CAUT expressed strong support for proposed federal government legislation establishing the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to replace the Medical Research Council of Canada.
In testimony before the Standing Committee on Health on Bill C-13 earlier this month, CAUT executive director Jim Turk praised the clearly stated objectives for the CIHR of creating new knowledge and translating it into improved health for Canadians, developing more effective health services and strengthening the Canadian health care system.
CAUT also praised the legislation's broad conception of health which extends to "the health of populations, societal and cultural dimensions of health, and environmental influences on health."
CAUT did express two ways in which Bill-13 could be improved through amendment. One concerns the requirement for the CIHR to promote commercialization.
Turk drew the Committee's attention to a statement by a subcommittee of CIHR's interim governing council that "public health objectives and the objectives of the private sector do not always coincide. For this reason, the Interim Governing Council of the CIHR has affirmed that public health objectives have primacy in CIHR's policies and programs over economic development objectives."
"The wording in Section 4(i) of the bill is contrary to this statement," Turk said. "This section imposes an explicit obligation on the CIHR to promote commercialization of health research. It should be removed from the legislation."
CAUT also advocated changes for appointment of members to the CIHR's governing council. Current wording would limit their arm's length relationship to the government since they would be appointed to hold office "during pleasure." Turk suggested this should be replaced with wording that would allow removal of members only for "cause."
Turk also noted the absence of any reference to conflict of interest. With the growing number of medical researchers being threatened by pharmaceutical companies because of adverse research findings, Turk suggested the legislation should be amended to assure no one representing major commercial interests in health care be eligible to sit on the CIHR's governing council.
"The CIHR governing council will ultimately be responsible for funding the bulk of health research in Canada. It must be, and must be perceived to be, untainted by private commercial interests," Turk said.
It is expected that Bill C-13 will proceed to second and third reading quickly.