Trudeau Picks National Research Council President to Head Public Health Agency of Canada

September 22, 2020 Updated: September 22, 2020

Prime Minister Trudeau has picked Iain Stewart, president of the National Research Council, to be head of  the Public Health Agency of Canada after PHAC’s president suddenly resigned last week.

Tina Namiesniowski said in an email to staff on Sept. 18 that she was stepping down in order to “step aside so someone else can step up.” “I am now at the point where I need to take a break,” she wrote, having headed PHAC through the pandemic thus far.

Namiesniowski will take on the position of senior official in the Privy Council Office, which assists government operations.

Stewart, who had served two years of his five-year term as head of the National Research Council (NRC), will take over on Sept. 28 just as the second wave of the pandemic may be beginning, with the reported numbers of positive test cases rising in some parts of the country.

PHAC was created after the SARS outbreak to better coordinate Canada’s public health response to such potential outbreaks, but the agency has been criticized in recent months for not disseminating alerts as widely as they had been during previous health crises.

Some scientists at the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) have claimed that their early warnings about the virus outbreak were ignored or not addressed adequately by senior staff at PHAC, according to news reports.

In response to the claims, Health Minister Patty Hajdu has ordered an independent review of GPHIN.

When Stewart was head of the NRC, he oversaw the decision for Canada to partner with the Chinese military in the development of a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus.

The vaccine candidate known as Ad5-nCoV (Ad5) had been developed by Cansino Biologics (CansinoBIO) in China. An agreement was made to have the vaccine tested in clinical trials at Dalhousie University, but the shipment of Ad5 to Canada was held up by China’s customs agency and the partnership was cancelled.

Stewart has been in public service for about 20 years, with a yearlong stint at Dalhousie, where Ad5 was to be tested.