Public Health Agency of Canada 2020-21 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 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:

For more information on the Agency’s organizational mandate letter commitments, see the Minister’s mandate letter.

Operating context

PHAC operates in a complex, interconnected, and evolving environment where drivers such as social determinants of health, climate change, and advancements in technology impact the health of Canadians. For instance, global supply chains and rapid international transportation systems move goods and people across borders. With this movement comes the risk that a health threat emerging from somewhere in the world could quickly reach Canada without immediate detection. Similarly, climate change presents a range of risks, from poor air quality to the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease. Additionally, the amount of misinformation found online including through social media is a direct contributor to the growing global and domestic concern of vaccine hesitancy, which may lead to increasing rates of vaccine-preventable diseases among Canadians.

Although Canada is one of the healthiest countries in the world, health inequalities persist. While the life expectancy at birth for Canadian men and women is above international benchmarks at 79.9 years (men) and 84 years (women), not all experience the same health status. Certain populations (such as Northern, rural and remote communities, low-income families, children living in conditions of risk, Indigenous Peoples, un-or-underemployed adults, older adults and LGBTQ2+) continue to experience poorer health outcomes than the average Canadian.

Canada will continue to face some persistent public health challenges in the coming years. As the population lives longer, chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, dementia) have become more common. For example, the prevalence of diabetes is increasing by 3.3% per year. Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder continue to be of concern, with approximately 11 people dying by suicide every day in Canada. Harms and deaths associated with the problematic use of alcohol and other substances (e.g., opioids, vaping products) are also significant public health challenges.

Infectious diseases continue to be of concern as some vaccine preventable diseases, such as measles, are on the rise worldwide. At the same time, Canadians are facing an increasing risk of being infected by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotic treatment, known as antimicrobial resistance, which has been identified by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 risks to global health. In 2018, there were 5,400 deaths in Canada due to antimicrobial resistance. There is also a rise in sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia.

Given the dynamic and evolving nature of public health events, PHAC must continue to have the capacity to prevent, prepare for and respond to public health events and emergencies. Increasingly, public health events tend to be complex, with far-reaching causes and consequences, and have undefined timelines, potentially requiring a long-term response, as evidenced by Canada’s ongoing opioid crisis. This crisis is the deadliest in a generation, claiming the lives of at least 12,813 Canadians since January 2016.

Timely and reliable data are essential to developing sound policies, ensuring effective programming that delivers results to Canadians, delivering accurate information to Canadians, and supporting overall government priorities (e.g., Gender-Based Analysis Plus, Sustainable Development Goals). PHAC has launched the new Data, Partnerships and Innovation Hub and PHAC Data Strategy to leverage and maximize data innovation, modernize technological capacity, and provide timely and credible public health data.

Technology (e.g., whole genome sequencing) provides PHAC and its partners and stakeholders with a range of resources to more effectively identify and address public health issues. As new technologies continue to develop, PHAC will need to be positioned to capitalize on the opportunities presented. For example, artificial intelligence has the potential to process large amounts of information and identify trends more quickly than traditional public health surveillance methods.

To understand and respond to new challenges in its evolving environment, PHAC regularly reviews and manages risks that span public health, internal functions, and the Health Portfolio Shared Services Partnership. As such, risk management is woven into PHAC’s day-to-day operations as an ongoing and dynamic activity that supports governance, prevention through surveillance, leadership, public health promotion, emergency preparedness and response activities. To manage risks effectively, PHAC promotes risk prevention strategies, has risk mitigation controls and strategies in place, and monitors and responds to risks at various levels while minimizing the impact of unplanned and adverse events.

Public health is a shared responsibility in Canada, with coordination between the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments. By improving our understanding of the priorities, activities, and concerns of partners and stakeholders, PHAC will be better able to adapt its programs (including those supported through grants and contributions) to respond to the diverse public health needs across Canada. PHAC’s commitment to accountability, openness, and results will help promote important multi-sectoral collaborations and the solutions needed to help improve the health of Canadians.

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