Ontario’s political parties aren’t taking the health of Ontarians seriously

An examination of their election platforms reveals the parties and their leaders don’t really understand the job ahead

SASKATOON, SK, Jun 6, 2014/ Troy Media/ – All of the political parties in the upcoming Ontario election have put forward platforms that describe their vision for Ontario’s future. But how seriously do they take the health and well-being of Ontarians?

To explore that question, I examined the platforms of each of the three main parties. Rather than questioning whether or not the policies are realistic and achievable (though that is very important to consider as well), I wanted to see how much the language used and the plans proposed reflect their understanding of the importance of the social determinant factors – where we work, live and play, how much money we make, what type of jobs we have, our level of education and our physical environment – play in improving health outcomes and in making wise political decisions

So how well do the three parties address the core issues that directly affect Ontarians’ health?

Each of the parties work hard to appeal to “pocketbook” issues that would increase the availability of the income earned. For example the NDP offer to remove HST from Hydro payments, the Liberals emphasize the child care cost savings from all-day kindergarten, and the PCs promise to decrease household energy costs. Somewhat surprisingly, the Liberal platform is the only one that talks directly about income, proposing an increase in and indexation of minimum wage, and it is also the only platform to mention measures to address income inequality through progressive taxation.

All of the parties spill significant ink on job creation, an issue of high importance in Ontario given the economic challenges of recent years. Of course, employment increases income, but studies show that the conditions of employment also have a huge influence on wellbeing. This means more jobs matter, but the type and quality of employment matters more.

Will there be more part time precarious jobs, or jobs with stability and security? What kinds of jobs are being cut at the same time as others are being created? Will access to collective bargaining be strengthened or undermined? Not all jobs are created equal, and using a health lens to evaluate job creation helps us to be more circumspect about these claims.

There is an emphasis on education in each of the platforms, attention to the protection of the natural environment by the Liberals and the NDP, and attention to healthcare access in all platforms. But there is no mention of access to or affordability of nutritious food in any of the platforms, and only the Liberals mention housing and homelessness. None of the parties has addressed the critical and growing demand for services for adults with disabilities in the province, or for autism services.

There is little or no mention of the health impacts of policies outside healthcare by any of the major parties.

It’s true, the NDP section on education and active transport references “Healthy Communities”, but that is about as far as it goes. The Liberals float a promising idea of developing community hubs to house community-driven health and wellness programs. Otherwise, ‘health’ policy for each party platform means healthcare delivery. Acute health trumps the socioeconomic conditions that determine whether those services will be needed in the first place.

Looking for language like this may seem like splitting hairs – an academic exercise — but it helps to answer the question of whether or not the parties and their leaders really understand the job ahead.

The NDP’s Andrea Horwath wants things to ‘Make Sense,’ Progressive Conservative Tim Hudak ‘Wants a Million Jobs,’ and Liberal Kathleen Wynne has ‘A Plan for Ontario.’ One can’t expect too much from platform titles, but none of the policy books display a focus on improving the health of Ontarians via bettering their social conditions as a primary driver. This leaves it up to the voters to read between the lines.

So what if we asked each party leader the following question: If your platforms were made a reality would we live healthier, happier lives? It’s only with this kind of demand from citizens that would-be leaders will start to see that their primary role is to improve the health and wellbeing of the people who elect them.

Dr. Ryan Meili is an expert advisor with EvidenceNetwork.ca, the author of A Healthy Society: how a focus on health can revive Canadian democracy and founder of Upstream.

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