Thursday, September 27, 2012

On healthy choices

It looks like the federal NDP is starting to highlight some of its priorities as an alternative government in order to better frame Canada's political debate. And while its first offering on health care includes some relatively low-hanging fruit (it's truly sad that "not gratuitously boosting drug costs by billions" makes for a genuine point of contrast rather than an obvious consensus view), a focus on the social determinants of health looks like a major step forward in tying the public's concerns about health to broader social issues:
What the federal government should do:
Promote living conditions that support good health through many different initiatives:
  • Decent incomes: making sure every Canadian has access to decent jobs and working conditions;
  • Food: establishing a pan-Canadian strategy for ensuring access to quality food;
  • Housing: working with the provinces to establish a national affordable housing strategy;
  • Strong social safety net: ensuring secure pensions, accessible Employment Insurance and policies to end poverty;
  • Aboriginal living conditions: the federal government has failed in its responsibility to ensure proper health services, education, housing and clean water in aboriginal communities. It is time these communities had the resources they need.
And I'll be particularly curious to see how Canada's other federal parties will respond.

For the Cons, the NDP's health message neatly answers the Harper dodge about jurisdiction: even if health care is a matter of provincial administrative responsibility, there's plenty the federal government could and should be doing to promote a healthier Canada. And the recognition that the Cons will have to respond to an alternative political vision generally figures to limit their ability to control our federal political debate.

Meanwhile, a strong set of policy proposals from the NDP figures to shape the platforms of Lib leadership contenders looking for messages which will be amplified elsewhere on the Canadian political scene. But if too many candidates end up merely echoing ideas already on offer from the official opposition, that may only encourage questions as to whether the Libs serve any useful purpose as a party.

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