External Advisory Bodies

Public Health Agency of Canada's Policy on External Advisory Bodies (2011) Summary

The use of external advisory bodies is consistent with the Government of Canada’s commitments to involve people outside of government in government’s work and decision-making processes.

External advisory bodies provide the Public Health Agency of Canada with expert advice from individuals who have valuable knowledge, expertise or experience. The advice may relate to scientific, technical, policy or program matters. It is noted that the external advisory body is not an advocacy body. Further, the Public Health Agency of Canada has the ultimate responsibility and accountability for all decisions resulting from the advice received from an external advisory body.

The Public Health Agency of Canada may establish an external advisory body to receive external advice on issues that fall within the mandate of the Public Health Agency of Canada, including advice on such issues as:

  • policy development and implementation;
  • program development and implementation;
  • emerging issues and priorities for research;
  • professional or scientific matters where there is a need to supplement the Public Health Agency of Canada’s expertise;
  • a matter for which there is a lack of conclusive data or scientific certainty; and
  • a matter for which input on a risks and benefits evaluation, including ways to mitigate or minimize risks, would be beneficial.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, in creating and supporting external advisory bodies, is compliant with principles and requirements set out in applicable federal government policies and legislation, such as those related to privacy, official languages and risk management, among others.

Policy Objective and Authority

This policy promotes the effective, consistent use and management of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s external advisory bodies. It is issued under the authority of the Chief Public Health Officer in his/her role as the Deputy Head of the Public Health Agency of Canada. As outlined in section 14.1 of the Public Health Agency of Canada Act, the Minister may establish external advisory bodies and other committees in relation to public health.

External Advisory Bodies

The defining characteristics of an external advisory body are as follows:

  • It is established by the Minister or the Agency to provide advice on specific medical, scientific, technical, policy or program matters pertaining to the Agency and within the scope of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s mandate.
  • Its voting members are selected to provide the Public Health Agency of Canada with expert advice. Further, they are selected based on merit and to reflect a wide range of knowledge, expertise and experience.
  • Voting members can include provincial and territorial members if, and only if, they are chosen as experts in their field of knowledge, expertise and experience and not as representatives of their government.  Voting members must be external to the federal government.
  • It provides its advice to the Public Health Agency of Canada as a group, and not as individuals or representatives of organizations.

The Public Health Agency of Canada may collaborate with another government department, agency or organization to convene or support the work of an external advisory body.

The Public Health Agency of Canada retains its decision-making authority and decides how it will use the recommendations and advice of an external advisory body

Terms of Reference and Mandate

Every external advisory body must have a terms of reference, which includes a mandate.  The terms of reference, which must comply with this policy, are set by the Public Health Agency of Canada and govern how an external advisory body functions. 

An external advisory body will exist for the period of time required to fulfill its mandate.  An external advisory body will have an initial term of up to three years, which can then be renewed for additional terms of three years depending on whether or not its mandate has been fulfilled. The terms of reference will be reviewed, at minimum, at the end of the three years and prior to renewal of the external advisory body. The Public Health Agency of Canada may end the mandate of an external advisory body and disband it at any time.

Membership Considerations

The Public Health Agency of Canada appoints the members of an external advisory body and sets a term for the appointment. An external advisory body must have at least three members. The optimal number of members will depend on the mandate.

The Public Health Agency of Canada may seek nominees through an open or targeted call for nominations of people whose knowledge, expertise, or experience best match the mandate of the external advisory body.  Depending on its mandate, members of an external advisory body may include, but are not limited to, people who have:

  • medical, veterinary, scientific or technical knowledge;
  • specialized expertise;
  • recognition as a leader in the field;
  • practical or clinical experience;
  • first-hand personal experience as, for example, a health professional, patient, consumer, or caregiver; or
  • organizational experience representing people who share a point of view or interest.

The Public Health Agency will also consider a person’s professional standing, affiliations and interests, demonstrated ability to work in a committee environment, and availability and willingness to serve.

When deciding on appointments to an external advisory body, the Public Health Agency of Canada will seek a diverse and inclusive membership, as appropriate. For example, it may seek members from specific population groups, official languages minority communities or a variety of geographic locations.

Before being appointed as a member of an external advisory body, a nominee must:

  1. submit a Personnel Screening, Consent and Authorization Form for security clearance and receive the security clearance appropriate to the mandate of the external advisory body;
  2. sign a Confidentiality Agreement to prohibit disclosure of any confidential or protected information received through participation;
  3. complete and sign an Summary of Expertise, Experience and Affiliations and Interests Declaration Form; and
  4. consent to allow a summary of his or her expertise, experience and affiliations and interests and a brief biography to be released to the public.

Member Affiliations and Interests

A potential member must disclose all affiliations and interests, including any conflicts of interest and direct financial interests (including that of immediate family) that relate to the mandate of the external advisory body. These might include financial support received from a commercial enterprise, participation in an activity sponsored by a commercial enterprise, and/or published or publicly stated points of view related to the external advisory body’s mandate. 

A person with a direct financial interest in the external advisory body’s mandate in its entirety cannot be a member of a Public Health Agency of Canada external advisory body. A person with indirect affiliations and interests related to the mandate of an external advisory body may still be appointed as a member of the external advisory body as they may still have valuable knowledge, expertise or experience to contribute to the external advisory body’s work. However, the participation of such an external advisory body member may be limited with respect to an agenda item or meeting topic, depending on the nature of the member’s affiliations or interests to the external advisory body’s mandate over the tenure of his/her membership.

The Chair will ask members to make a verbal statement of their relevant affiliations and interests at the beginning of every meeting. The member must also notify the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Chair of any changes in the status of his/her affiliations and interests relevant to the external advisory body’s mandate.

Roles and Responsibilities

External Advisory Body Members

To ensure that the Public Health Agency of Canada maintains ultimate decision making authority over Agency matters and to ensure an external advisory body provides independent advice and recommendations to the Public Health Agency of Canada, certain members cannot be voting members:

  • A federal employee cannot participate in the formulation of an external advisory body’s advice to the Public Health Agency of Canada. However, they can be non voting ex-officio members and can support the work of the external advisory body by communicating the views of the federal organization they represent and by providing information about the Agency.
  • Individuals specifically representing industry, associations and provincial and territorial jurisdictions cannot take part in the voting process.  However, they can be liaison members and can provide information and expertise at external advisory body discussions, as requested. 

Members of an external advisory body have a responsibility to the Public Health Agency of Canada to consider all input received when preparing their recommendations, advice, or report and to give their best objective and independent advice. Members of an external advisory body also have a responsibility to:

  • Be available and prepared to participate in external advisory body meetings, including teleconferences, email exchanges, videoconferences, etc.;
  • Be available and prepared to attend a public meeting or consultation on a topic related to the mandate of an external advisory body;
  • Participate in the discussions about the external advisory body’s recommendations, advice or report to the Public Health Agency of Canada; and
  • Exercise and comply with the terms of reference of the external advisory body.

As a condition of appointment, an external advisory body member must give the Public Health Agency of Canada permission to publish a brief biography and a summary of expertise, experience, and affiliations and interests on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website and additional means as needed.  Potential members will have the opportunity to review and approve the summary for accuracy during appointment.

External advisory body members are to direct media and public inquiries to the Secretariat, who in turn will contact the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Communication Directorate. 

Chair. The Public Health Agency of Canada appoints the Chair of an external advisory body for a specific term. The Chair must be external to the federal government and may be a voting or non-voting member of the external advisory body. The chair acts as a facilitator and takes on a variety of responsibilities including delivering the external advisory body’s advice to the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada

Through an external advisory body Secretariat and the Executive Secretary, the Public Health Agency of Canada supports the work of external advisory bodies.

Executive Secretary. An external advisory body may have an Executive Secretary, who is often a high ranking official such as a Director General.  They provide guidance to the Secretariat as needed, may make decisions about the external advisory body and its advice and can report back to the external advisory body on how that advice was used.

Secretariat. The Public Health Agency of Canada may establish a Secretariat, made up of Public Health Agency of Canada officials, to provide organizational and administrative support to each external advisory body. More specifically they:

  • coordinate the member appointment process;
  • coordinate the preparation and distribution of materials for external advisory body members, observers and others;
  • assist with the work of the external advisory body, as required, and determine when the mandate has been fulfilled;
  • support public access to information about the external advisory body;
  • act as a liaison between the Public Health Agency of Canada and the external advisory body;
  • assist the Chair in carrying out his or her responsibilities;
  • assist with a review or audit of the external advisory body, as required;
  • restrict an external advisory body member’s participation in a meeting due to the nature of that person’s affiliations or interests; and
  • maintain the information posted on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website pertaining to the external advisory body.

Other Public Health Agency of Canada Staff. Medical, scientific, technical, program, policy and other subject-matter experts can support the work of an external advisory body in a variety of ways.  Also the Strategic Policy and International Affairs Directorate is responsible for providing leadership and strategic advice in the implementation and adherence to this policy among the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Branches.

Public Participation and Disclosure

In keeping with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s openness and transparency policies, external advisory body information may be made available to the public.  Similarly, when possible, representatives of corporations and organizations, health professionals, and members of the general public with information or an interest in the external advisory body’s mandate, will be invited to participate and provide information.

However, for a variety of reasons, including the protection of confidential information, it will not always to be possible to make public an external advisory body’s existence, recommendations, advice or report.  External Advisory Body information that is available to the public and generally not protected by confidentiality requirements includes:

  • information that is already in the public domain, such as information that is available on the Internet; and
  • information for which the person to whom the information relates, or to whose business or affairs the information relates, has consented to its release.

Unless otherwise stated in the external advisory body’s terms of reference, a public record of decision, members’ biographies, and a summary of expertise, experiences and affiliations and interests will be posted on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website. The public record of decision will be non-attributable to members and will not contain any confidential information.

Reports of Recommendations

The Secretariat will prepare a non-attributable record that includes the recommendations and advice resulting from each external advisory body meeting. This includes in-person meetings, virtual meetings, conference calls and videoconferences. If parts or all of this record are confidential, the document will indicate this.  Also, if members cannot come to a consensus, then the record must note that there is a diversity of opinion with respect to the recommendations or advice.

A member of an external advisory body who did not participate in a portion of a meeting because of affiliations and interests may not receive the section of the document pertaining to those affiliations and interests until that document becomes public.

An external advisory body may provide recommendations or advice only in response to questions posed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and within the scope of its mandate. Information that the Public Health Agency of Canada receives beyond the scope of an external advisory body’s mandate will be retained and used at the discretion of the Department for future purposes.

In a timely manner, the Public Health Agency of Canada or Secretariat will provide the Chair and external advisory body members with a follow-up report on how the Public Health Agency of Canada responded to and used the recommendations or advice it received from the external advisory body.

Yearly Reports

A report discussing the external advisory body’s general functioning and activities is to be produced annually or at the end of an external advisory body’s term if that occurs sooner.  This report should be submitted to the individual to whom the external advisory body ultimately provides recommendations, such as a director or the CPHO.

This report should include: the external advisory body’s mandate, a membership list with biographies and all completed forms required of members, a summary of the questions asked by PHAC of the external advisory body, a summary of all discussions and conclusions including an indication of differences in opinion, and all recommendations or advice that were provided by the external advisory body.

Review of an External Advisory Body

The purpose and functioning of an external advisory body should be periodically reviewed to ensure it is operating effectively and efficiently, to confirm that its work is still required and to identify opportunities for administrative and management improvements. The review conducted either by Public Health Agency of Canada officials or by consultants hired by the Public Health Agency of Canada, may include an examination of content and administrative functions and a review of logistics. 

It is required to occur:

  • at least once every three years for an external advisory body with an ongoing or long-term mandate;
  • at least once every two years for an external advisory body with an expected mandate of 5 years or less; and
  • no later than six months after the end of the mandate of an external advisory body set up to provide advice on a short-term basis.

The review report will be submitted to Public Health Agency of Canada, who may then authorize its distribution to external advisory body members. In the case of a general review of external advisory bodies, the Review Report will be submitted to the Chief Public Health Officer.

Administration

The Public Health Agency of Canada must ensure that the operational activities of external advisory bodies are carried out in accordance with the principles and requirements set out in applicable federal government policies and legislation. For instance, the provisions of the Official Languages Act are relevant to the operation of external advisory bodies.

Members will be reimbursed for expenses incurred on approved travel to attend external advisory body meetings in accordance with Government of Canada policies, including the Treasury Board’s Travel Directive and the Directive on the Management of Expenditures on Travel, Hospitality and Conferences.

The Public Health Agency of Canada undertakes to provide volunteer members with protection against civil liability provided the volunteer member acts in good faith, within the scope of the external advisory body mandate, does not act against the interests of the Crown and does not have available to him/her such protection. 

In exceptional circumstances, the Public Health Agency of Canada may enter into service contracts with its external advisory body members. This decision must be based on a rationale which may include the requirement for certain expertise, exceptional scope of work or other criteria. Such payment decisions will be made by the Chief Public Health Officer or his/her delegate.

To obtain a copy of the policy in its entirety, please contact:
PHAC-Governance_ASPC-Gouvernance@phac-aspc.gc.ca

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