The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is asking municipal candidates to make health matter during this election, and is encouraging local voters to press their municipal candidates for responses on major public health issues.
A municipal government’s influence on people’s well-being needs to be top of mind, says Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner. Municipal policies can have a profound influence on health.
The health unit has posted an election fact sheet on its website with eight key issues for electors to raise at all-candidate meetings, or when candidates come calling. They’re available from the home page of the website at www.simcoemuskokahealth.org.
The eight issues include income, housing, built environment, alcohol, opioids, cannabis, food insecurity and climate change.
“Economic development is a familiar issue for municipal governments, but it also has an impact on health,” Dr. Gardner explains. “When there is strong job security, full-time employment and adequate pay, chronic diseases are reduced. People can afford the right food choices for healthy eating and they can seek out services like dental care and child care.”
Similarly, municipal policy can ensure adequate, affordable housing for low-income families and individuals. Well-built, safe housing is an important factor in staying healthy, Dr. Gardner says.
Municipal planning also helps shape ways in which individuals can stay healthy. Parkland that preserves green space helps improve air quality, and can ease stress. Pathways and cycling routes that connect homes with business, retail and services encourage more physical activity, to address some of the most serious chronic illnesses in modern life.
Substance misuse is another high priority public health issue. The opioid overdose crisis is a well-known threat to our communities. Policies that increase access to alcohol are well supported by the public, but have negative health and social impacts that are not being addressed. The legalization of cannabis may have unknown consequences. Municipal government has a role as a partner in reducing risks and harms.
“This summer’s headlines about flooding, smoke from forest fires, and heat waves have amply displayed how vulnerable we are to a changing climate,” Dr. Gardner notes. “Good planning, along with well-prepared emergency response services, may also help municipalities become more resilient to the impacts of climate change.”
Municipal governments in Simcoe Muskoka contribute about 21 per cent of the budget of the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, and are represented in the health unit by nine board of health members appointed by municipal councils.