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Rookie GTA MP Jane Philpott takes on health portfolio

Canada’s new Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott, may be a relative newcomer to the political sphere, but her career in health care spans three decades and two continents.

New health minister's agenda could include federal health accord, pharmacare

Rookie MP Jane Philpott takes on the complexities of the federal health accord and pharmacare 7:13

Canada's new Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Philpott, may be a relative newcomer to the political sphere, but her career in health care spans three decades and two continents.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed the 54-year-old MP for Markham—Stouffville to one of the country's most high-profile portfolios at Wednesday's swearing-in ceremony.

Philpott's experience as a health-care manager includes six years as Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital, a position she left in 2014 after she began to campaign for the Liberals.

Her new job, however, will require the political neophyte to negotiate with her provincial counterparts, all of whom oversee their own health-care systems.

Federal health accord

But while Canada's provinces have jurisdiction when it comes to the services they deliver, there are some major issues looming on the national health-care front.

Negotiating a new federal Health Accord — introduced by Paul Martin's Liberals in 2004 — could be among the first. The Liberals campaigned on a promise to negotiate a new accord with long-term funding after the Conservatives announced they would not renew the plan when it expired in 2014.

The 2004 accord promised that Ottawa would increase its annual health transfer to the provinces by six per cent a year over the ensuing decade. But the Harper government told the provinces it would phase out those increases after 2016-2017 and that any future boosts to the provincial health transfers would match the growth in gross domestic product.

The decision set off protests at the time, although numerous economists called it good fiscal management. But health-care professionals, patient advocates and unions say the decision didn't reflect the cost of caring for a population that's living longer and is therefore often more sickly in old age.

Pharmacare

There's also been an increasing push for Ottawa to develop a national pharmacare program, with more than 115 physicians endorsing the Pharmacare 2020 report, which calls for certain medications to be publicly funded.  

It's unclear exactly where Philpott stands on these issues as she could not be reached by CBC Toronto on Wednesday.

In launching her campaign, she said she wanted to go into politics to make "society healthier." She built her first career on making health care more accessible, especially to those in Africa.

Philpott began working as a family doctor at the Markham Stouffville Hospital in 1998 after returning from a nine-year stint in Niger. She credits that experience as inspiration for her non-profit organization, Give A Day, which got its start on Dec. 1 —  World AIDS Day — in 2004.

Give A Day

It was on that day that Philpott challenged her colleagues during a staff dinner at Markham Stouffville Hospital to donate a day's pay to an organization that would use it to fight the spread of HIV-AIDS.

That year, the clinicians raised $33,000 for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Philpott's cause, unofficially starting Give A Day.

Since then, Give A Day reports it has donated $4 million toward helping people get access to antiretroviral treatment and care, according to figures on its website.

Philpott has continually returned to Africa, both as a practising physician and as a professor, despite losing one of her daughters to meningococcal meningitis in Niger as a toddler.

A friend told The Globe and Mail that Philpott felt compelled, in spite of her loss, to return during a famine in the region.

She's since worked with the University of Toronto to launch a family medicine degree at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. When the inaugural class graduates in 2016, they will become the first family physicians in a country of more than 90 million people, according to a February report in U of T News.

Philpott is married and has four children. Her husband works for CBC.

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