December 8, 2015 6:45 pm
Updated: December 8, 2015 8:14 pm

The Ministers: Dr. Jane Philpott takes charge of Canada’s health-care system

WATCH: Jane Philpott spent decades working as a family doctor in Canada and overseas, and she brings her experience to her new role as Canada's health minister. Jacques Bourbeau has her story.

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Global News correspondents are sitting down with the new cabinet ministers who will shape policy in this country, to find out where they came from and where they want to take this country. Global National will air their stories in a new series called “The Ministers”.

OTTAWA — Health Minister Dr. Jane Philpott says she’s not convinced a lack of money is the biggest problem facing Canada’s health-care system.

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The new health minister, who has worked for decades as a family physician, has been given the job of negotiating a new health accord with the provinces.

Currently, Ottawa is boosting health transfers to the provinces by six per cent a year, but those large increases will come to an end in 2017-18.

Philpott says when she sits down with her provincial counterparts her focus will be less on how much more money Ottawa needs to give to the provinces and more about reforms to the health-care system.

“Money isn’t necessarily where the problem is,” she told Global News in an interview. “I don’t think Canadians necessarily want us to spend more on health care.”

Philpott believes the negotiations should focus on changing the way health care is delivered to Canadians.

She believes making those changes will lessen the financial pressures on Canada’s medical system.

“What we’re looking at doing largely will be system reform. What needs to be transformed in the way we deliver care. In the kinds of incentives that are provided around care.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to do a lot of work without necessarily spending a lot more money, and, in fact, there’s a lot of room for saving money.”

READ MORE: The Ministers: Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr on rebuilding lives

The health minister says providing Canadians with better access to home care and taking steps to reducing the costs of pharmaceutical drugs are just some of the steps that need to be taken to make the medical system more efficient and cost-effective.

Philpott says the fact that she has been a family physician for decades gives her a “tremendous advantage” as she begins to chart a future course for the health care system.

WATCH: Jane Philpott discusses pharmaceutical prices and the importance of a national pharmacare program in Canada.

Before running for office, she served as the chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital.

Her medical career also brought her to Niger, where she practised family medicine and helped train village health workers.

It was there that tragedy struck Philpott’s family.

Her first born child, her daughter Emily, died from meningococcemia. She was two and a half years old.

But Philpott refuses to view this tragedy solely through a personal lens.

“It was the worst day of my life. But at the time my daughter died in Niger, 27 per cent of kids in Niger didn’t live to see their fifth birthday,” she says. “And to me, that’s completely unacceptable in a world that can send people to the moon.”

When she returned to Canada, Philpott threw herself into helping raise funds to battle the AIDS epidemic. She founded Give a Day to World AIDS, which has raised more than $4 million to help HIV/AIDS patients in Africa.

Now, as Canada’s new health minister, Philpott has to address a wide variety of health issues.

One of the more thorny is assisted suicide.

A deadline is looming for the federal government to come up with new legislation that will respond to a Supreme Court ruling, that said Canadians have the right to end their lives with the help of a physician.

READ MORE: Right-to-die opponents say Canadians need better palliative care

When asked if she, personally, as a physician, would be comfortable helping a patient end their life, Philpott refused to divulge her personal beliefs.

“While I have my own personal opinions on certain issues, as the Health Minister it’s important that I look at this from a much broader perspective than simply my own.”

The one part of her personal life she is comfortable discussing is music.

Philpott leads singing at the Mennonite Church she attends in Stouffville and she says it brings her great joy.

“I love music. I love four part harmony. I love when people can sing together. It makes me happy.”

And Philpott’s favourite song? It’s the hymn Be Still My Soul — a song that carries great personal weight, and meaning.

“It’s a song that was sung at my daughter’s funeral,” she says.

“It talks about patience and bearing burdens and it helps me to understand that no matter what trials we face in life, we sometimes need to be patient. That we sometimes need to bear the burdens of one another. And, it’s a song that ultimately gives me hope.”

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