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Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology
The Senate of Canada
Canada, K1A 0A4
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INTRODUCTION TO THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON
SOCIAL AFFAIRS, SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has the mandate to examine legislation and to study issues related to cultural affairs and the arts, social and labour matters, health and welfare, pensions and housing. It is also responsible for considering fitness and amateur sport, employment and immigration, consumer affairs and youth affairs.
The origins of the committee date back to 1908 when the Senate established a Standing Committee on Public Health and Inspection of Food. Its first study was an examination of sewage disposal, pollution of rivers, streams and lakes and pure water supply. In 1946, this committee was renamed the Committee on Public Health and Welfare. In 1968, substantial changes were made to the Rules of the Senate and to the terms of reference outlined for the work of committees. As a consequence, a Committee on Health, Welfare and Science was established. Although it was a source of debate at the time, the Senate concluded that it was appropriate for a committee concerned with health and welfare also to have science under its jurisdiction. Responsibility for labour legislation and aging was also given to the committee. Finally, in 1983 the committee was given its present name and new terms of reference. In 2012, its terms of reference were updated to remove Indian and Inuit affairs from its mandate, as these matters have been handled by the Aboriginal Peoples Committee created in 1990.
In 2020, the committee was among a limited number of standing committees to meet online for virtual meetings.
Over the past decade, the committee has undertaken a variety of special studies and produced several significant reports. In the area of health care, the committee has produced a variety of reports starting with its multi-phase study of Canada’s health care system in 2002, which had a particular focus on its long-term sustainability, and on the federal role in its reforms and renewal. Like the Romanow Royal Commission report released one month later, the committee’s final report made a significant contribution to the policy debate. As a result of its six-volume health care study, the committee was recognized as being a key site for the public discussion of health policy.
In May 2006, the committee concluded its study on mental health with the tabling of its final report entitled: Out of the Shadows at Last – Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Services in Canada. The release of the final report marked a first for a parliamentary committee, and for the country: it was the most comprehensive study on mental health in Canada ever completed. One of the main recommendations was the creation of a Canadian Mental Health Commission to facilitate a national approach to end the long-standing fragmentation of services, and to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by persons living with mental illness. The federal government created the Mental Health Commission of Canada the following year and named the then chair of the committee, the Honourable Michael Kirby, as its first chairperson.
Afterwards, the committee completed a multi-year study on prescription pharmaceuticals in Canada, issuing five reports covering clinical trials, post-approval monitoring, off-label use and the nature of unintended consequences from their use. Recommendations from earlier reports were brought into law in Protecting Canadians from Unsafe Drugs Act (Vanessa’s Law).
The committee produced substantive reports following extensive studies dealing with forced adoptions following the Second World War, dementia in society and the incidence of obesity in Canada. Other significant reports on social issues included the application of the Disability Tax Credit and the Registered Disability Savings Plan, the federal role of a Social Finance Fund and the integration of robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing in the health care system. It also conducted a study into the government’s response into the COVID-19 pandemic.
SELECTED LEGISLATIVE WORK
The committee has reviewed bills which cover a wide variety of subjects reflecting the breadth of the committee’s mandate, with topics such as: health, food and drugs, citizenship and immigration, product and human safety, pensions and employment insurance, raising awareness of issues through designated days or weeks, amendments to the criminal code and other diverse topics. In recent years, the committee has examined the new Accessible Canada Act which enhances the full and equal participation of all persons, especially persons with disabilities; the Cannabis Act which provides for legal access to cannabis; and changes to the Corrections and Conditional Release Act which was the government’s response to two court decisions relating to administrative segregation. Senate public bills dealing with changes to the Blood Regulations and changing the National Anthem Act were also referred to the committee for review.
For information on the current work of the committee, you may wish to review the orders of reference the committee has received from the Senate, or review the committee proceedings. Detailed information on current work of the committee can be found on the parliamentary website.