Voting as a health promotion intervention
As the federal election approaches, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this year we are witnessing a tight three-way race.1–4 This means that the outcome could be decided by a relatively small number of ballots.3 Therefore, I would like to offer some thoughts to other students and emerging professionals within the field of public health: it is critical that young Canadians vote this year. During the last federal election, Canadians aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 years had the lowest and second-lowest voter turnout, respectively.5 Further, young Canadians who were completing (or who had completed) post-secondary degrees were less likely to have voted than older Canadians with similar levels of education.6 I could not find data describing the turnout for students in the health professions, but if you are not yet convinced that you should cast a ballot this year, I would encourage you to think of voting as a health promotion intervention.
As a Master’s student studying health promotion, I have spent a lot of time reading about (and applying) upstream or primary prevention approaches to limiting the onset or progression of illness. This is often achieved through action on the social determinants of health. By effecting change on these determinants, we seek to improve the health trajectory of individuals, communities and populations across the life course.
The platform of each political party spans numerous topics, including among others: the economy, taxation, federal and provincial budgets. It is important to remember that health and health care are intrinsically linked with these issues: social services, employment, and income distribution are all social determinants of health.7 When we vote, we are intervening on the health trajectory of the entire country. By voting a party into power, we are giving them the ability to influence the conformation of social determinants that shape the health of Canadians. Therefore, we should assess these platforms as we would the components of a health promotion intervention. First, we should look at each platform in its entirety, not just the issues with the most apparent connection to health. Second, we should consider how various elements of each party’s platform could impact health individually, and through interaction with other elements. Finally, we should consider whether or not these platforms are likely to contribute to the outcome that we wish to observe.
In order for us to assess these platforms, the major parties should be encouraged to speak directly to health and health care, and to the potential impact of their platforms on the health of Canadians. To this end, I urge you to work with CPHA and your provincial/territorial health association to ensure that candidates across the political spectrum are speaking to issues of health and health care. CPHA has developed a list of important health issues that can be used as a guide in this process.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be sure to vote – which means first learning what identification is needed to vote. As emerging professionals in the field of public health, we will be the ones to tackle the issues that loom on the horizon. The choices made during this election will have significant consequences for the landscape within which we will live and work; they will influence everything from the socio-economic systems that we study and seek to change, to the funding that is available to support us in doing so. Each of us likely has a personal view of what a healthy Canada should look like. On October 19th, we will have an opportunity to intervene at the highest political level and determine the environmental, economic, criminal justice, and health policies that will characterize the Canadian landscape for the coming years. Do not pass up an opportunity to steer these policies towards your personal vision for a healthy Canada; this tight three-way race may be our best opportunity to do so.
- Grenier É. Analysis: Poll tracker: 3 polls, 3 leaders, 3-way race. CBC News. 2015 September 11. www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-election-2015-grenier-polls-sep11-1.3224817
- Grenier É. 2015 federal election link round-up, week 7. Maclean’s. 2015 September 16. www.threehundredeight.com/2015/09/2015-federal-election-link-round-up_14.html
- Grenier É. Analysis: 3-way federal race would have unpredictable outcome. CBC News. 2015 June 3. www.cbc.ca/news/politics/3-way-federal-race-would-have-unpredictable-outcome-1.3097243
- Wherry A. Are we in the midst of a great Canadian election? 2015 September 15. Retrieved from Maclean’s website: www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/a-great-canadian-election-john-duffy-in-conversation/
- Elections Canada. Estimation of voter turnout by age group and gender at the 2011 federal general election. 2014 June 13. www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=res&dir=rec/part/estim/41ge&document=report41&lang=e
- Uppal S, LaRochelle-Côté S. Factors associated with voting (Component of Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 75-001-X). 2012 February 24. Retrieved from Statistics Canada website: www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2012001/article/11629-eng.pdf
- Mikkonen J, Raphael D. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts. Toronto, ON: York University School of Health Policy and Management, 2010. Retrieved from www.thecanadianfacts.org/The_Canadian_Facts.pdf