Social Media

Friday, 5 December 2014

Can neural networks benefit public sector projects?

by Simaan AbouRizk

Three things to know about neural networks:

1. Neural networks are a form of artificial intelligence that can find hidden relationships between data to predict certain outcomes. These networks learn to make predictions based on input data. They “learn,” or are trained, from existing data sets, by establishing analytical relationships between certain features and outcomes. They are “taught” to predict output based on the input given them, e.g., from past projects.

2. Neural network analysis can be useful in many public sector contexts, including understanding the relationship between crime and street lighting, estimating property assessment values, or estimating construction costs. For example, I applied neural networks to a City of Edmonton tunnelling project, at the preliminary design phase, to develop an estimation aid. Data input included cost per meter for the tunnel and the following properties: depth, length, diameter, good/bad geotechnical conditions, and features from 20+ past projects. The neural network was trained to forecast cost per linear meter of tunnel when the specific features were present. This method has also been tested on a number of other projects.

3. When a designer wants to estimate the cost of a project, a neural network can do a quick approximation, with the click of one button, and with the input of a few tunnel features like size, depth, location, ground conditions, etc. Neural networks are a simple, quick and cost-effective method for estimation. 

Three myths about neural networks:

Myth 1: Neural networks are intelligent.

Reality: They are not intelligent. They “learn” by analyzing multiple sets of data and establishing relationships between certain factors and certain outputs. They simply provide a method of establishing analytical relationships, like statistical regression, but are easier to use and more accurate.

Myth 2: Neural networks always provide the correct answer.

Reality: A neural network can only forecast based on what it has seen (the data that it has been fed). If you input data with features outside of the boundaries of the data it was trained on, it will give you incorrect predictions.

Myth 3: It takes an enormous amount of effort to build a neural network.

Reality: Neural networks are very simple and cost-effective to build. There are many tools available that can assist in application of neural networks.

Simaan AbouRizk holds an NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair in Construction Engineering and Management and a Canada Research Chair in Operation Simulation at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Alberta, where he is a Professor in the Hole School of Construction Engineering. He received the ASCE Peurifoy Construction Research Award in 2008. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2013. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

How do migrant domestic workers fare in Canada?

by Ethel Tungohan

Three things you need to know about Canada’s migrant domestic workers:

1.   Since the early 20th century, Canada has recruited domestic workers from abroad. European domestic workers automatically received Canadian citizenship. Domestic workers from other developing countries were only allowed into Canada on temporary work contracts.

2.  Improvements in migrant domestic workers’ lives occurred because of migrant domestic workers’ activism. Notably, migrant domestic workers’ activism in the late 1970s led them to qualify for the right to Canadian permanent residency.

3.  There is a wide range of migrant domestic worker organizations in Canada, each with different mandates and activities. These organizations give migrant domestic workers important social networks and form an important part of Canada’s migrant domestic workers’ movement.

Three myths about migrant domestic worker programs:

Myth # 1: Most migrant domestic workers come to Canada because their family members recruit them.

Reality: Relatives hired only 1 in 10 out of all migrant domestic workers. Employment agencies recruited the majority.

Myth # 2: Migrant domestic work is “easy.”

Reality: Migrant domestic workers frequently do not get paid for all of their working hours.  Because they can only apply for Canadian citizenship after they’ve completed their work contracts, the power their employers have over them is magnified.

Myth # 3: Transitioning to life in Canada after the program is seamless.

Reality: Migrant domestic workers report being discriminated in the Canadian job market because work places generally do not see domestic work as valid Canadian work experience. Most spend a lot of money on educational upgrading courses in order to qualify for jobs outside domestic work. Still, nearly all caregivers see their futures in Canada and are happy to be here.

Ethel Tungohan is a Grant Notley Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta. 

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What are the politics of flat pensions in Canada and the UK?

by Daniel Béland and Alex Waddan

This recent, 2014 Canadian Public Administration article explores the issue of policy change in relationship to universal flat-rate pensions created in both the UK (Basic State Pension) and Canada (Old Age Security) in the post-World War II years.

Three things to know about the development of old age security:

1.  In the field of universal public pensions, there has been more policy change in the UK than in Canada.

2.   This contrast between the development of the Basic State Pension (UK) and Old Age Security (Canada), is partially explained by the extent of social mobilization involving current and future beneficiaries.

3.   Our study suggests that adopting a long-term time frame is necessary to assess the issue of transformative yet incremental change.

Three myths about pension reform:

Myth #1: Contributory pensions such as the Basic State Pension in the UK are always more resilient politically than benefits funded out of general revenues like Old Age Security in Canada.

Reality: Our study suggests this is not necessarily the case, as Old Age security has proved more resilient than the Basic State Pension, despite the fact that the latter is contributory and the former is not.

Myth #2: Universal transfer programs like Old Age Security are facing a rapid and irremediable decline.  

Reality: Despite the adoption of a fiscal clawback in 1989, Old Age Security has proved remarkably resilient as a program and, during the Chrétien years, the only major attempt to replace it was later abandoned.

Myth #3: Contributory pension benefits are almost impossible to curtail in a direct and explicit way.

Reality: The case of pension reform in the UK during the Thatcher years suggests this is not true and that, under certain political conditions, major retrenchment is possible. 

Interested in learning more about your own public sector pension, and how it fits into your retirement planning?  Consider attending "Retirement Planning in the Public Service: Learning to Adapt to the Tides of Change", Wednesday, November 26, in Edmonton.  Click here for more information.

Daniel Béland is Professor and Canada Research Chair in Public Policy (Tier 1) at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (University of Saskatchewan campus). He has published a dozen books and more than 90 peer-reviewed articles on fiscal and social policy, in Canada and elsewhere around the world. For more information:

Alex Waddan is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. He has published many academic papers as well as The Politics of Social Welfare (Edward Elgar), Clinton's Legacy? (Palgrave) and The Politics of Policy Change (Georgetown University Press; with Daniel Béland). For more information:

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Should government scientists be restricted in their public communications?

by Katie Gibbs

Three things to know about government scientists' communications:

1.  Government scientists’ ability to communicate with the public has become more restricted in recent years. There have been many examples where government scientists could not discuss their research with journalists, and a survey of government scientists showed that 90% do not feel they can speak freely about their research. 

2.  This report, the first assessment of media policies for government scientists in Canada, shows that policies do not promote open science communication, nor protect against political interference.

3.  Media policies for scientists in Canada are far more restrictive than our neighbours to the South: U.S. policies received an average grade of a 69% in 2008 and 75% in 2013, compared to the 2014 Canadian average of 55%.

Three myths about government scientists' communications::

Myth 1: Government communication policies are only important for scientists.

Reality: Open science communication is important for all Canadians. Current media policies could prevent taxpayer-funded scientists from sharing their expertise on important issues, ranging from drug policy to climate change. A healthy democracy requires open communication and informed public debate.

Myth 2: All federal scientists are subject to the same media policy.

Reality: While there is a government-wide communication policy, most departments have developed their own policies that differ greatly in how well they promote open science communication (ranging from B- to F).

Myth 3: Departments with the most complaints of government scientists being muzzled have the worst media policies.

Reality: Many examples of scientists who have been prevented from communicating their research have come from Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. These departments scored in the mid-range compared with other departments. The highest scoring department was, in fact, the department of National Defence.

Katie Gibbs is a biologist, community organizer and advocate for science and evidence-based policies. She’s the co-founder and Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy, a national, non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that promotes science integrity and the transparent use of evidence in government decision-making. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Can Community Gardens and Farmers’ Market Relieve Food Desert Problems? A Study in Edmonton, Canada

By Haoluan Wang, Feng Qiu, and Brent Swallow

This research was published in the December 2014 edition of Applied Geography.

Three things you need to know about Food Desert and Fresh Food Assessment: 

  1. Food deserts are commonly defined as regions that lack access to healthy foods. Typically, a food desert is referred as a populated low-income area with limited access to full-service supermarkets.

  2. There were 58 registered community gardens and 14 approved farmers’ markets in the City of Edmonton by the year 2013.

  3. Eight food deserts are identified based on low accessibility and three based on high needs across the city, and community gardens can relieve food desert problems for inner-suburban neighborhoods.

Three myths about Food Desert and Fresh Food Assessment:

Myth #1: Food deserts are always in the suburban and peripheral areas.

The Reality: None of the food deserts we found is in peripheral regions. Most of the identified food desert neighborhoods are scattered in the inner city.

Myth #2: Community gardens and farmers markets can always relieve food desert problems as they add the fresh food supplies.

The Reality: Community gardens can only relieve food desert problems in inner-suburban neighborhoods, while for farmers’ markets, there seems to be no significant effect.

Myth #3: Food deserts are neighborhoods that have the longest distance to fresh food suppliers (e.g., supermarkets).  

The Reality: Not really. Food deserts are not only defined by the proximity to supermarkets, but also by demographic and socio-economic characteristics.

Haoluan Wang, is a Master student in Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. His research interests include food desert assessment, land use policy, and agricultural land conservation.

Feng Qiu, is an Assistant Professor in Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her research interests include agricultural policy, price and market analysis, risk and insurance modeling.

Brent Swallow, is a Professor and former Chair in Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta. His research interests include watershed management, rural poverty and economic development market-based instruments for environmental management.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The #RoadTo2015: What can we expect from the next federal election?

by Jared Wesley

Three things to know about the 2015 Federal Election

1.  This is a fixed date election, set for October 19, 2015.  While the fixed date election law has been in place since 2007, if held on that date, this would mark the first time that an election has been held at the prescribed time.  In 2008 and 2011, amid minority governments, Parliament was dissolved in advance of the fixed date.  The law does not prohibit the calling of such “snap” elections before the fixed date.  Indeed, the dates established by the Act are not legally binding, and do not disrupt the power of the Prime Minister to call on the Governor General to drop the writs for a new election, nor the power of the Governor General to grant such a request.  There is much debate as to whether the Prime Minister could or should call an early election, but at this stage, all signs point to October 19, 2015.

2.  There are new seats and new riding boundaries.  Given population growth in certain parts of the country, a total of thirty (30) new seats will be added to the House of Commons following the next election.  The House will grow by just under 10 percent, reaching 338 Members of Parliament (MPs).  At the same time, riding boundaries have been redrawn to ensure that all Canadians are represented relatively equitably and appropriately.  All told, these changes will mean new competitive dynamics in several regions of the country, and introduce a host of new MPs to Parliament.

3.  There are several new national party leaders.  2015 will mark the first time New Democratic Party leader, Thomas Mulcair, and Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, will lead their respective parties into a national campaign, as will Bloc Quebecois leader Mario Beaulieu.  This compares with Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper, who has led a national party in four previous campaigns (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011), and Elizabeth May, who has campaigned as leader of the Green Party in the previous two elections.

Three myths about the 2015 Federal Election

Myth #1:   The campaign is likely feature a “great debate” about the future of Canada

Reality:  Canadians have seldom experienced grand clashes over public policy in the lead up to their general elections.  The 1988 “Free Trade Election” was arguably the most recent campaign to pit parties against one another in a great debate over the future direction of the country.  Rather than engaging in a full-throated defence of their position on each and every issue (from health care to foreign affairs), Canadian parties fight campaigns by competing to elevate “their issues” to the top of the agenda. In other words, rather than featuring a great debate, campaigns are more a competition to define the ‘ballot question’.  Right-leaning parties seek to make the campaign all about tax relief and other issues that they “own” (i.e., those that voters trust them to handle more than any other parties), while left-leaning parties try to elevate topics like social programs to the top of voters’ minds.    Because Canadian voters are more or less in consensus on the major issues of the day (most favor tax relief and enhanced social programs, as illogical as that may appear), parties are unlikely to venture a minority opinion on issues that their opponents own.  Like ships passing in the night, these parties tend not to engage each other on the others’ ‘owned issues’, but rather try to de-emphasize the others’ agendas and promote their own.

Myth #2:  Citizens are likely to experience a pan-Canadian contest.  

Reality:  Different parties have varying rates of popularity across the country.  In recent elections, the Conservatives have performed well in Ontario and the West; the Liberals, in Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic region; and the New Democrats, in Ontario and Quebec.  Accordingly, Canadian parties have devoted different levels of campaign resources to different regions of the country, and different ridings, depending on where they are most competitive.  This means that voters in southern Ontario may experience a close three-way race between the Conservatives, New Democrats, and Liberals, while those in parts of Montreal may experience a two-way contest between the NDP and Liberals.  Voters in so-called “safe seats” (in rural parts of the Prairies where the Conservatives dominate, for instance) may not see a competitive campaign at all.  To call the 2015 campaign a single election neglects the fact that each region, indeed each riding, features its own unique dynamics.

Myth #3:  Understanding Canadian politics and elections is too difficult for the average would-be voter.  

Reality:  To help break down some of the complexity, and bring the top issues to the forefront and in greater focus, IPAC Edmonton is hosting a free, online event on October 20, 2014 (12:00pm MT / 2:00pm ET). The live panel features insights from three leading experts on Canadian politics:  Susan Delacourt (Toronto Star), Éric Grenier  (, and Peter Loewen (University of Toronto).  Tune in live on YouTube (, and Twitter (#RoadTo2015).  The event will be archived on YouTube for future viewing.

Jared Wesley earned his PhD in political science from the University of Calgary. He is an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Alberta, adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba, and Pracademic Chair of the Institute for Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) (Edmonton Regional Group). Find him on LinkedIn, Twitter (@ipracademic), and Flipboard.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Complementary and Alternative Medicine: To Use or Not to Use?

By Sunita Vohra and Heather Boon

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is often defined as “health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine”. Examples include natural products (e.g. herbs, vitamins, probiotics) and practices (e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine, massage therapy, mindfulness meditation).   

Three things to know about CAM:

  1. CAM is commonly used used; 70% of Canadians use CAM (most often products, but also a variety of practices).

  2. CAM is not often discussed; most people use CAM without discussion with their health care provider.

  3. It is important to ask every patient at every visit about all the things they are doing to support their health - please give examples to help them understand what you mean (e.g. vitamins, herbs, supplements, changing their diet, seeing other providers). Good care requires open communication

Three myths to dispel about CAM:

Myth #1: There is no evidence about CAM.

The Reality: There are thousands of randomized controlled trials about CAM.

Myth #2: Everything natural is safe.

The Reality: Anything that can help may have capacity to harm. Caution is necessary before mixing natural health products with prescription medicines.

Myth #3: Health care providers don't need to know about CAM use; it is a waste of time and there are no resources to help respond to patient questions.

The Reality: Many patients report positive experiences, which is highly relevant to providing patient-centered care - patient values, preferences, and beliefs matter. There are excellent evidence-based resources available to help inform health care providers.

More information can be found at Health topics A-Z from the National Centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and MedlinePlus: Herbs and Supplements

Sunita Vohra is a Centennial Professor at the University of Alberta, Dr. Sunita Vohra is a pediatrician and clinician scientist. Dr. Vohra is the founding director of Canada’s first academic pediatric integrative medicine program, the Complementary and Alternative Research and Education (CARE) program at the Stollery Children’s Hospital. In 2013, she was awarded the Dr. Rogers Prize for excellence in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and elected into the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, one of the highest honours for individuals in the Canadian health sciences community.

Heather Boon is a Professor and the Dean of the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto.  She is currently the Director of the Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research (IN-CAM) ( as well as the President of the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research ( ).

Thursday, 25 September 2014

LGBT People and Federal Health Policy: An Invisible Population?

By Nick J. Mulé and Miriam Smith

This research was published in the June 2014 edition of Canadian Public Administration.

Three things you need to know about LGBT People and Federal Health Policy:

  1. Despite major strides made on the legislative human rights front for LGBTs in Canada over the past 30 years, such progress has not extended into federal health policy for these communities.

  2. LGBT people have health care issues that are often overlooked in the current system. For example, transgender people have specific medical needs in transitioning and the LGBT population suffers disproportionately from certain cancers and mental health problems, often sparked or exacerbated by prejudice, stigmatization and discrimination.  

  3. Health professionals are not necessarily trained to address the specified needs of LGBTs, a situation not helped by the absence of federal health guidelines on LGBT health issues.

Three myths about LGBT People and Federal Health Policy:

Myth #1: Given the establishment of human rights based on sexual orientation and in some instances gender identity, and the higher profile and greater acceptance of LGBTs in Canadian society, they are now recognized in all sectors including health. 

The Reality: We found that Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada pay very little attention to LGBT health and that their documents and websites barely mention these populations.  

Myth #2: Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada have both prioritized an approach to health policy that considers social factors that affect health which by extension includes LGBTs.

The Reality: LGBTs are generally absent, yet even when sex and gender are mentioned in federal health policy, these are not taken to include LGBT people. 

Myth #3: Millions of federal dollars have been poured into the AIDS Strategy over the years addressing the health needs of LGBTs.

The Reality: This single-illness approach does not address the broad health needs of LGBTs.

Nick J. Mulé, PhD is an associate professor at the York University School of Social Work, where he teaches policy, theory and practice. His research interests include the social inclusion/exclusion of LGBTQ populations in social policy and service provision and the degree of their recognition as distinct communities in cultural, systemic, and structural contexts. He also engages in critical analysis of the LGBTQ movement and the development of queer liberation theory. A queer activist for many years, Nick is currently the founder and chairperson of Queer Ontario. In addition, he is a psychotherapist in private practice serving LGBTQ populations in Toronto.

Miriam Smith is professor in the of Social Science, York University, Toronto. Among other works, she is the author of Lesbian and Gay Rights in Canada: Social Movements and Equality-Seeking, 1971-1995(University of Toronto Press) and Political Institutions and Lesbian and Gay Rights in the United States and Canada (Routledge). Her research focuses on LGBTQ rights in law and public policy in comparative perspective as well as employment equity in the workplace. 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Do P3s constrain Canada’s capacity to address climate change?

by Joshua Newman and Anthony Perl

This research was published in Canadian Public Administration (June 2014):  "Partners in clime: Public-private partnerships and British Columbia's capacity to pursue climate policy objectives.

Public-private partnerships, also called “P3s”, allow the private sector to deliver services on behalf of the government, in areas as diverse as hospitals, highways, and prisons.

Three things to know about P3s and climate change:

1.  P3s are structured so that the private sector partner earns a profit over the life of the contract, usually in exchange for investing some capital and for taking on some portion of the risk involved in delivering the project.

2.  Climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts can be expensive in the short term. Private investors, who have considerable influence over P3 contracts, should in theory prefer to avoid onerous climate-related requirements.

3.  P3s are becoming increasingly popular, and climate change is growing as an important consideration in a variety of areas of public service delivery, especially in infrastructure development. It is possible that P3s could hamper governments’ efforts to address climate change.

We investigated the development of the Canada Line, a P3 expansion of the urban rail network in Vancouver, to determine how the participation of the private sector may have affected the government’s ability to advance its climate-related policy priorities.

Three myths about P3s and climate change:

Myth #1: Major infrastructure projects never take the environment into consideration when they are pursued through P3s.

Reality: Environmental considerations, including air quality, greenhouse gas reduction, and protection of waterways, were fundamental elements of the Canada Line P3 and were part of the criteria used to select the private sector partner.

Myth #2: P3s force governments to sign away their power to shape public service delivery.

Reality: The public sector has considerable control over how these agreements are designed and governed. In British Columbia, the provincial government used a collaborative approach to ensure that its original goals were met with minimal conflict.

Myth #3: P3s reduce the government’s capacity to implement climate change policy.

Reality: With effective leadership, the public sector can use P3s to further its climate policies. This includes the strategic use of arm’s length public agencies, tough negotiation tactics, and support for a multi-sector and multi-actor network of participants.

Joshua Newman is a research fellow in the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Simon Fraser University. His research interests include climate change, transportation, and the interaction between the public and private sectors for the delivery of public services. 

Anthony Perl is Professor of Urban Studies and Political Science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Before joining SFU, Anthony worked at the University of Calgary, the City University of New York, and Universite Lumiere in Lyon, France.  He received his undergraduate honours degree in Government from Harvard University, followed by an MA and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto.  He is the author of numerous scholarly articles on environmental, transportation and urban policy research as well as five books.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

How do we close the "mind gap" to address complex problems in public policy?

by Ted Casby

The complex problems that we face today, including (and especially) those that confront public policy makers, are not well suited to our default ways of thinking about the world. Income disparity between rich and poor, urban planning for higher population densities, terrorism, global warming – these are the kinds of challenges that demand greater cognitive sophistication.

Three things to know about today's complex problems:

  1. They are different than the kind of straightforward problems we routinely solve in our daily lives. And different than the challenges that dominated the lives of hundreds of generations of our ancestors.

  1. The cues we need to decipher complex problems are buried below the surface of immediately available information. And the feedback we get from interacting with them is delayed and ambiguous.

  1. Complexity arises from multiple causal factors interacting in intricate ways. So the key to addressing complex problems is uncovering the dynamic of these interactions.

Three myths about complex problems:

Myth #1:  "Blinking" gives us an edge in tackling complexity, as per Malcolm Gladwell's interpretation of how effective our intuitions are.

The Reality: Blinking, aka intuition, works only in the case where we have developed reliable expertise. It serves a crucial purpose in our everyday lives and is an important base from which to tackle complex problems. But our intuitions are often misleading when it comes to tackling situations that feel familiar, but are fundamentally different from other problems.

Myth #2:  To know something is to access a truth about the world.

The Reality:  Knowing is a feeling, described best by neurologist Robert Burton. It is the feeling of calm confidence that we have figured something out. But it is a psychological state that is entirely based on the subconscious trigger that our interpretation of the world is both internally consistent and consistent with everything else we have already stored in our memory banks. 

Myth #3:  Two heads are better than one.

The Reality:  Cognitive diversity is absolutely crucial to tackling complexity, as demonstrated by decision scientist Scott E. Page. However, groups of people are prone to unique vulnerabilities, such as groupthink. The benefits of cognitive diversity only accrue when discussion is facilitated by team leaders who know how to foster the kind of constructive dissent that deepens conversation, expands understanding and extends creativity.

Ted Cadsby, MFA, CFA, ICD.D ( is a corporate director, consultant, author and speaker on complexity and decision making. He was formerly an executive vice president of CIBC leading 18,000 employees. His newest book is Closing the Mind Gap: Making Smarter Decisions in a Hypercomplex World (BPS, 2014).

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Why create policy for assisted reproductive technology?

by: Dave Snow

While assisted reproductive technologies provide new reproductive opportunities for many, some fear that, unchecked, they have the potential to exploit women and commodify human life. Public policy is designed to prevent these negative outcomes.

Three things to know about Canadian assisted reproductive technology policy:

1.   Eleven years after a 1993 Royal Commission recommended national legislation, in 2004 the federal government passed the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, which created a number of criminal prohibitions and a national regulatory agency.

2.  In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down most non-criminal aspects of this legislation for violating provincial jurisdiction over health care.

3.  As a result, the Canadian policy status quo for assisted reproductive technologies is a patchwork of provincial, medical-professional, and some federal criminal policy.

Three myths about assisted reproductive technology policy in Canada:

Myth #1: The federal government lost all its regulatory authority in the 2010 Supreme Court decision.

The Reality: While the federal government lost its licensing authority and some regulatory power, the Court upheld its ability to create several regulations in this field, including those related to the reimbursement of expenditures for ova donation and surrogacy. Health Canada’s subsequent failure to create regulations does not stem from a lack of legal authority.

Myth #2: Assisted reproductive technologies are completely unregulated in Canada.

The Reality: Most provinces have created policy regarding surrogacy and the legal parentage of children born through assisted reproduction. Moreover, Quebec (and soon Ontario) has tied funding for in vitro fertilization to rules regarding embryo transfer. Finally, several federal criminal prohibitions remain in place.

Myth #3: Provinces are incapable of governing assisted reproductive technologies.

The Reality: Although few provinces have introduced legislation, Quebec’s experience demonstrates that provinces have the capacity, if not necessarily the will, to legislate.

Dave Snow is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University, where he studies health policy and Canadian politics. Follow him on Twitter @aDaveSnow. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

IPAC Impact's Summer Reading List

As our team re-tools for the return of the IPAC Impact blog this fall, we invite you to check out past posts in our Flipboard Magazine: It's an easy way to flip through our top posts, whether on your iOS or Android device, or on the web.

For all the latest, don't forget to follow us on Twitter (@IPACImpact) and Facebook.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Obesity: is it all in the genes?

by Tim Caulfield
Note: A version of this piece originally appeared in Policy Options. For the full link, visit
We have been subjected to years of obesity-related headlines, and the news almost always seems to be discouraging. Obesity has become a public health crisis that gets worse all the time, seemingly immune to public policy fixes. It is no surprise, then, that there is an intensifying search for a technological, pharmaceutical or, at least, biomedically oriented answer. The search for an “obesity gene” is a big part of the -cutting-edge, science-will-save-us ethos. Articles like the Globe and Mail’s 2008 “Now you can blame those extra pounds on the ‘ice age’ gene” reinforce the emerging message that we should be look to genetic-based solutions to fix our public health crisis. This is a mistake, for many reasons.

Three things you need to know about obesity and genes:

1.  The predictive power of genetics, at least to date, has not been terribly impressive.

2.  The relationship between genes and weight gain is tremendously complex, and studies have shown there is little evidence to suggest genes “could have a beneficial effect on behavior”.

3.  Few Canadians eat a balanced diet, exercise enough or are even aware of how many calories they do or should consume.

Three myths about obesity and genes:

Myth #1:  Our genes have changed over the past few decades; our environment has.

Reality:  The list of possible contributors to weight gain include our sleep habits, the microbes living in our gut, whether our parents smoked, our birth weight, the amount of TV we watch, the type of food we eat and have access to, our socio-economic conditions, and so on.

Myth #2:  Exciting new research will save us from this epidemic.

Reality:  We should not let the excitement surrounding genetic research and personalized medicine distract us from the significant and wide-ranging social change that is required to make a real difference.

Myth #3:  Well then, isn’t research on the genetics of obesity useless?

Reality:  Not at all. In addition to simply allowing us to gain a greater understanding the biology behind weight gain (a worthy goal on its own), it may help to inform future interventions. But we are looking at a public health problem across a broad swath of the population. It is absurd to concentrate on our genes to reverse an obesity epidemic.

Timothy Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and a Professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta. He has been the  Research Director of the Health Law Institute at the University of Alberta since 1993. Over the past several years he has been involved in a variety of interdisciplinary research endeavours that have allowed him to publish over 250 articles and book chapters. He is a Fellow of the Trudeau Foundation, a Health Senior Scholar with the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research and the Principal Investigator for a number of large interdisciplinary projects that explore the ethical, legal and health policy issues associated with a range of topics, including stem cell research, genetics, patient safety, the prevention of chronic disease, obesity policy, the commercialization of research, complementary and alternative medicine and access to health care. Professor Caulfield is and has been involved with a number of national and international policy and research ethics committees, including: Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee; Genome Canada’s Science Advisory Committee; the Ethics and Public Policy Committee for International Society for Stem Cell Research; and the Federal Panel on Research Ethics. He has won numerous academic awards and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences.  He writes frequently for the popular press on a range of health and science policy issues and is the author of The Cure for Everything: Untangling the Twisted Messages about Health, Fitness and Happiness (Penguin 2012).