Dr. Jane Philpott, politician, family doctor, medical educator (September 2013)
Early Life and Education
Jane Philpott (néeLittle) was the eldest of four daughters born to Audrey Little, an elementary schoolteacher, and Rev. Wallace Little, a Presbyterian minister. She was brought up in a religious household in which she was taught selflessness as a virtue — a lesson that would later lead her to medicine.
She grew up in Ontario and attended Hillcrest Public School in Hespeler (now Cambridge). After graduating from Galt Collegiate Institute, she studied medicine at the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) in London, Ontario. She completed a family medicine residency at the University of Ottawa and a tropical medicine fellowship at Toronto General Hospital. In 2012, she completed a master’s degree in public health at the University of Toronto, where she was later an associate professor in the faculty of medicine.
In 1986, Jane Little married Paul Eric Philpott — known as “Pep” from his initials — the son of Phyllis Crawley, a chartered accountant, and Rev. James Philpott, a Presbyterian minister. The young couple joined the Sudan Interior Mission, an interdenominational evangelical Christian group. In 1989, the missionary couple moved to the Republic of Niger, a landlocked republic in West Africa, where Philpott practised medicine in the countryside.
On 11 March 1991, their two-year-old daughter, Emily Katherine Philpott, died suddenly of meningococcemia, a bacterial infection, after her parents raced to the nearest hospital, a two-hour drive from where they lived. Emily was buried in a stony cemetery at Galmi, Niger, in a plain wooden box built by the hospital’s carpenter. Her baby sister, Bethany Jane, also became ill but recovered in hospital, and the family temporarily returned to Canada for further treatment.
Soon after, the family returned to Niger, where they lived until relocating to Stouffville, Ontario, in 1998. Philpott is active in the local Community Mennonite Church, where she is a song leader for the congregation. Her husband, Pep Philpott, is a CBC Radio journalist.
The couple’s four surviving children are Bethany, Jacob, David and Lydia. Bethany Jane Philpott graduated with a medical degree from McMaster University in 2017 and co-authored a book on Canadian public health campaigns.
Jane Philpott’s medical training included short stints in developing nations, including Kenya and Haiti. She practised medicine in rural Niger, where she treated desperately poor patients. In her final three years in Africa, she toured remote villages in the countryside and developed a training program for health workers, some of whom were illiterate. After returning to Canada, Philpott served as a family physician for 17 years. She was chief of family medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital from 2008 until 2014.
In 2004, Jane Philpott founded Give a Day to World AIDS, a charity that has raised more than $4 million for Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation to help those in Africa affected by HIV and AIDS. The charity encourages donors to contribute a day’s pay — a campaign praised by Lewis for its “exquisite simplicity.”
Philpott also launched A Coin for Every Country, an educational fundraising program for intermediate students. Children and youth learn lessons about healthcare in Africa and are encouraged to collect a coin for each of 54 African countries.
Philpott also helped develop Ethiopia’s first training program for family medicine as part of the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration, which was founded in 2008 as an interdisciplinary postgraduate training program shared by the University of Toronto and Addis Ababa University.
In 2011, Jane Philpott joined the Liberal Party of Canada after a conversation with former prime minister Paul Martin. She won the Liberal nomination for the new federal riding of Markham-Stouffville. In the 2015 general election, she received 29,416 votes, defeating Conservative candidate Paul Calandra, who received 25,565 votes.
Her ambition was to improve public policy in healthcare. “For me, a seat in the House of Commons is not a target; it’s a tool,” she wrote. “It’s the tool that you and I will use to make this community better — to make this country better.”
Minister of Health
On 4 November 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Jane Philpott as Minister of Health. She was the first medical doctor to be named to the post. Philpott was also named chair of the Cabinet Committee on Inclusive Growth, Opportunities and Innovation.
A political neophyte, she was handed a high-profile portfolio for which the government had an ambitious agenda. Her tenure as health minister included the passing of Bill C-14, which allows eligible adults to request medical assistance in dying. Working with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Philpott helped draft a law that offers legal safeguards to doctors, nurses and pharmacists who fulfill the death requests of patients who suffer from a “grievous and irremediable medical condition.”
In 2016, Philpott announced that the federal government would join the provincial and territorial pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance to make bulk purchases of drugs, lowering the cost of prescription medications for common medical conditions such as depression, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The plan would save as much as $3 billion over five years from lowered prices and the launch of new generic drugs.
As health minister, she worked with the ministries of justice and public safety toward legalizing and regulating marijuana for recreational use. “We know it is impossible to arrest our way out of this problem,” she told a Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 2016. The law, Bill C-45, was introduced and passed after she had left the health ministry.
In 2017, Philpott and Finance Minister Bill Morneau negotiated a new decade-long funding formula as part of a healthcare accord with the provinces and territories. As well, Philpott announced that the federal government would spend an additional $11.5 billion over 10 years to provide better access to home care and mental health services. After the provinces angrily rejected an initial federal offer of funding as an ultimatum, Philpott and Morneau negotiated the formula, province by province, in three months of intense backroom talks.
Bill C-37, which became law in 2017, streamlined the application process for creating supervised injection sites, where illicit drugs are used under the supervision of medical professionals — a process that Philpott argued saves lives without increasing crime or drug use.
In addition, Philpott played a leading role for the government in providing healthcare and other assistance for Syrian refugees arriving in Canada.
Minister of Indigenous Services
Jane Philpott was named Minister of Indigenous Services in a Cabinet shuffle announced on 28 August 2017. She was given responsibility for the management of health, clean water and other services on reserves.
One of the pressing issues she faced was the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in foster care. While Indigenous children make up just 7.7 percent of all Canadians under the age of 14, more than 52 percent of youth and children in foster care are Indigenous. Under Philpott’s leadership, the federal government held extensive consultations with Indigenous partners, experts and provincial and territorial representatives. The resulting legislation, known as Bill C-92, was introduced on 28 February 2019 by the new Minister of Indigenous Services, Seamus O’Regan. The Indigenous Child Welfare Bill affirmed the right of Indigenous peoples to exercise jurisdiction in child welfare and the importance of caring for children in more culturally appropriate ways.
President of the Treasury Board
In another Cabinet shuffle on 14 January 2019, Jane Philpott was named President of the Treasury Board, replacing Scott Brison, who had announced his retirement from politics. The shuffle was notable for another reason, as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould was moved to Veterans Affairs. Soon after, Wilson-Raybould resigned from Cabinet, saying that she had been pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Resignation from Cabinet
Jane Philpott resigned from Cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair on 4 March 2019, noting that she had “lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter.” She said Jody Wilson-Raybould had been pressured by politicians and officials to spare the Montreal-based international engineering giant from criminal prosecution.
“It grieves me to leave a portfolio where I was at work to deliver on an important mandate,” Philpott wrote in her resignation letter. “But I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
After Jane Philpott’s resignation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised her for leading “transformational change” in the health and Indigenous files. On 2 April 2019, Trudeau dismissed Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould from the Liberal caucus. Philpott called the decision “profoundly disheartening.” She said she would continue to represent her constituents as an independent member of Parliament.
Honours and Awards
- Casey Award for leadership in HIV/AIDS and social justice, Casey House, Toronto (2009))
- Award for Excellence in Social Responsibility, University of Toronto (2010))
- Community Service Award, University of Western Ontario (2011))
- Wilfred H. McKinnon Palmer Academic Award, University of Toronto (2012))
- Yves Talbot Award for Excellence in Global Health Leadership, University of Toronto (2013))
- May Cohen Gender Equity and Diversity Award, Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (2013))
- Integrated Medical Education Award for Excellence in Community-Based Teaching, University of Toronto (2014)