Swine Flu Chaos: Why Canada needs a National Science Advisor (Again!)
Confusion over swine flu vaccination continues in Canada. With deaths of seemingly healthy children and outbreaks popping up in different parts of the country, parents struggle with questions about the safety and availability of treatment.
Clearly, there is a need for a credible single voice to cut through the disinformation and politics and set the record straight about swine flu, and its treatment, for Canadians. Someone speaking for the government, but with established scientific, health or medical credentials to allow them independence from it.
That is, we need something like the “Surgeon General” in the United States, who provides leadership and credibility to the Government’s efforts on health and medicine. In fact, Obama’s appointee (although held up in Senate confirmation) is now being fast-tracked through Senate Confirmation because of the swine flu issue. American politicians of both Republican and Democratic stripes recognize the need for a clear voice on matters of urgent public health.
Even better than this kind of Executive Office, would be an independent Parliamentary National Science Adviser, who reports to Parliament, rather than the Executive. The National Science Adviser could also play a role in communicating accurate information about Canadian health care abroad– in the United States and Europe– as neither the Government, nor the opposition, seem very enamored with that responsibility.
Unfortunately, Canada has no such similar position. Well, we used to. In 2004, then Prime Minister Paul Martin created the position of an independent National Science Adviser to “provide expert advice on the government’s role in matters of science and science policy”. However, soon after the Conservatives came to power, Harper dismissed then National Science Adviser Arthur Carty, and eliminated the position altogether.
As confusion mounts, and shortages and delays in swine flu vaccine delivery continue, maybe now the Harper Government will rethink that decision.