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Liberals want province's chief medical officer of health to have more independence

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin says if the top doctor were no longer required to report through the Department of Health, his recommendations could be more transparent
012921 - strang - covid mask
Dr. Robert Strang at a COVID-19 briefing on Friday, Jan. 29, 2021

Nova Scotia's Liberal Party wants the province's chief medical officer of health to have more independence.

Liberal Leader Iain Rankin has tabled an amendment to the Health Protection Act that would see the chief medical officer of health -- the position currently held by Dr. Robert Strang -- act independently of government by becoming an officer of the House of Assembly, similar to our province's chief electoral officer.

He says if the top doctor were no longer required to report through the Department of Health, his recommendations could be more transparent.

"At the end of the day, government makes the decision on restrictions, on whether or not certain policies are enacted," Rankin explained. "But ... just like the auditor general makes recommendations, this would provide that independence."

Rankin believes the move is necessary as case numbers and hospitalizations continue to climb during this sixth wave of COVID-19.

He points to what he calls "competing messages" when it comes to masking, with mandates being lifted, but public health officials strongly recommending Nova Scotians continue to wear them. They remain a requirement in public schools and at the legislature.

Dr. Strang held a media availability last Thursday -- along with his deputy chief, Dr. Shelley Deeks -- where he was asked if he thought the mask requirement had been lifted prematurely.

"I can't comment on the decision that's been made by elected government on removing the mandate, but the very clear recommendation from myself and from Public Health is that people continue to wear masks where previously they would have been required to wear masks," Strang stated.

Dalhousie University professor of political science, Lori Turnbull, points out there could be a downside to allowing a public servant to speak out against the government.

"The point of keeping the public service advice kind of anonymous, where you don't put it out in the public, is so they can feel totally free to say whatever they need to say to the political leadership and not worry that they have to wear it in some way," she explained.

"If you get public servants doing that, then they end up being on the hot seat explaining 'why didn't government take their advice,' and 'what do you think about that?' ... That's not what they signed up for, not even Dr. Strang who can clearly take a lot, that's still not his job."

Rankin admits, with a Progressive Conservative majority government, his bill is unlikely to pass.

"However, we have seen the premier no longer visible alongside Public Health when they appear for questioning, and we've seen a distancing from what Public Health has been recommending ... so it's our obligation as opposition to ask questions and that's what we intend to do, including introducing bills to give government options."


Meghan Groff

About the Author: Meghan Groff

Born in Michigan, raised in Ontario, schooled in Indiana and lives in Nova Scotia; Meghan is the editor for CityNews Halifax.
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