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Politicians still making decisions with new board of health

Designed to leave politics out, Ottawa board still loaded with city councillors

The City of Ottawa’s public health board may have changed to keep city council from making politically motivated decisions, but politicians will still have more sway than they ought to, some say.

“I think it’s a good thing we’re going to have a board of health comprised of community members,” says Jay Koornstra, executive director of Bruce House. “It’s more in line with how health authority should be dealt with. My only reservation  is it will still be weighted with people from city council.”

Currently, all 23 councillors and the mayor serve on the city’s public health board. They vote on issues and control the work of Dr Isra Levy, the city’s medical officer of health. In a statement from Levy’s office, the changes will include:

•    An 11-member board, composed of six councillors and five citizen representatives;
•    A medical officer of health appointed by the board;
•    Ottawa Public Health employees remain employees of the City of Ottawa;
•    Council appointing the first citizen members;
•    The Board of Health reports annually to the City on its operations.

The new public health board will be similar to Ottawa’s police services board and the community housing corporation, the Ottawa Citizen reported March 25.

Koornstra says the new public health board is a better management strategy because “it’s not just politicians making decisions on public health.”

Kathleen Cummings, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa and vocal proponent of the pipe program, was part of the city’s consultation process about the board of health. In 2008, she suggested just three of the 11 seats on the board of health should be given to councillors. At the time, she told Xtra she was leery about having a board of health dominated by politicians.

“Anything is better than the system we have now. But I would question how independent it is when there are 11 members and six of them are councillors.”

Somerset councillor Diane Holmes says it’s about time the province went through with legislation and changed the way public health works. She says it’s a long-term benefit to the health of Ottawans.

She promises that the other five members of the board will be chosen based on their knowledge of health issues.

“I am delighted to get the new board of health. We will now have decisions on health matters made by people who are community members and professionals in the matter of public health, says Holmes. “We will now have people understand the real health problems being discussed.”