely on advising the government on public health issues.

 

The job will go to the newly appointed Chief Public Health Officer Gregory Taylor, who will now surrender the day-to-day administrative duties of running the Public Health Agency of Canada to a new president and deputy head who has yet to be appointed.

The move is part of the sweeping changes introduced in the Conservatives’ latest budget implementation bill, which was tabled in Parliament Thursday.

 

The government plans to amend the act governing the agency to effectively divide the agency’s top job, currently held by Taylor, into two positions. The president will take over the day-to-day administrative and management duties, leaving Taylor to advise the president and minister on public health issues on a “scientific basis.”

 

“This change is supported by the chief public health officer and is intended to allow him to focus more exclusively on his critically important role in providing public health advice to the minister and Canadians,” said agency officials in an email.

 

The bilingual Taylor was appointed last month to replace 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.

 

Debi Daviau, president of The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents the federal scientists, said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the move will give the country’s top doctor the science focus and independence the position needs.

 

“We think it is an appropriate and good thing to separate medical and scientific advice from that of the administrative role,” she said.

 

Federal scientists have long complained about the Conservatives’ muzzling of scientists who claim that they have been unable to publicly share or talk about their research, or collaborate with other scientists. They have long pressed for a chief government scientist, as well as chief scientists in the various science-based departments.

 

But Daviau wasn’t as optimistic about the Conservatives’ plans for a Canadian High Arctic Research Station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, which she said was an inadequate attempt to replace Canada’s northernmost research lab, the Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) in Eureka, Nunavut.

 

The union was among the critics of the government’s decision to shut down the High Arctic station. PEARL, located at a latitude of 80 degrees, has been tracking climate change, air quality and other factors such as ozone depletion since 2005. Scientists argue the new station isn’t in the High Arctic and researchers will have gaps in data collection and key scientific measurements by time it is up and running in 2017. The government has already lost the expertise of the scientists who worked there.

 

The budget bill calls for new legislation to create the new research station and will repeal the act that created the Canadian Polar Commission, an agency of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development that has been responsible for monitoring polar regions and recommending science policy since 1991.

 

Twitter.com/kathryn_may

 

via Ottawa Citizen

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