National Day of the Midwife

Mr. Speaker and Honourable Colleagues, today I rise to speak about the health and well-being of pregnant women, infants and children: a topic of great importance to the Government of Canada.

As you know, the primary responsibility for the administration and delivery of health care services rest with each province or territory as directed by the Canada Health Act.

The Government of Canada remains committed to a strong publicly funded and universally accessible healthcare system for all Canadians. Therefore, I am pleased to support Bill C-608, An Act respecting a National Day of the Midwife which will raise awareness to the significant contributions made by midwives who help to safeguard and improve the health and well-being of women, children and their families.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, women were the primary attendants during the natural life event of giving birth. Midwives, like physicians practiced without specific education standards or regulations until the early part of the 20th century.

As medicine gained in legitimacy and power toward the end of the 19th century, in North America the experience of childbirth evolved from the natural event of giving birth into a medical procedure. In Canada, the profession of midwifery – had languished – but Canadian women – increasingly expressed a desire for alternative – childbirth care.

So after a long absence – midwifery began to be legally recognized in the 1990’s.

In 1994, Alberta and Ontario became the first provinces to implement legislation to regulate midwifery. Today, professional midwives provide high quality care for women and families before, during and after childbirth here in Canada and abroad.

They are trained to provide physical examinations screening and diagnostic tests and to assess the normal progress of pregnancy and birth: they manage low risk normal births as well as breech and twin births. Midwifery services also help to reduce wait times in emergency rooms because midwives are on-call and directly accessible to their clients 24/7.

Midwives also work collaboratively in a team with other health professionals such as family physicians, obstetricians and nurses, both in and out of the hospital setting and they are supported by the Canadian Nurses Association the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the Perinatal and Women’s Health Nurses.

Should complications or risks to the mother or child be detected which is outside the scope of the midwife care is referred to this larger aforementioned team.

In Canada, training for midwives is thorough and rigorous and to meet the growing demand for midwives Canada has seven educational institutions and there are currently over 1300practicing midwives in Canada. Practicing midwives must have recognized education and must be licensed before being able to practice. The midwifery education program is four (4) year direct entry Health Sciences Baccalaureate program and successful candidates must then register with a provincial or territorial regulatory body to be licensed to practice.

There are three (3) community based midwifery Education programs located in First Nations and Inuit communities that specifically address the needs of Aboriginal Peoples.

It should be noted that the Canadian midwifery education model is internationally recognized. Additionally, the Canadian Government recognizes the importance of these internationally educated professionals who wish to work in Canada.

These midwives must go through steps to demonstrate competencies in language, education, and experience before they are eligible for licensure in Canada. Midwives practice in all provinces and territories except Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon where, to date, no legislation or regulation exists.

Statistically speaking, last year Canada had nearly 382,000 births with the majority over 98% taking place in a hospital: childbirth is the Number 1 reason for a hospital admission in Canada.

In 2014-15, the federal government provided $32.1 billion dollars in health transfers to the provinces and territories through the Canada Health Transfer. This unprecedented level of support will continue to grow and is expected to reach $40 billion dollars by the end of the decade.

That funding will provide stability and predictability to the Canadian healthcare system while giving the provinces and territories flexibility to address their unique needs and priorities. In addition to this record level of investment our government also supports other domestic efforts to improve maternal health including initiatives that supports the awareness and services provided by midwives.

For example, the Public Health Agency of Canada invests $27.2 million annually in the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, which aims to:

Improve maternal-infant health,
Increase the rates of healthy birth weights and often, the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program refers participants to midwives as key primary care providers who are practicing in their communities.

Health Canada is investing an additional $23.8 million (dollars) in 2014-2015 in the Maternal Child Health Program to provide a coordinated approach to maternal and child health services. This includes strong links to nursing and other programs such as the First Nations and Inuit component of the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program.

These investments also build on support provided to the Canadian Association of Midwives for an annual Aboriginal Midwifery Gathering which promotes midwifery within Aboriginal communities. It enhances the understanding of the midwifery model of care among Aboriginal leadership and communities. Aboriginal women and their infants have a two to four times higher morbidity and mortality rate than the average Canadian.

Some jurisdictions report they do not have enough midwives to meet current demand and waiting lists for this service exist. The National Aboriginal Council of Midwives is a diverse group from all regions of Canada which advocates for the restoration of midwifery education.

Internationally, global attention has been drawn to the issue of maternal and child health as well as to the provision of quality care by midwives through Canada’s leadership. Examples include the 2010 Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health by the G8 Countries under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper which aims to save the lives of mothers, newborns / and children.

Women and children in the world’s poorest countries benefit from the $2.85 billion that Canada committed between 2010 and 2015 as part of this initiative. The United Nations and the World Health Organization both recognize midwifery services as key to saving lives and promoting the health of women and newborns.

Canada has established or been a key participant in a number of other international enterprises related to midwifery.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate that Bill C-608 will serve to acknowledge the contributions of midwives to the health of Canadian women and their families and to increase public awareness of the role midwives play in providing high quality maternal care.

I ask my colleagues to also support Bill C-608 which seeks to designate May 5th every year, as the “National Day of the Midwife”.

Thank you.