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COLUMN: Health unit overstepping its mandate in promoting basic wage

Columnist says the region's health unit should stick to health and not get involved in economic policy
2018-07-27 Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit RB
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit office in Barrie. MidlandToday file photo

In a recent article about water-quality testing around the beaches of North Simcoe, a MidlandToday reporter notes that the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) does a good job on advising of the water quality at our beaches.

The article opened with: “The SMDHU does more than deal with COVID-19 and its spread.”

How right the reporter is. The SMDHU does far more than that and we should be entirely thankful for its work.

However, there is at least one activity they have taken upon themselves that I believe falls far outside the remit set out in their controlling legislation. This has been going on for years and yet, despite being a fairly well-informed and alert citizen, I had absolutely no idea.

Several weeks ago, this publication carried a report on a meeting of Tiny council during which there was discussion of a request from SMDHU to back their call to the federal government that CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) be adopted as a permanent basic wage.

My first reaction was to assume that I must have misread or misunderstood the report. Surely, I surmised, a small municipal council cannot seriously consider that it has a place discussing matters of federal policy that would apply to all 38 million Canadians? Surely the SMDHU, a body constituted under provincial legislation, the Health Protection and Promotion Act [HPPA], cannot seriously be advocating federal policy either?

I was wrong. Not only was the report in MidlandToday quite correct, the SMDHU went on to petition the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the federal Finance Minister and others that if only CERB were to be adopted as a basic wage ‘food insecurity’ and a whole list of other ills in Simcoe Muskoka would be largely eliminated.

The letter, under the signature of SMDHU Chair Anita Dubeau, was signed in the very week that Canada’s sovereign debt rating was downgraded from AAA to AA- and national indebtedness soared to hitherto unseen levels.

Cold, hard economics clearly are not a factor in SMDHU’s policy formulation.

I have reached out to the SMDHU for clarification on why they feel they have the authority to speak for the good citizens of our area on matters that have consequences that reach far beyond their remit of attending to the health of the region.

To date, the answers I have received merely reference the provincial act. But under that act, district health units are expected to report through to the provincial health minister. One is, therefore, left to conclude that the SMDHU calculated that their policy proposal, completely uncosted and unproven, would find a more sympathetic ear in Ottawa than Queen’s Park. At which point, it is nothing more than a naked political move. That is not democracy at work.

In general, the SMDHU as a whole serves us well and we have many reasons to be grateful for the work done by the various branches in protecting the health of our county.

However, overreach by the SMDHU board on matters that are of a federal and political nature are not, I would charge, permitted under the provincial legislation they call in aid [HPPA].

Further, they are morally bankrupt when made by public appointees who should not be expounding political views. If a public official seeks to speak for us all, they should first seek the views of us all.

We have a pretty well established system for doing just that, it is called an election.

(Andrew Combes has lived and written on many subjects in the UK, USA, Bermuda and Canada.  The Tiny Township resident is known locally for his political commentary and work with charities, especially Guys Who Care.)