More Science Position Shuffling – Could It Be Beneficial?

This time the apparent shuffling is in Canada.

This commentary in The Toronto Star notes a plan by the Canadian government to change the status of the country’s Chief Public Health Officer (CPHO).  Part of the current omnibus budget legislation before the Canadian Parliament, the Officer would no longer be the chief executive of the Public Health Agency (PHA), but simply an officer.  A President would be appointed to run the PHA.  Presumably this would mean that the President would become the public health face of the agency and the government, with the CPHO holding a strictly advisory role.

Not being a Canadian or engaged with public health, I don’t have the authors’ background with the circumstances that brought about the PHA and the CPHO in the first place.  I do note that this is a relatively new (about 10 years) position, and that it is rare to find appointed science advisory positions – certainly in the United States – that also have significant managerial and/or executive responsibilities.  Certainly the environment for scientists in Canada suffers from concerns (and not just the perception) about how the government (the Prime Minister mainly) uses them and their work.  It’s not surprising to see reactions to this move as yet another example of a government minimizing the role of science in policy and in dealings with the public.

But is it possible that the proposed new arrangement for the Public Health Agency could address the continued problems it faces?  If there’s good communications between the President and the CPHO (who would have institutional memory, at least as long as the current occupant remains), why couldn’t they work together to better serve the Canadian people?  Put another way, if they omnibus bill passes, as the authors expect it to, how could this arrangement work out for the best?

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