Raison d'être, mandate and role: who we are and what we do

Raison d'être

Health Canada regulates specific products and controlled substances and supports innovation and information sharing in Canada's health system to help Canadians maintain and improve their health.

Mandate and role

At Health Canada, our role is to help Canadians maintain and improve their health. While the provinces and territories are responsible for delivering health care to the majority of Canadians, the federal government also has a number of key roles and responsibilities in areas that affect health and health care. In addition to working closely with provincial and territorial governments, we also work with partners in the Health Portfolio (Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada Food Inspection Agency, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research), other federal departments and agencies, non-governmental organizations, other countries, Indigenous partners and the private sector.

As a partner in health, Health Canada:

The meals we serve our families, the pesticides farmers put on crops, the herbal remedies, vitamins and drugs in our medicine cabinets, the toys we buy our children - they are all products regulated by Health Canada for safety. Hundreds of new products, with new ingredients and new purposes, are introduced by industry every year in Canada. Health Canada's decisions are made with the best interest of Canadians in mind, whether to approve the safety and quality of new products or to provide advice after they are on the market. Our actions are supported by scientific evidence.

Our Department is committed to upholding the Canada Health Act and protecting our publicly funded health care system, which helps to ensure Canadians have access to quality, universal health care based strictly on their medical needs, not their ability and willingness to pay. We also promote innovation and the use of best practices across Canada.

Health Canada's vision is to help make Canada's population among the healthiest in the world. From coast to coast to coast, Health Canada employees - scientists and researchers, inspectors, doctors and nurses, policy analysts and administrative professionals, and many others - are working to help Canadians maintain and improve their health.

As a regulator, service provider, promoter of innovation, and trusted source of information, we are a partner in health for all Canadians.

For more information on the Department's organizational mandate letter commitments, see the Ministers’ mandate letters.

Operating Context

Health Canada operates in a complex and dynamic environment, facing several challenges as it works to deliver results for Canadians. Many of these challenges – such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis – are beyond the sole control of the Department and involve working collaboratively with federal partners, provinces and territories (P/Ts), Indigenous organizations, industry and international regulators.

Emergence of COVID-19 variants continues to challenge Canadians and health systems across the country adding pressure on health care resources. The pandemic negatively affected the mental health of many Canadians; disproportionally impacted those living in long-term care homes; worsened the overdose crisis; and intensified the demand for surge capacity for front line workers and scientific experts.

Health Canada continues to leverage its resources to minimize the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians’ health and safety. Procuring and distributing rapid tests and self-tests, authorizing COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters and vaccines for children, and supporting P/Ts through targeted investments in mental health, virtual care, and long-term care remain priorities. It will also support digital platforms in areas ranging from mental health to delivering critical information to the public.

While the pandemic negatively affected the health of many Canadians, it especially impacted those in populations at higher risk. It created new barriers and challenges for those already suffering from mental illness and substance use. Addressing these challenges and facilitating access to mental health and addiction support services requires a collaborative approach between all orders of government and partners.

Health Canada employees are gradually re-entering the workplace while respecting public health guidelines and established safety measures. This provides an opportunity to explore both the longer-term future of work and organizational resiliency in the context of lessons learned from the pandemic. IT systems and tools that were put in place for collaboration and remote work must be re-configured to support employees both working at home and in the office and comprehensive strategies to protect public servants' mental health and wellness during this challenging time must be maintained.

All levels of government are adjusting to the changing needs and expectations of Canadians and leveraging technological advances to improve quality of care and health outcomes. As a partner in the national health care system, the Department works closely with P/T governments and stakeholders to develop national approaches to health systems issues and to promote the pan-Canadian adoption of best practices.

The increased pace of scientific and technological innovation, globalization, and the complexity of the global supply chain are a key challenge for regulators. Effectively regulating new, innovative and complex products, substances, food and emerging product categories in a global marketplace requires a global approach. Creating and strengthening relationships with domestic and international partners is key to leveraging cooperation and best practices, and fostering innovative approaches such as accelerating regulatory reviews.

Inequities persist in healthcare, communities and workplaces across the country. Diversifying the healthcare and public workforce increases access to quality health care for all populations, reduces health disparities, improves cross-cultural communication, and contributes to health equity. The Department’s values – fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace that is free of racism and discrimination and where all employees are treated with respect, dignity and fairness – form the foundation of who we are, what we do, and how we do our work.

Canadians expect the Department to provide high quality, scientific and evidence-based health information. This is critical to helping Canadians make informed health decisions for themselves and their families – especially when there is an increasing amount of information available to the general public of varying scientific quality and accuracy. Further, Canadians continue to expect their Government to be open and transparent and to effectively engage them in decision-making. Clarity on direction and sharing timely information with stakeholders and the public helps ensure that the Department is viewed as a trusted source of information and that organizations and individuals have the information needed to take action on their collective and personal health and safety.

Health Canada has a well-established risk management process that enables the Department to respond proactively to change and uncertainty by understanding and monitoring its operating environment and the factors that drive risks.

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