I’ve taken on this new role in the innovation ministry in September, and I’ve gone from 1 minister to 4 ministers, and it’s extremely difficult for me to be there in Vancouver, but I wish you all the best with the conference and I hope it’s a big success.
I’ll keep my remarks short because I understand that there will probably be a desire to ask questions, or at least have a conversation. So, all of you will know that the Trudeau government has made GBA plus, which was already a policy on the books at the federal level, but has made it a real priority. And this is my language not the government’s, but to take this really seriously; really try to drive the use of gender-based analysis deeper into the policy development process; and the government has turned Status of Women Canada into a full-fledged ministry, put additional resources and emphasis on matters around gender, and trying to take into account sex and gender differences in policy development.
So, I would say our GBA work at Health was okay, but it was maybe more perfunctory than people would want. And so I think the thinking was, “how do we try to make this a little bit more profound, and build it a little bit more systematically into the work we do as a department? And not just have it be a form you fill out, a way station on the way to a cabinet meeting, or on the way to announcing a program.”
And so, what we did was we did a couple of things. One of them was as follows: we had had some experience with another priority, which was transparency, where we had traditionally not operated in a transparent way; that’s not to say that we were secretive, but for a very long time, the department did not operate in a manner in which it needed to disclose publicly all of its activity. I mean, we didn’t always live in the kind of fishbowl, 24-hour news cycle that we operate in now. The expectations for public transparency are much higher today than they were even when I arrived at the health ministry five years ago. And so we created an action plan on transparency and openness, in which each member of the management committee – for the pieces of the department for which they were responsible – had to come up with a series of concrete commitments around what they were going to do to immediately improve transparency, and the way in which their operations unfolded.
And they had action plans for which they were accountable, with metrics. And the action plans were rolled up and made public, and this was a process that was cyclical, and we would return to it, at the management table annually, to basically get a new set of commitments, to look at how we were doing. And actually, we managed to make quite a bit of progress, by making the process of transparency a top-level management priority, and something that was part of an action plan that had a systematic review process built into it.
And what we wanted to do, was make something that looked a little bit like that for Gender Based Analysis plus. Part of the problem was, in some respects, that we didn’t have enough internal capacity to really understand what it was that we didn’t know. And we didn’t want to necessarily start off by promising to change the world, but what we wanted to do was to get going on an action plan and look at areas where there were some obvious ways where we could do better at incorporating sex and gender differences into the work we did. In order to help us do that, we partnered with the Institute of Gender and Health at CIHR. And we set aside some funding in the department to create a pot of money in which we would incentivize managers in the department, from various branches, to partner up with researchers from IGH to work through what the sex and gender issues were that were at play in the various policy files we had as a department. With the aim being to try and build in early, evidence-based considerations around sex and gender.
So, I’ll just give you one example of this. We had a symposium, where Dr. Tannenbaum and some of her researchers from IGH came. We had managers from the department who launched this with a symposium, and this process is now part of an annual planning cycle, in which the aim is to work with the research community on actual policy files that we’re working on, to try to build early on research considerations on sex and gender into the work that we’re doing.
So, the one example I’ll give, is that I led the legalization of cannabis; that was a major file that Health Canada was responsible for. We had enough data to know that there are very significant sex and gender differences around the issue of cannabis use, addiction and behavioral patterns. But we didn’t really have a good handle on why that is, what it might mean for public health campaigns, for how products are sold, packaged and marketed. So basically, Health Canada is responsible for the regulation of the cannabis supply chain, and for the legalization and roll out of all of these products, and for the public health interventions around them. And we wanted to ensure that we began to really consider seriously some of the sex and gender considerations in the development of policy. So rather than have it be a form that we fill out, after we’ve done all of the work, as the last step before going to the cabinet meeting, we wanted to have these considerations built in right at the front end. And we had a project, which we worked with at IGH, around cannabis from a sex and gender point of view.
So anyways, thank you very much for inviting me, I hope it was at least somewhat interesting. I’m now at a new department, and I think one of the challenges in formulating an industrial policy and competition policy is, how do we think of what GBA is, in a department that’s very economically focused, not social policy focused, where frankly a lot of people may not immediately see the connection? So that’s a job we have to do here, and we’re just starting.