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Let’s make health a priority this election

Oct 08, 2014
Some of the most significant impacts on the public’s health result from decisions made in city and municipal council chambers across Ontario.

Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health column
To publish any time after October 8, 2014
By Dr. Charles Gardner

Some of the most significant impacts on the public’s health result from decisions made in city and municipal council chambers across Ontario. Municipalities have very broad powers under the Municipal Act, including the authority to enact bylaws respecting the economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality, and the general health, safety and well-being of their citizens. 

As this fall’s municipal election approaches, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is providing information to candidates to impress upon them the responsibility they have to the health of the population. The public is encouraged to ask candidates about their commitment to improve health in their communities.

In recent years the health unit has identified a few key public health issues in which municipalities can and should play a role. Considerable effort has been made to address these issues through health unit programs and advocacy. We turn now to election candidates, urging them to make health a priority in the coming term of office.

Determinants of health

Safe, appropriate housing, access to healthy foods, and adequate income all benefit people’s health. Municipalities can create zoning bylaws that ensure good housing for low-income families. Policies that support local food charters can ensure a sustainable food supply. Planning and land use policies can ensure that healthy food choices are available in all neighbourhoods. Initiatives that attract full-time jobs with adequate wages are also within municipal governments’ scope.

Built environment

Municipal policy can shape towns and cities in ways that make walking, cycling and public transportation more viable. Funding is needed for the infrastructure to support these activities. Tree conservation bylaws can help improve air quality and provide a buffer against extreme heat events. Anti-idling bylaws and municipal fleet management policies can reduce vehicle emissions.

Water fluoridation

Oral health contributes to overall health, and one tool municipalities have at their disposal to improve oral health is community water fluoridation. Many municipalities in this region have not fluoridated their water supply, resulting in children’s oral health falling below that of many other places in Ontario. Community water fluoridation is the most equitable and cost effective way to improve oral health for everyone, regardless of age, education or income level.

Alcohol access

In recent years there has been pressure to relax the laws related to the sale and service of alcohol. Research indicates that increased accessibility to alcohol creates a domino effect leading to greater consumption and harm to both individuals and society. Municipal politicians have the authority to regulate the location of alcohol outlets to keep this downward spiral in check.

Make health a priority this election by speaking to your local candidates. To learn more about how public health impacts all of us, call Health Connection at 705- 721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, connect with us on Facebook or Twitter, or visit


 Dr. Gardner is Simcoe Muskoka’s medical officer of health.

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