Statement on Municipal Elections and Prescription for a Healthy Community.
By: Dr. Marlene Spruyt, Medical Officer of Health, Algoma Public Health
The weeks leading up to municipal elections are an important and exciting time for those of us who work in public health. It’s a time when local citizens gather, speak and listen to one another about the future of our community. We may each have different ideas about what that future looks like and how we get there. As the Medical Officer of Health for Algoma, I hope that, if there is one common vision we all share, it’s that the future of our community is a healthy one.
Municipalities and local public health agencies have a longstanding history of working together and designing our communities in order to protect and promote health – from safe drinking water systems to smoke-free public spaces. Many opportunities exist for us to address current health issues through community design and local public policies. For example, zoning bylaws can help protect our children and youth from inappropriate access and exposure to tobacco and cannabis. Municipalities can also take the lead in combatting stigma in mental health and addiction. Community leaders can ally with local agencies, support access to treatment, and use language that focuses on strength, resiliency, and capacity, rather than labels and blaming. In fact, public policies that take a preventive and public health approach may have a significant return on investment when it comes to the costs of municipally-provided paramedic and police services.
The availability of health services in northern Ontario is vital to community wellness. Just as important, however, is having safe, reliable, and affordable transportation to get to our health providers, schools, workplaces, and community hubs. Now, more than ever, northern Ontarians need our local leaders to work with each other and with the provincial government, so that we can bridge transportation gaps within and between our communities, and build sustainable transportation solutions for all northern Ontarians – regardless of income, geographic location, or disability status.
Creating healthier communities goes beyond health care. In fact, it is within our local municipalities where we find the basic foundations of health for every person, from safe homes to good education and job opportunities. System-level strategies that promote youth employment and age-friendly design are powerful, upstream ways to promote overall health and well-being.
Local citizens have a strong voice when it comes to shaping our communities for the better. Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with countless community members and leaders, whose passion and dedication have helped to build communities that are healthier by design. This fall, I encourage all of my fellow citizens in Algoma to participate in the municipal elections and share in Algoma Public Health’s vision: together we create and sustain healthy communities.