Public Health Agency of Canada 2018–19 Departmental Plan: Corporate Information

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

Raison d'être

Public health involves the organized efforts of society that aim to keep people healthy and to prevent illness, injury and premature death. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has put in place programs, services and policies to help protect and promote the health of all Canadians and residents of Canada. In Canada, public health is a responsibility that is shared by all three levels of government in collaboration with the private sector, non-governmental organizations, health professionals and the public.

In September 2004, PHAC was created within the federal Health Portfolio to deliver on the Government of Canada's commitment to increase its focus on public health in order to help protect and improve the health and safety of all Canadians and to contribute to strengthening public health capacities across Canada.

Mandate and role

PHAC has the responsibility to:

  • Contribute to the prevention of disease and injury, and to the promotion of health;
  • Enhance surveillance information and expand the knowledge of disease and injury in Canada;
  • Provide federal leadership and accountability in managing national public health events;
  • Strengthen intergovernmental collaboration on public health and facilitate national approaches to public health policy and planning; and
  • Serve as a central point for sharing public health expertise across Canada and with international partners, and to use this knowledge to inform and support Canada's public health priorities.

For more information on the department's organizational mandate letter commitments, see the Minister's mandate letter on the Prime Minister of Canada's website.

Operating context and key risks

Operating context

The health status of Canadians is the result of many interconnected factors. Diet and exercise can have a direct impact on health, as well as behaviours such as alcohol consumption and smoking. Environmental factors such as climate change can present a range of health risks from poor air quality to the spread of disease. Socio-economic factors (e.g., access to affordable housing, food security, education, and income) can also affect health. With globalization and the rapid evolution of science and technology, even health events elsewhere in the world can impact Canada's public health landscape. The ability to recognize key risks to health, to address contributing factors, and to respond effectively, will greatly influence the capacity of PHAC's programs to achieve results for Canadians.

While the majority of Canadians are experiencing good health and living longer, vulnerable populations (e.g., low-income families, children, Indigenous peoples, and the elderly) continue to experience increased risks of poor health outcomes. Canada also continues to face persistent public health challenges with rising rates of chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes), the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases (e.g., measles), and the threat of drug-resistant organisms. Problematic substance abuse, with increases in opioid-related deaths and overdoses, and the anticipated legalization of cannabis, are also significant challenges.

Data gaps exist for several of these challenges. To ensure effective programming that delivers results for Canadians, timely and reliable data are essential to developing an understanding of the risk factors, patterns, and behaviours. Strengthening surveillance and data collection will support evidence-based decision-making and help PHAC tailor its programming to address health inequalities so that all Canadians can reach their optimal health.

The traditional definition of public health emergencies is evolving, and with that comes the need to adapt existing escalation procedures in response to these events. The multi-jurisdictional nature of public health also creates a diverse coordination, information sharing and engagement environment. In light of these, PHAC must adapt its tools, processes, and mechanisms to maintain the capacity to rapidly and effectively respond to emerging global and domestic threats.

Public health is a shared responsibility. While PHAC plays a leadership role in promoting and protecting the health of Canadians, this will involve working closely with its portfolio partners, provinces and territories, indigenous partners, as well as national and international stakeholders to deliver on our priorities. PHAC's commitment to accountability, openness, and results will help strengthen these collaborations and create an environment to develop innovative solutions to improve the health of all Canadians.

Key risks

PHAC manages a range of risks in pursuing its mission to promote and protect the health of Canadians and in consideration of its operating context. The risks identified in the following table are drawn from PHAC's Corporate Risk Profile 2017 Annual Review. These risks are ranked as having the greatest potential to significantly impact PHAC's ability to achieve its objectives, and having the most important potential health and safety consequences for Canadians in the event of a failure of any risk response strategy.

Risk 1: Simultaneous Events/Large Events

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that a significant or simultaneous public health event(s) may occur and PHAC may not have the scope and depth of workforce or the capacity and resources required to mobilize an effective and timely response, while maintaining its non-emergency obligations. This may hinder PHAC's role in providing leadership in the coordination and integration of the Health Portfolio's emergency preparedness and response functions, and implementation of other public health priorities.

Risk Response Strategies:

  • Provide national scientific leadership and expertise, disease surveillance, risk assessment and laboratory capacity to anticipate, prepare and respond to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.
  • Engage stakeholders to maximize monitoring and detection of infectious disease outbreaks by strengthening sentinel and enhanced surveillance, improving coordination with provincial/territorial (P/T) networks, and providing guidance and advice to health care providers and frontline staff during public health events.
  • Work with P/T partners to implement the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events.
  • Work with Health Portfolio partners to better identify and manage a pool of qualified personnel who can be drawn upon to rapidly respond to a public health event.

Link to the department's Core Responsibilities:

  • Infectious Disease Prevention and Control
  • Health Security

Link to Mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

PHAC Priorities 1 and 3

Risk 2: Access to Timely and Accurate Data

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that, as the volume of and need for public health data increases both domestically and internationally, PHAC may not have access to timely, reliable and accurate information and/or data, nor the ability to undertake necessary data analysis, which could reduce effective evidence-based decision-making pertaining to public health matters.

Risk Response Strategies:

  • Work with P/T stakeholders to support timely information sharing and continued technology implementation (e.g., PulseNet Canada, the Canadian Public Health Lab network, Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System, and the Electronic Canadian Hospital Injuries Reporting and Prevention Program).
  • Develop new approaches to public health surveillance and reporting, including health inequality indicators, and continue to work to enhance the public's access to data. In addition, promote the use of data to inform policy, program and technological innovations to improve the health of Canadians.
  • Use novel surveillance and data dissemination methods to communicate information in a more open, timely, and accurate way that will be relevant to multiple audiences.
  • Develop and maintain a healthy portfolio of business applications by addressing the business risks of aged technology.

Link to the department's Core Responsibilities:

  • Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention
  • Infectious Disease Prevention and Control
  • Health Security

Link to Mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

PHAC Priority 3

Risk 3: Keeping up with the Changing External Environment

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that PHAC may not be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the external environment. This may include advancements in scientific discoveries, emerging public health technologies, and communications. This may hinder PHAC's ability to maintain its relevance, which could affect its ability to exhibit excellence and innovation in public health.

Risk Response Strategies:

  • Collaborate with partners to reach out to Canadians to garner new ideas that support innovative approaches to promoting healthy living and chronic disease prevention from the health sector and non-traditional partners.
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to develop and validate laboratory technologies and novel methods to better detect and respond to emerging respiratory pathogens, such as influenza strains.
  • Enhance PHAC's capacity to identify and to address emerging trends in global health and the changing geopolitical environment.
  • Develop a long-term laboratory technology modernization strategy that will address revolutionary technology advancements and modernize public health investigations (e.g., bioinformatics).
  • Focus on innovative solutions to support the delivery of health security programs.

Link to the department's Core Responsibilities:

  • Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention
  • Infectious Disease Prevention and Control
  • Health Security

Link to Mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

PHAC Priority 4

Risk 4: Public Health Agency Physical Infrastructure

Risk Statement:

There is a risk that without necessary and adequate infrastructure, as well as timely maintenance of, and investment in, facilities and assets, PHAC may be exposed to threats which could impact how PHAC will deliver on its mandate and objectives.

Risk Response Strategies:

  • Develop a modernization strategy for IT technologies/platforms critical to program delivery (e.g., Integrated Satellite Tracking of Pollution program, e-learning portal, Global Public Health Intelligence Network, and GCDOCS deployment preparation).
  • Assess existing laboratory capacity as part of developing a strategy to make the best use of Canada's biocontainment laboratory facilities.
  • Develop a robust governance structure for a Shared Systems Applications and Products environment, implement Treasury Board Secretariat direction on financial policies and systems, and complete the Procurement Roadmap.
  • Support Guelph Laboratory operations and maintenance, optimize the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile and Innovation Hubs, and implement the National Threat and Risk Assessment Program.

Link to the department's Core Responsibilities:

  • Infectious Disease Prevention and Control
  • Health Security

Link to Mandate letter commitments or to government-wide and departmental priorities:

PHAC Priority 1

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