The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is pleased to participate in the review of the Clean Air Act, Bill C- 30. The CMA, first founded in 1867, currently represents more than 64,000 physicians across the country. Our mission includes advocating for the highest standard of health and health care for all Canadians and we are committed to activities that will result in healthy public policy.
The Environment: A Key Determinant of Health
The physical environment is a key determinant of a population's health and the medical profession is concerned about environmental conditions that contribute to declining health in individuals and the population as a whole. Physicians have been part of an early warning system of scientists and other health professionals calling attention to the effects on human health of poor air quality because we see the impact in our practice and in our communities.
There is strong evidence that air pollution is the most harmful environmental problem in Canada in terms of human health effects. We know from the smog health studies undertaken by the Ontario Medical Association (OMA), Health Canada and others, about the public health crisis created by polluted air in many parts of Canada. And it is a crisis.
A study by the federal government estimated that 5,900 premature deaths occur annually in eight large Canadian cities. This is a conservative estimate as the study focused on the short-term impact of smog pollutants using time-series studies. This study was never extrapolated to the whole Canadian population, but we know that only approximately one third of the Canadian population, mainly residents of large, urban areas, were included in the analysis.1
The OMA Illness Costs of Air Pollution study estimated that there were 5,800 premature deaths due to air pollution in Ontario alone in 2005, and examined both short-term and long-term health impacts. The OMA projected that the annual figure will grow to 10,000 premature deaths by 2026 unless effective steps are taken to reduce smog.2
In addition to premature deaths, the OMA estimated that there were 16,000 hospital admissions and 60,000 emergency room visits in Ontario in 2005 because of respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses associated with air pollution exposure. During that same year, the OMA also estimated that there were 29 million minor illness days, defined as days where individuals either suffered from asthma symptoms or had to restrict their activities. Most of the people affected by these so-called minor illness days are children.
In British Columbia, the Provincial Officer for Health published a conservative estimate in 2004 that air pollution in B.C. is causing between 140 and 400 premature deaths, 700 to 2,100 hospital stays, and between 900 and 2,750 emergency room visits each year.3
The direct and indirect costs of air pollution on the health of Canadians are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. According to the Ontario Medical Association, in 2005, air pollution costs in Ontario were estimated at:
- $374 million in lost productivity and work time;
- $507 million in direct health care costs;
- $537 million in pain and suffering due to non-fatal illness; and
- $6.4 billion in loss due to premature death.4
In Canada the environment is currently considered to be the most important issue facing society. In a recent poll by the Strategic Counsel for the Globe & Mail/CTV5 a majority of respondents ranked the impact of toxic chemicals, air and water pollution and global warming as life threatening. The environment, while a major concern today for the general public, has been of concern to physicians for some time.
CMA, Health and the Environment
In 1991 the CMA, released a policy paper Health, the Environment and Sustainable Development6 that clearly linked health and the environment. Building on the 1987 Brundtland Report (World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future) that tied sustainable development to the environment and the economy, the CMA inserted health into this pair of interactions and stated that "continued environmental degradation will increase hazard to human health." The paper concluded with a number of recommendations for governments, the health sector, and physicians in support of environmentally sustainable development.
The CMA has continued to give attention to environmental issues urging the government, prior to Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfies Canada's international commitments while maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives. In 2002, the CMA also recommended that the federal Environment and Health Ministers commit their departments to improved health-based reporting by regularly updating the health effects information for pollutants of concern.
Clean Air Act: A Physicians Perspective
Doctors understand the concept that success from an intervention can be nuanced. In the case of disease, physicians know and accept that there are benefits of treatment even if a patient cannot be cured. Sometimes we just reduce their symptoms, or slow their rate of decline. But when treating the natural environment, so critical to human health, we suggest that you cannot accept a palliative solution. We must aim for cure. We must commit to measures of success in terms of real improvement in health. It is through this lens that the CMA urges that you view the Clean Air Act to ensure that it is health-relevant.
The CMA would like to commend this government for acknowledging the impact of the physical environment on human health and we are encouraged that the Act recognizes the intimate connection between greenhouse gas reductions and improved air quality.
Air pollution does not respect provincial borders therefore it is very important to establish national objectives and Canada wide standards that are strong and consistent across the country. To be health relevant national air quality objectives must result in air quality improvements. To this end, regardless of whether they are called objectives or standards,
national air quality targets must protect the health of all Canadians and must be binding. Voluntary air quality guidelines guarantee no health benefit.
The federal government must ensure that there is a regulatory framework in place to ensure that the standards are mandatory across the country.
The annual reporting to Parliament on the attainment of the national air quality objectives and the effectiveness of measures to attain the objectives, as outlined in the Act, is very important. Transparency in reporting is essential to the integrity of any program, but is integral to the determination of health benefit.
The International Panel on Climate Change's Fourth Assessment report released on February 2, 2007, concluded that global warming is unequivocal and that human activity is the main driver, asserting with near certainty - more than 90 percent confidence - that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases from human activities have been the main causes of warming since 1950.
Its Third Assessment report: Climate Change 2001: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability noted that global climate change will have a wide range of impacts on human health.
"Overall, negative health impacts are expected to outweigh positive health impacts. Some health impacts would result from changes in the frequencies and intensities of extremes of heat and cold and of floods and droughts. Other health impacts would result from the impacts of climate change on ecological and social systems and would include changes in infectious disease occurrence, local food production and nutritional adequacy, and concentrations of local air pollutants and aeroallergens, as well as various health consequences of population displacement and economic disruption."7
Given the indisputable impact of greenhouse gas increases on climate change and its connection to human health, it is critical to ensure that Canada is moving quickly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Clean Air Act and the subsequent notice of intent sets out short, medium and long term targets and timelines for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
The target setting approach proposed in the Act, based on emission intensity in the short and medium term is not health relevant. To be health relevant, targets should be presented in the context of overall emissions, i.e., emissions reductions minus emissions increases.
An emission reduction from a particular source is only health-relevant if we can guarantee that there is not a corresponding emissions increase at another source nearby, because it is the absolute exposure that an individual experiences that affects the risk of an adverse health effect. Just as slowing the progression of a disease can never be considered a cure, attempting only to limit the growth of those emissions cannot result in true success by any measure.
It is not until 2050 that the government has committed to achieving an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of between 45 - 65% of 2003 levels. Based on the emission intensity targets in the Clean Air Act, emissions and air pollution levels will, in fact, continue to rise as will the health consequences. In order to protect the health of Canadians the government needs to set policies, with targets and timelines that maximize absolute reductions in greenhouse gases, which are consistent with the scale and urgency of the challenge. To ensure that prescribed policies result in the intended environment and health outcomes, short and medium-term targets for absolute emission reductions would benchmark progress and allow for mid-course corrections, if they were needed.
With respect to indoor air quality, physicians have long been proponents of initiatives to reduce exposure to contaminants such as second-hand tobacco smoke. The CMA is concerned about the impact on human health of exposure to high levels of radon and the associated increased risk of lung cancer. The intention to develop measures to address indoor air quality through a national radon strategy is a positive step. It is important that our patients are made aware of such threats in their homes, and also that they are presented with a way to reduce their exposure.
Environmentally related illness is essentially the combined result of exposure and vulnerability. We are vulnerable because we are human beings; each human being has different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some vulnerabilities to environmental influences are genetic, and some the results of pre-existing disease. There is not much that government can do about this part of the equation.
Our exposure, on the other hand is related to the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. This is where the federal government is critical, and where the measures of success will be the most important.
Proxy measures for the health outcomes that matter must be relevant from a health perspective. Health-based success can only be measured by quantifiable reductions in the exposure levels of contaminants in our air as well as in our water and soil.
Clean air is absolutely fundamental to a healthy population - without it all else is irrelevant. Actions to curb air pollution must be taken in all sectors and levels of society in a concerted, non-partisan effort with the health of the population and the planet as our yardstick of success.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our comments on Bill C-30, the Clean Air Act. We look forward to working with you to improve the Clean Air Act and ensure that the measure of its success will benefit the health of Canadians.
Colin J. McMillan, MD, CM, FRCPC, FACP
1 S. Judek, B. Jessiman, D. Stieb, and R. Vet. 2005. Estimated Number of Excess Deaths in Canada Due
to Air Pollution". Health Canada and Environment Canada. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/
2 Ontario Medical Association. 2005. The Illness Costs of Air Pollution: 2005-2026 Health and Economic
Damage Estimates. Toronto: OMA.
3 B.C. Provincial Health Officer. 2004. Every Breath You Take: Air Quality in British Columbia, A Public Health Perspective. 2003 Annual Report. Victoria: Ministry of Health Services.
4 Ontario Medical Association , 2005
5 GLOBE/CTV POLL Climate concerns now top security and health One in four label environmental issues as most important, The Globe and Mail, Fri 26 Jan 2007, Page: A1, Section: National News , Byline: Brian Laghi
6 Health, the Environment and Sustainable Development, Canadian Medical Association , 1991
7 WMO Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Climate Change 2001, IPPC Third Assessment Report: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, accessed Feb 7, 2007 http://www.grida.no/climate/ipcc_tar/wg2/348.htm
My name is Dr. Isra Levy, and as a public health physician and the Chief Medical Officer and Director in the Canadian Medical Association's Office for Public Health, I am pleased to be participating in your roundtable today. With me is Mr. John Wellner, Director, Health Policy at our sister organization the Ontario Medical Association.
CEPA is, of course, a key piece of Environmental Legislation, but we at the CMA see it to be primarily about health.
Similarly, Canada's doctors see the topic of today's hearings, "Measuring CEPA's Success" in terms of the impacts on our medical practices and, more particularly, on our patients. To us the measurement of success that matters is good health in our patients. And unfortunately I must tell you that we still see the negative impacts of environmental degradation on our vulnerable patients every day.
We are pleased to participate in this review of CEPA, because for us, the measure of health benefits and health outcomes, over the short or long-term that stem from reduced exposure to environmental contaminants is an important measure of our health as a nation.
The Canadian Medical Association, first founded in 1867, currently represents more than 63,000 physicians across the country. Our mission includes advocating for the highest standard of health and care for all Canadians and we are committed to activities that will result in healthy public policy. The environment, as a determinant of health, is a major concern for the general public as well as health care providers.
And health outcomes are directly linked to the physical environment in many, many ways. We know from the crises in Walkerton, Collingwood, North Battleford and many First Nations communities, the devastating effects that contaminated water can have on individuals and families.
We know from the smog health studies undertaken by the OMA, Health Canada and others, about the public health crisis of polluted air in many parts of Canada. And it is a crisis. We are now in a position where science allows us to more clearly show the long-term, lifetime burden of morbidity caused by some of these pollutants; we now know that there are thousands more premature deaths caused by air pollution in Canada than has previously been appreciated.
We are learning that central Canada is not the only place that has a smog problem. The OMA has shown, through its Illness Costs of Air Pollution model, that it is plausible to think in terms of substantial costs to the health and pocketbooks of Canadians because of environmental risks across the country.
The CMA has developed many environmental policies that are pertinent to our CEPA discussion today.
* Prior to Canada's ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the CMA urged the Prime Minister to commit to choosing a climate change strategy that satisfies Canada's international commitments while maximizing the clean air co-benefits and smog-reduction potential of any greenhouse gas reduction initiatives.
We realize that pollution prevention initiatives can have many health benefits and that pollution sources seldom emit contaminants in isolation. The smoke that you see, and often emissions that you can't see, represent a cocktail of potentially harmful substances.
* The CMA has committed to working with the federal Ministers of health and the Environment to develop national strategies to reduce the unacceptably high levels of persistent organic pollutants amongst the peoples of the Arctic coast.
* We have asked Environment Canada and Health Canada to initiate a review of the current Canadian one hour guideline for maximal exposure level to both indoor and outdoor NO2 and recommend that the federal Environment and Health Ministers commit their departments to improved health-based reporting by regularly updating the health effects information for pollutants of concern.
Let me return to the issue of measuring success though -
Doctors understand the concept that success from an intervention can be nuanced. In the case of disease, physicians know and accept that the benefit of treatment is not always cure of a patient. Sometimes we just reduce their symptoms, or slow their rate of decline.
But when treating the natural environment, so critical to human health, we suggest that you cannot accept a palliative solution. We must aim for cure. We urge you to commit to measures of success in terms of real improvement, rather than merely accepting slight curtailments in the "inevitable increase" of environmental contamination.
The issue of greenhouse gas reduction is one that illustrates this point. Just as slowing the progression of a disease can never be considered a cure, referring to an "inevitable increase" in emissions and attempting only to limit the growth of those emissions, cannot result in true success by any measure.
We have seen 'good news' press releases on environmental initiatives from various federal and provincial governments, but the news isn't always worthy of praise.
Although there have been some great environmental successes that Canadians should be proud of, the measure of overall success - on all contaminants of concern - has only been incremental at best.
For example, when policy makers speak about industrial emission reductions of any kind, they often refer to "emissions intensity" - the emissions per unit of production, rather than total, overall emissions. To be health-relevant, the only meaningful way to report emissions reductions is to present them as "net" values, rather than the all-to-common "gross" valuation. An emission reduction from a particular source is only health-relevant if we can guarantee that there is not a corresponding emissions increase at another source nearby, because it is the absolute exposure that an individual experiences that affects the risk of an adverse health effect.
This issue becomes especially tricky with regional pollutants like smog precursors, because you may have to take the whole air shed into account. For this reason, cross- jurisdictional pollution control initiatives are very important in Canada - and that means federal oversight. In fact, to our understanding, that is what CEPA does, it gives the federal government jurisdictional authority, and, dare I say, obligation to act to protect the health of Canadians.
To the CMA, and we believe to most Canadians, the real measure of success is a reduction in the illnesses associated with pollution. It is not just important how we measure this ultimate success, but how we measure our progress towards it.
Environmentally related illness is essentially the combined result of exposure and vulnerability.
We are vulnerable because we are human beings; each human being has different physical strengths and weaknesses. Some vulnerabilities to environmental influences are genetic, and some the results of pre-existing disease. There is not much that government can do about this part of the equation.
Our exposure, on the other hand is related to the air we breathe, water we drink and food we eat. This is where CEPA comes in. This is where your role is critical, and where the measures of success will be the most important.
Proxy measures for the health outcomes that matter must be relevant from a health perspective. Health-based success can only be measured by quantifiable reductions in the exposure levels of contaminants in our air, water and foods.
Canada has historically relied only on guidelines for contaminants of concern, memoranda of understanding with polluters and voluntary goals and targets. Our American neighbours prefer legally binding standards, strict emission monitoring, and pollution attainment designations. While there may be some benefit to the Canadian approach, we are clearly behind in this area. In many parts of the U.S., counties try desperately to avoid "non-attainment" designations based on the ambient air pollution target levels. If they are designated to be a non-attainment zone they risk loss of federal infrastructure transfer payments.
In Canada, we have Canada-Wide smog Standards for 2010 - but of course these are non-binding, have no penalties for non-attainment, provide loopholes for any jurisdictions claiming cross-border pollution influences and allow provinces to opt-out with a mere three months notice. We must be more forceful. Indeed sufficient evidence exists on the health effects of a wide-range of CEPA-Toxic substances (smog precursors, for example) to justify more forceful action to reduce exposures. And there are many more chemicals of concern, for which all the evidence may perhaps not yet be in, but which require a precautionary approach in order to prevent potential human harm.
So, although the presentation of environmental information (e.g., ambient pollution levels in a State of the Environment report, or a health-based Air Quality Index) is beneficial and may provide information that enables Canadians to reduce their exposures, ultimately this is not enough.
The CMA believes that although enhanced environmental monitoring or pollutant exposure studies are important to our understanding of some contaminants, such studies in and of themselves will not improve the health of our patients. The true measure of success would go beyond reporting the danger, to actually reducing the danger. The CMA believes that is the purpose of CEPA.
We look forward to working with you to improve CEPA and ensure that the measures of CEPA's success will benefit the health of our patients across Canada.
Canadian Medical Association Ottawa, June 12, 2006
While my remarks today will focus on the recognition of foreign credentials, mainly with reference to the medical profession with which I am most familiar, I want to emphasize that this is just one element of assuring a sustainable health workforce in Canada as my colleagues will be amplifying in greater detail.
I want to impress upon Members of the Committee that the CMA does not test, credential, license or discipline physicians, nor is it empowered to act on complaints made by patients - this is the purview of the provincial/territorial licensing bodies. We are not directly involved in provincial or territorial benefit negotiations for physicians - this is the responsibility of our provincial/territorial Divisions. Nor do we control medical school enrolment or conduct clinical research.
What we do, is carry out research and advocacy on short, medium and long term health and health care issues to ensure we can meet the current and emergent needs of Canadians.
CONTRIBUTIONS OF INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL GRADUATES TO CANADA
I would like to begin by dispelling the popular myth that Canada is a "closed shop" to persons with international medical credentials. In fact Canada has always relied on International Medical Graduates to make up a significant proportion of the medical workforce; this proportion has remained fairly steady at about one in four physicians for the past few decades.
(Currently 23%). Our best estimate is that some 400 IMGs are newly licensed to practice in Canada each year. In fact, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, has for the past two years licensed more IMGs that Ontario medical graduates.
A corollary of this myth is that IMGs are unable to access the postgraduate medical training system to complete any supplementary training they might need. In the Fall 2005, of the some 7,800 postgraduate trainees in Canada just over 900 or 12% were IMGs. Many more are participating in special assessment/supervised practice programs in the community.
The fact of the matter is that Canada has historically trained fewer physicians than we need to meet our population needs. This can be clearly demonstrated by looking at relative opportunity to enter medical school. In the most recent year (2005/2006) Canada had 7.1 first year medical school places per 100,000 population. This level is just over one-half of that of the United Kingdom, with its 12.9 places per 100,000 population. While the United States has the same ratio of medical school places per 100,000 population as Canada - it has 1.5 first year postgraduate places per medical graduate and relies on bringing large numbers of IMGs in to fill these places and supplement production in this manner.
Not only is Canadian undergraduate medical education capacity inadequate, but postgraduate medical training capacity is similarly insufficient to meet the demands of training Canadian medical graduates, providing training to IMGs, and permitting Canadians to retrain in specialties. In 2006 of the 932 IMGs registered in the second iteration run by the Canadian Resident Matching Service, just 111 or 12% were successful in obtaining a training position. There is clearly a backlog of IMGs who are eligible to receive the supplementary training they need to become eligible for licensure to practice in Canada should sufficient capacity be available.
For those who are not eligible, opportunities should be provided to achieve credentials in other health professions such as physician assistants or paramedics. A recent pilot project in Ontario was funded to allow IMGs to qualify and work as physician assistants in supervised practice settings.
Against this backdrop, it is no small wonder that Canada ranks 26th out of 29 OECD countries in the ratio of physicians per 1,000 population. For the past decade Canada's ratio has stood at 2.1 physicians per 1,000 population - one-third below the OECD average of 3.0 in 2003.
Over the years, medicine has worked hard to promote national standards for medical education and the practice of medicine in Canada.
Since 1912 the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) has been responsible for promoting a uniform standard qualification to practice medicine for all physicians across Canada. This qualification, known as the Licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada (LMCC) is obtained by being successful on a two-part Qualifying Examination.
While licensure of physicians is a provincial/territorial responsibility, there is a national standard for portable eligibility for licensure that was adopted in 1992 by the Federation of Medical Licensing (now Regulatory) Authorities of Canada (FMRAC), the Association of Canadian Medical Colleges (now Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada) (AFMC) and the MCC. The basis of this standard is that "in all provinces except Quebec the basis for licensure for most trainees will be the successful completion of the two-part Qualifying Examination of the Medical Council of Canada plus certification by either the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC)". A similar standard is applied by the Collège des médecine du Quèbec.
This standard also applies to IMGs, although the provincial/territorial licensing bodies have the ability to grant exemptions in particular circumstances.
SHORT, MEDIUM AND LONG TERM STRATEGY
The CMA has advocated a short, medium and longer term strategy for integrating more IMGs into the Canadian medical workforce.
In the short term the federal government should provide funding to clear the backlog of qualified physicians and other health professionals eligible to pursue supplementary training.
In the medium term the federal government needs to work with the provincial and territorial governments and key stakeholders in the development of sufficient health professional education and training opportunities to accommodate:
* Canadians who want to pursue careers as health professionals;
* Currently practising health professionals who require supplementary training or who wish to retrain;
* Internationally trained health professionals who are permanent residents and citizens of Canada who require supplementary training; and
* International trained health professionals, non-residents of Canada who wish to pursue postgraduate training as visa trainees.
In the long term Canada needs to adopt a policy commitment of increased self-sufficiency in the education and training of health professionals in Canada.
In progressing these strategies I would stress the importance of the need for the federal government to engage the national health professional associations, as this is critical in moving the agenda forward. I would cite as one success story the outcomes of the multi-partite Canadian Task Force on Licensure of International Medical Graduates, which brought together federal and provincial/territorial governments and key medical organizations.
Several initiatives are underway in follow-up to its 2004 report. An IMG database is being developed by the Canadian post-MD Education Registry of AFMC, sponsored by the federal government's Foreign Credential Recognition Program. The Physician Credentials Registry of Canada (PCRC) which is being developed under the leadership of the Medical Council of Canada (MCC) and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FMRAC) will reduce duplication and increase the efficiency of data collection by providing a centralized uniform process to obtain primary source verification of a physician's diploma and other core medical credentials. Several provinces have greatly enhanced their ability to integrate IMGs, including supervised assessment programs in the community. We look forward to seeing results from a similar task force that is underway for nursing.
CANADIAN AGENCY FOR ASSESSMENT AND RECOGNITION OF FOREIGN CREDENTIALS
In conclusion, I would like to offer some ideas for the implementation of the Canadian Agency for the Assessment and Recognition of Foreign Credentials that was included in the 2006 federal budget.
The Constitution Act 1867 clearly assigns the majority of responsibility for the delivery of health care to the provinces. On this basis, the licensure of physicians and other health professionals should continue to be a matter of provincial/territorial jurisdiction. In the case of medicine however, Canada has been well-served by the national standard for medical licensure that has been promoted by the MCC in concert with the national certification standards that are set by the RCPSC and CFPC.
Based on the foregoing, it is proposed that the broad mandate for the Canadian agency is to promote and facilitate the adoption and awareness of national standards for certification and licensure with clearly articulated procedures for the assessment of the credentials of internationally trained professionals and pathways to licensure to practice in Canada. This might include the following activities:
* promote understanding among educational institutions and professional organizations about the implications of the various international agreements that Canada is party to (e.g., NAFTA, WTO);
* promote a sharing of leading practices between different disciplines;
* facilitate international exchanges with regulatory bodies, within and between disciplines;
* develop an evaluation framework that can assess the extent to which processes for the assessment of foreign credentials are fair, accessible, coherent, transparent and rigorous;
* develop template materials that will help promote international sharing of information about career prospects in Canada for various occupations;
* fund development and pilot projects on the application of information technology solutions; and
* serve as a focal point for federal/provincial/territorial administrative requirements.
I would stress that this will only be effective if representatives from the education and regulatory authorities and the practising community are at the table.
Canadian Medical Association Ottawa, September 21, 2006