Canada’s Champion of the Arctic

Today in Kinuna, Sweden, Canada’s Minister of the Arctic Council, the Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, took over as Chair of that council. This recognition of Canada’s expertise, specifically symbolized by Aglukkaq, the first Inuk to be sworn into the Federal Cabinet, provides an opportunity to reflect on the reputation and accomplishments of this Minister.

Minister Leona Aglukkaq was sworn into Cabinet as Minister of Health in October 2008. She has faced a lot of criticism over the four and a half years she has spent in that portfolio. Some of the concerns raised about the federal governments’s management of healthcare under Aglukkaq included concerns about the recently changed medical marijuana policy and the decision in November 2008 not to block the release of generic oxycontin. I begin by mentioning these two initiatives because, if you scroll through previous articles on this website, you can read about my own concerns with respect to these policies. Another more recent action of the Haper government, the decision to stop funding the Health Council of Canada, was also roundly criticised by many groups. (Reference: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/04/17/health-council-canada-cut-leona-aglukkaq_n_3100123.html )

Having said all of this, it is obvious that Minister Aglukkaq has risen to a position of trust within the Harper cabinet. Prime Minister Harper is a strong supporter of Canada’s Arctic sovereignty. He appointed Aglukkaq Minister of the Arctic Council in August 2013, knowing full well she would become Chair, the first Inuk to chair this body. Strategically, how can you argue with this good sense?

Perhaps, then, it would behoove us to look more closely at the overall philosophy of the Harper government and Minister Aglukkaq with respect to the federal management of healthcare, in order to examine how better to work with them.

First of all, there is a commitment on the part of this federal government to costsharing in healthcare. The government has pledged a 6% transfer payment after 2014 for three years and 3% annually after that. While the “no strings attached” policy has bothered many Canadians and national health care organizations, might one not say that this allows the provinces, who actually administer healthcare, to plan ahead, considering the needs of their own citizens? This is a policy that is very much in keeping with the small “c” conservative ideal of “smaller government”. We might not all agree with this ideal, but can we deny from whence it comes?

Secondly, this government has commited to ending the Health Care Accord and with it, the Health Council of Canada, the federal agency established to administer it. Again, this is consistent with the wish of the government to decrease the size of governemnt and its costs.

Next, this is a government that has made significant investments in mental health. It established and continues to support and promote the Mental Health Commission of Canada. In January 2013, Canada’s Labour Minister, the Hon. Lisa Raitt,released Canada’s National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. This standard is the first of its kind in the world, addressing the reality that mental health is and will be the most pressing health problem for workers in the 21st century. Can we not work with the Harper government to promote their vision to decrease the burden of mental illness? (Reference: https://drgailbeck.com/2013/01/26/standard-for-workplace-mental-health-and-federal-engagement/)

Minister Aglukkaq has weathered the criticisms of Canadians and healthcare organizations over almost five years as Minister of Health of Canada. As she quietly goes about the business of implementing the federal government’s plan for healthcare, we can often hear her speaking of her love for her home and her community, entrreating us to see beyond the challenges to what the North can bring to Canada. Minister Aglukkaq has broken the glass ceiling and burst out of the confines of the prejudices against Canada’s aboriginal peoples. Prime Minister Harper has entrusted her with the portfolio on Canada’s Arctic. I wish her well in her new position as Chair of the Arctic Council. I am ready to see what she will accomplish for Canada.

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