The Health Divide: So How Are You Doing?

A Health Advocates' Perspective

Sunrise over Coronation Park, Oakville, Ontario, November 2016, Brian Gray Photography
The Health Divide: So How Are You Doing?

About the Author

Gary J. Machan

Gary J. Machan

Gary Machan serves on the Community Advisory Research Committee for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Through the course of his career he has received several provincial awards including the 2nd Stage of Medicare, Ontario Tobacco Network Innovation Award for Excellence, and Food Champion Award. In addition, Mr. Machan is an associate with the Centre for Inner Freedom where his work was featured by Tom Harpur in his best selling book ‘Finding the Still Point’.

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Hot off the press this week is the latest national report of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing entitled ‘How Are Canadians Really Doing’. While there are some notable bright spots such as higher levels of educational attainment, the key finding is the growing gap between economic growth and the health and welling of Canadians from 21% to 28% in just the past 6 years.

Of real concern is the 11% drop in living standards since the collapse of the financial markets, despite the economy growing by 12% during this same time span. In fact, all of the gains made in employment and addressing long term unemployment were lost post recession. Clearly, we still have not recovered.

Canadian Index of Wellbeing vs GDP Chart

So too, the very nature of work seems to be changing as we are evolving into a ‘gig’ economy. Fewer people have regular, steady jobs. Employment is far more precarious. There has been a major increase in people unable to find work for more than 30 hours a week. Plus, many are forced into situations where they are juggling several part-time, low paying jobs; often having to work odd hours and on weekends.

Not surprising, more Canadians are struggling to make ends meet, especially given the skyrocketing cost of housing occurring in large urban centres. Food is more expensive. Energy costs are soaring. Tuitions for students are off the map; at a time when very often there are no other options.

This, in turn, is having an adverse impact in all areas of Canadians lives. Canadians report having far less time to sleep, spend with friends (30% decrease), volunteer, or engage in healthy recreational activities. It should come as no surprise that such chronic illnesses as diabetes continue to escalate to the point it is 2.5 times higher than 1994.

Of significance, there is one finding that the major media outlets did not pick up on, namely, the extent to which democratic engagement has been deeply shaken. After 2008 both satisfaction in the way democracy works in Canada and confidence in the federal government dropped steadily. In fact, by 2014, only one third of Canadians had a great deal of confidence in parliament; down from almost half in 2008!

Granted, we have a new prime minister in place. Still, this should be cause for concern if for no other reason than the underlying trends that gave rise to the likes of Donald Trump are occurring in Canada. Bear in mind, it is our middle class that took the greatest hit. Poverty rates have actually decreased, not that having 3.5 million people living in poverty is anything to brag about.

If ever we hope to avert the spectacle such as occurred south of the border, we need to address the growing health divide. This, in turn, is going to demand bold leadership aimed primarily at reducing income inequality. This won’t be easy. But it will be necessary, if people are to regain some measure of trust in our democracy, governing parties and public institutions.

The good news is, unlike America, we have hugely popular leader, Justin Trudeau, with a majority Liberal government; hence an ability to really affect change. However, let us not succumb to our own propaganda and lose sight of the fact that Obama was also highly popular and look what happened. Of one thing we can be sure, the status quo is no longer an option.

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