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 overdose crisis, public health events like the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chain issues, and climate change - 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.

There is currently an unprecedented Health Human Resource crisis in Canada's health care system. This was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. High patient workloads, challenging work conditions, and concerns for personal safety have led to high levels of burnout, absences, and turnover. Canadians are feeling the impacts as emergency rooms are overwhelmed, and in some cases closing temporarily; many Canadians still lack a primary care provider; and wait times for surgeries and other procedures continue to increase across the health system. Finally, additional emerging health threats (e.g., various respiratory viruses) will continue to challenge Canada's healthcare systems.

Health care systems in Canada are facing numerous challenges in terms of sustainability, access to services, and service delivery. Health care delivery is primarily under P/T jurisdiction with funding administered by the Department of Finance via the Canada Health Transfer. However, the Department plays an important role in supporting P/Ts with their health care and health system priorities by providing additional funding for health programs (e.g., mental health and substance use services) and health system modernization (e.g., mental health and substance use, home care and virtual care).

The overdose crisis is one of the most serious public health threats in Canada's recent history, and is having devastating impacts on individuals, friends and families, and communities across the country. It has worsened and become more complex during the COVID-19 pandemic, for example through a more toxic drug supply and reduced access to health and social services such as life-saving harm reduction and treatment services for people who use drugs.

Underserved Canadians continue to bear the brunt of health events. For example, while the pandemic negatively affected the health of many Canadians, it especially affected those in higher-risk populations such as Indigenous peoples, racialized Canadians, women, youth, elderly, those living with chronic health conditions or those in lower-income households. It also 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.

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. As well, Health Canada's digital transformation will allow the leveraging of data to improve evidence-based decision-making and enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of programs and services.

Rising commodity prices, inflation, debt and a potential economic slowdown or recession may result in additional challenges for both Health Canada and Canadians in terms of acquiring and affording necessary health and food products, and further exacerbate the persistent inequalities in communities. In addition, geopolitical issues and supply chain challenges are impacting manufacturers' ability to meet Canadian market demand for certain drugs and medical devices.

The increased pace of scientific and technological innovation, globalization, and the complexity of the global supply chain are key challenges for regulators. Effectively regulating new, innovative and complex products, substances, food and emerging product categories in a global marketplace requires novel and flexible regulatory approaches. Creating and strengthening relationships with domestic and international partners is key to facilitating cooperation and developing consistent approaches to novel products. However, limited resources, challenges in properly assessing and addressing security threats such as cyberattacks, and political barriers to government collaboration could have a detrimental effect on Health Canada's ability to participate on the international stage.

The effects of climate change and extreme weather events such as wildfires, heat waves, floods and droughts, continue to intensify across Canada, affecting the health of Canadians, as well as Health Canada's services, operations and assets. The Department is finalizing a Climate Change Risk Assessment to identify and examine impacts to its services, operations and custodial facilities. In response to these risks, Health Canada will develop a Climate Change Adaptation Plan to manage or mitigate risks from climate change.

Canadians expect the Department to provide high quality, scientific and evidence-based health information. However, Health Canada's reputation as a source of credible information is threatened by the increasing misinformation and disinformation regarding health products and other regulated substances from a wide range of sources easily accessible to the public. This poses a challenge to regulators in terms of responding quickly and decisively in the face of eroding trust in scientific bodies and health regulators. Canadians continue to expect their government to be open and transparent and to effectively engage them in decision-making. Clarity on direction and sharing accurate and timely information with stakeholders and the public helps ensure that the Department is viewed as a trusted source of information and that individuals and organizations have the information needed to take action on their health and safety.

Inequities persist in health care, communities and workplaces across the country. Diversifying the health care 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.

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