Laura Mae Lindo MPP, Kitchener Centre

Government of Ontario

Public Health Accountability Act gives independence to Ontario’s top doctor

Published on December 1, 2020

QUEEN’S PARK – France Gélinas, MPP for Nickel Belt and Health critic for the Official Opposition, brought forward a bill to make the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) an independent officer of the legislature. Currently, the CMOH in Ontario is accountable to both the Minister of Health and to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.
Honouring Dr. Sheela Basrur, The Public Health Accountability Act (Bill 227) will make Ontario’s CMOH an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly and, during a public health emergency, would create a select committee of the legislature for managing the emergency. The committee would allow elected officials to hear directly from the CMOH and allow the CMOH to answer questions without interference.
Dr. Michael Rachlis, a public health physician and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said that the proposed changes are needed.
“The COVID crisis has demonstrated that Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health needs to be as independent of politics as much as possible. Additionally, mandating a select legislative committee to deal with public health emergencies would help to protect our health and our democracy,” said Rachlis.
Gélinas tabled the bill to stress the importance of greater transparency and clearer communication from public health officials.  
“During a pandemic, Ontarians should have the opportunity to hear directly from the Chief Medical Officer of Health about the situation unfolding and about recommendations that will keep people safe,” Gélinas said. “Public trust in health officials has been the most valuable resource for controlling the spread of COVID-19. Trust can be earned by ensuring that the updates and recommendations the Chief Medical Officer of Health provides to the people of Ontario are delivered directly.”
Dr. Ross Upshur, the Division Head of Clinical Public Health at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, is also in favour of the bill. “I am completely in support of anything that grants the CMOH more independence to speak and act in the best interests of public health,” said Dr. Upshur.  
Gélinas said the changes will better prepare Ontario for future public health crises.
“After SARS, people across the province pleaded for changes to ensure that the tragedy would not repeat itself,” said Gélinas. “Sadly, today we find ourselves in a crisis worse than the one we faced during SARS. Now is our opportunity to make sure that, when the next public health emergency arises, Ontario is prepared.”
The bill is named in honour of Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic; she went on to became Ontario’s CMOH. Dr. Basrur passed away from cancer on June 2, 2008.
Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health and Chief Executive Officer for Public Health Sudbury and Districts, praised Basrur’s legacy of leadership and transparency. 

“Dr. Sheela Basrur’s enduring legacy for the province of Ontario is the high bar she set for transparency, accountability, and scientific rigour in public health leadership. Sheela was a remarkable collaborator, communicator, and systems thinker — able to bring disparate groups together to rally around common values — all for the betterment of the public health system and, ultimately, the health of all Ontarians,” said Sutcliffe.