B4H November newsletter

 

Hello Bridge for Health Cooperative members!

Bridge for Health Cooperative has been undergoing a strategic development planning process, through consulting the Board, committees, industry professionals & mentors, and most importantly, the cooperative members! In doing so, we aim to bring value to our members through strengthened partnerships, increased opportunities, relevant policies & best practices, and regular updates for you – through FacebookTwitterInstagram & our website!

We look forward to continuing our dedicated work and welcome you to get involved, check out some openings here and follow us on our media platforms to stay in the loop.

 

A Youth Perspective on Proportional Representation

My Experience with First Past the Post

By Marco Zenone

 I have voted in one provincial election (2017) since becoming of legal age. I was ecstatic to vote and be engaged in the democratic process – this was a major milestone. I had completed significant research on the platforms of the major parties and was confident in my voting decision.

On voting day the party I supported received 332,387 votes – or a total of 16.84% of the popular vote. They won 3 seats out of a possible 87. This was the most successful election of this party in the history of their existence.

Although I was happy to see this success – it was disconcerting that although 16.84% of British Columbians voted for this party – they only had about 3% of the legislative voting power. It was more concerning for me that the closest representative I felt I could contact was 147KM away from where I live.

Regardless of your political orientation – this should concern you and is a major flaw of the current first past the post electoral system.

Our previous three governments (2005-2013) had majority governments that did not receive 50% of the popular vote (2005-45.8%, 2009-45.8%, 2013-44.1%). The first past the post system allowed them to pass legislation unopposed – disregarding any opposition from other parties regardless of the validity of their concerns. Parties that were elected to represent those who voted against the majoritarian government based on their needs, values and beliefs.

This is not a system that represents the diversity of voices in British Columbia. We need to ensure all BC residents are adequately represented to inform public policy – regardless if your political beliefs align with the Liberal, NDP, or Green parties. We need proportional representation.

The Benefits of Proportional Representation

Reforming our electoral structure to a system of proportional representation will strengthen our democracy and reflect the needs of BC residents.

Proportional representation will encourage our governments to work collaboratively on public policy – having rich debate that will highlight the context of all BC residents instead of only a certain segment. PR may result in more minority governments and this is not negative – policy that is adequately debated will be better informed and of optimal quality.

Proportional representation will represent everyone fairly –if a party receives 40% of the vote, they will receive 40% of the seats and power – not 100%. All votes cast in an election will be meaningful – regardless of geographic location or which party a person supports.

Proportional representation encourages better and more transparent elections – our current system leads to parties focusing on electoral areas that are considered to be “undecided” – they will present platforms that are appealing to these specific areas to gain seats. Proportional representation will make major political parties focus on pressing issues affecting the entire province.

Proportional representation promotes equality and well-being – when people are confident their democratic engagement can have a real impact they are more likely to participate and advocate for the issues that affect them. Our most underserved and marginalized populations will benefit under proportional representation as their issues and votes are just as important as anybody else.

Closing Thoughts  

I encourage all persons regardless of your political leanings or prior beliefs to read how each system objectively operates.

We know that certain groups – in support or against proportional representation – are advocating aggressively through various forms of ads on social media. This can be effective in influencing our perceptions and we need to be aware of the motivation behind these ads. Question the advertisements you see.

Is their language positive and focusing on increasing democratic engagement – or is it fear mongering? Are they concerned with how this referendum affects everyone in BC – or only certain populations?

I’ve examined each system and questioned the advertisements I’ve seen – I strongly in proportional representation. We can change the way we do government for the betterment of all British Columbians. This referendum is an exceptional opportunity that we do not get often.

Our government has the chance to meaningfully represent all our residents – not only 40% of them.

Loneliness a growing public-health concern

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

It is ironic in this internet age, when everything and everyone seems to be connected, that we seem to be increasingly disconnected and lonely; moreover, many more of us are living alone.

The 2016 census found that the proportion of one-person households has been increasing steadily from 1951 (when it was 7.4 per cent) until 2016, when it became the most common type of household, at 28.2 per cent.

Living alone is not the same thing as being lonely; at various times we probably all want to be alone, and some people like to be alone a lot. But while being alone can be a choice, that is very different from loneliness, which the Oxford Dictionaries define as “sadness because one has no friends or company.”

That kind of being alone is involuntary, and the key word in the definition is sadness, which is only a step or two away from depression. After all, humans are social animals, so while being lonely on occasion is part of being human, chronic social isolation and loneliness are problematic.

In a 2017 report on connection and engagement, the Vancouver Foundation found that “14 per cent of residents say they feel lonely often or almost always” — which is one in seven people. But among people with a household income less than $20,000, more than one in three people are often or almost always lonely, while it is almost one in three of 18-24 year-olds and about one in four of those who are unemployed or are age 25 to 34.

Clearly, loneliness is an issue that affects the young and the poor, not just seniors, although it is often thought of that way.

Indeed, the mental and physical health consequences of loneliness are an emerging public-health concern; the U.K. appointed a ministerial lead on loneliness this year. This was greeted with derision in some quarters, perhaps in part because of a failure to understand both the difference between loneliness and being alone, and the severe health consequences of loneliness.

In his landmark book Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connections, the late Dr. John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, described loneliness as “social pain” and “a deeply disruptive hurt” analogous to physical pain. He reported loneliness affects our immune system and our stress hormones, and can lead to suicidal thoughts and other mental and physical health problems.

Even more dramatically, he noted “social isolation has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity or smoking.” In fact, a 2015 review based on 70 studies from around the world found that, on average, those who reported they were lonely at the beginning of the study were 26 per cent more likely to die — greater than the increased risk of death due to obesity overall, and comparable to the mortality risk for moderate and severe obesity.

If loneliness is largely a lack of social connection, then presumably the answer is to create social connections among those who are lonely or are at risk of being lonely. But it is not that easy, especially among those who are chronically lonely. Cacioppo makes the point that loneliness itself can “create a persistent, self-reinforcing loop of negative thoughts, sensations and behaviours” that make it difficult to reach out or get out and make connections.

In a 2015 article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Cacioppo’s team largely dismissed such seemingly common-sense approaches as providing social support, encouraging social engagement or teaching social skills, commenting that: “Interpersonal contact or communication per se is not sufficient to address chronic loneliness in the general population.” Instead they suggested a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy and some hoped-for medication.

I find that completely unsatisfactory, not only because it would be individualized and very expensive, but because with such a large-scale problem we need a population-wide public-health approach, just as we do for smoking or obesity. Clearly, we need to give a lot more thought to how we combat loneliness at a community level and strengthen social connections.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

Originally published in Times Colonist, 19 August 2018

Two BC tools for healthier built environments

By Dr. Trevor Hancock

We are lucky in B.C. to have two useful initiatives to help us create healthier built environment

The first, which I described briefly last week, is the Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit. The second is a B.C. Ministry of Health-funded initiative, PlanH, which “facilitates local government learning, partnership development and planning for healthier communities.” I will describe them both here.

(Full disclosure: PlanH was developed and is implemented on behalf of the ministry by the non-profit B.C. Healthy Communities Society, of which I am vice-chair of the board.)

For each of the five key elements of the built environment that the toolkit considers — neighbourhood design, transportation networks, natural environments, food systems and housing — it provides a chart showing the impact on the built environment and the strongest research correlations found in evidence reviews. I briefly covered the first two elements last week, so here I want to examine the others.

For the natural environment, the focus is on preserving and connecting environmentally sensitive areas, expanding natural elements across the landscape and maximizing the opportunity for everyone to access these natural environments. By doing so, we can increase the tree canopy, reduce urban air pollution and create cooler urban areas. (For a great discussion of the health benefits of trees and urban forests see the book Planet Heart by Dr. Francois Reeves, an interventionist cardiologist in Montreal.)

Among the health benefits identified in the toolkit for which there is strong evidence are reduced deaths from heart and urban heat events; improved mental health and social well-being; increased physical activity; and improved respiratory health. Other benefits include reduced health-care costs, energy savings, reduced pollution-control costs, and increased recreation and tourism.

Turning to food systems, the toolkit focuses on increasing equitable access to affordable and healthy food options, protecting agricultural land, increasing the capacity of local food systems, and supporting community-based food programs such as community gardens and community kitchens.

The health-related impacts of these approaches include improved diet quality and social well-being. Evidence suggests community kitchens, such as the Shelbourne Community Kitchen in Saanich, are particularly useful.

This small NGO provides small-group cooking, a pantry and gardening programs that help participants from low-income families acquire food skills and learn to access nutritious food affordably, while at the same time building community.

Finally, the toolkit looks at four approaches to creating healthy housing, particularly through prioritizing affordable quality housing options, especially for marginalized groups. The evidence supports the need for diverse housing forms and tenure types, located so as to avoid environmental hazards. There are many health benefits, including improved overall health and social well-being and reduced domestic abuse, crime and violence. (I will return to the topic of healthy housing in a future column.)

While the toolkit provides evidence and is intended primarily for planners, PlanH is more concerned with how to bring the health implications of decisions to the attention of municipal governments and citizens to support “leading-edge practices for collaborative local action.” It focuses on three key interconnected themes: Healthy people, a healthy society and healthy environments.

In considering healthy people, PlanH emphasizes that our health behaviours and choices are shaped by local social and environmental conditions. We need to create “vibrant places and spaces [that] cultivate belonging, inclusion, connectedness and engagement” in the context of “well-planned built environments and sustainable natural environments.”

To do so, PlanH helps local governments and their citizens learn about these issues and provides action guides and other practical resources and tools. It helps them connect and build relationships with community partners in other sectors (including regional health authorities) and with other local governments. And it helps them innovate with a funding program to support action, and by sharing success stories from around B.C. and beyond.

Together, these two initiatives give municipal governments, urban planners and citizens powerful support to help them make decisions that will improve health and well-being, which is surely one of their most important roles. So if you want healthier built environments in which to lead your life, raise a family and grow old, you might want to talk to your local government, community association and neighbours about the toolkit and PlanH.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

Originally published in Times Colonist, 29 July 2018