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Canadian Public Health Association

Federal budget - 2008

Budget 2008: A passing grade for the public's health?

At the end of February, the Conservative government released Budget 2008: Responsible Leadership. This budget has little immediate impact on the health of Canadians, either negatively or positively. That being said, there are several elements that could enhance some of Canada's "essential public health functions" while putting into place services and mechanisms that might contribute over time to an improvement in the health of Canadians.

Some highlights as they pertain to public health include:

  • An investment in the future: increased funding in support of health-related research and education through the establishment of new Canada Global Excellence Research Chairs, the creation of the Canada Gairdner International Awards, an additional $34 million annually to CIHR's budget and increased funding to scholarships for post-secondary students;
  • Supporting the vulnerable: new money in support of the work of the Mental Health Commission of Canada for innovative projects in five Canadian cities to develop best practices to help Canadians facing mental health and homeless challenges is also welcome and reinforces the importance of mental health as a national priority public health issue;
  • Strengthening partnerships with Aboriginal Canadians: increased spending to improve education, health programs, on-reserve prevention-based family and child services and water/wastewater systems in First Nations and Inuit communities;
  • Protecting the health and safety of Canadians: modernizing and strengthening Canada's food, consumer products and health products (including natural health products) safety systems, improving laboratory safety and increasing access for Canadians to information about the links between environmental contaminants and illness. Perhaps one of the most important public health aspects of this budget is reducing the availability of contraband tobacco products through new tax compliance and enforcement measures.

The government is also to be commended for ensuring that the value of health transfer payments to the Provinces and Territories will increase at a rate higher than the overall growth in the economy. CPHA hopes this will be maintained at the 6% annual rate of increase announced in last year's budget.

There are significant gaps in this budget. Despite being a principal recommendation from the Naylor Report in2003, this year's budget once again fails to earmark funds for a comprehensive improvement of Canada's public health infrastructure. This is particularly disappointing given the emphasis on developing public health infrastructure and human resources to increase Canada's capacity, both at home and abroad, as expressed in both the Public Health Agency of Canada's Strategic Plan: Information. Knowledge. Action. and in Industry Canada's Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage.

An effective and functional pan-Canadian public health system requires continued and substantial investment. It requires capable leadership and stewardship, qualified and resourced public health professionals, practitioners and allied workers, an effective and expanding human resource base, reliable public health surveillance and data analysis capacity and the means to transform the data into relevant and timely public policy, programs and services, and adequate supporting infrastructure. The lack of "new money" earmarked for public health is of serious concern.

The "tax breaks" announced in Budget 2008 will not have a significant impact on income security for low-income Canadians and yet income security is one of the main determinants of health. Nor does the budget contain new funding to improve conditions for people living in sub-standard housing, another important determinant of health. Budget 2008 also neglects to invest in rolling-out disease prevention and health promotion programs for high-risk populations that have been shown to be effective. Before investing substantial funds into carbon capture and storage technologies and strategies, the government should ensure that such innovative technologies will not have any detrimental health impacts.

In the end, it's not a "bad" budget - but then again, it's not a "great" budget for public health.