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Photograph of a group of young men around a grain-cleaning table on an unidentified experimental farm of the Department of Agriculture, between 1910 and 1930
Group of small photographs of representatives of Norfolk County, Ontario, in the federal and provincial Parliaments, 1867-1927
Departments are constantly adapting to new domestic and international imperatives. Consequently, the evolution of an individual department can provide a portrait of Canadian political culture and national priorities. Health Canada, for example, is the department responsible for administering the Canada Health Act, which provides citizens with universal access to a publicly administered health insurance system. Because this system often is cited as an expression of fundamental Canadian values, the evolution of the Department of Health charts an important dimension of Canadian cultural development.
The Department of Health was created by statute in 1919. The health portfolio was overseen by a minister of another department, as determined by the governor-in-council. Initially the president of the Privy Council acted as minister, and in 1920 the task was passed to the minister of Immigration and Colonization, and again in 1921 to the minister of Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment. Both the Department of Health Act and the Soldiers' Civil Re-establishment portfolio were replaced in 1928 by legislation creating the office of minister of Pensions and National Health.
Just as the First World War had necessitated greater federal involvement in the administration of public health, the Second World War led to legislative renewal as the office of minister of Pensions and National Health gave way to two new offices, that of minister of Veterans Affairs and that of minister of National Health and Welfare. Within a decade of the passage of the modern Canada Health Act (1984), the Department of National Health and Welfare was restructured, leading to today's Health Canada and the office of minister of Health.