PHOTO ABOVE: (from left to right) Debbie Benczkowski, CEO of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Senator Kelvin Ogilvie, chair of the committee, and Senator Art Eggleton, vice-chair, spoke about dementia in Canada at a press conference in Ottawa on November 15, 2016.
The Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has been tackling major health issues that affect all Canadians, making bold recommendations toward a healthier future.
In March 2016, the committee released its report Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada. Containing 21 recommendations, the committee made it clear that the federal government must take aggressive measures to help Canadians achieve and maintain healthy weights.
For example, the committee argued for strict controls on the advertising of unhealthy food and beverages to children and for exploring a tax on sugar- and artificially-sweetened beverages. Since the release of this report, Health Canada has begun a long-overdue review of Canada’s Food Guide — another committee recommendation.
“Obesity is a crucial determinant of serious health issues and declining quality of life, with enormous resulting costs to society. Poor diet is a major risk factor in obesity. A substantial reduction in sugar (carbohydrate) consumption would go a long way toward restoring a normal body weight and improved health. Diet can be controlled, but you cannot out-exercise a poor diet.”
In November 2016, the committee released a sweeping report on dementia called Dementia in Canada: A National Strategy for Dementia-friendly Communities. It made 29 recommendations including to create a National Dementia Strategy to ensure adequate care is provided to people with dementia, to make housing options available to patients and that more funding for research is in place.
Following the report’s release, senators convened a panel discussion about the report to expand public awareness of the issue, hearing at-times emotional testimony from caregivers.
Bill C-233, An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, gained traction and received royal assent in June.
“Our committee’s 2006 report on mental health led directly to the creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which has been hugely influential. Similarly, our proposed Canadian Partnership to Address Dementia has the potential to positively affect the lives of millions of Canadians — but this can happen only with the government’s full support.”
The committee also reviewed an impressive number of bills including regulations pertaining to the manufacturing, sale, labelling and promotion of vaping products, legislation amending the Child Health Protection Act, and issues relating to the Citizenship Act.
The committee is now preparing to release its report on the role of robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence in the health-care system. As part of its study, the committee heard from expert witnesses and stakeholders and conducted fact-finding missions to the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital.
Senators tested technology including haptics — a term that refers to replicating the sensation of touch in electronic devices. This technology is being used to better understand surgeries by reproducing the feedback between surgical tools and human tissues. The committee is expected to table its report before the end of the year.
This article is part of a series showcasing Senate committees — a report back to Canadians about the work committee members have accomplished during the past sitting of Parliament.
Committees are at the core of the Senate's work. They are recognized for their major contributions to legislation and public policy. Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson, the first female Speaker of the Senate, called committees "the heart and soul of the Senate.”
In the last four years alone, over 7,500 witnesses have appeared before Senate committees, leading to the crafting of 531 reports and better legislation.
Through this work, senators speak up for their regions and give a powerful voice to underrepresented groups like women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and linguistic and visible minorities.