The social determinants of health, like access to public transit and what food we can afford to eat, are bring increasingly determined by where we live in Toronto
Election day looms, but one of the biggest issues facing our city has received scant attention: the health disparities that can be observed across neighbourhoods, income levels, racial groups, immigration status, gender and sexual orientation.
There are measurable, proven differences in health outcomes across populations within Toronto. The roots of these inequalities are increasingly determined by where we live, what food we can afford to eat, our sense of safety and community belonging, our ability to get around and exercise, our level of civic participation and whether we can access education and career opportunities.
Our day-to-day lives have a lot to do with our health.
Although the health care system officially falls under the jurisdiction of the province, things like public transit, streets, parks, recreation centres, libraries, community housing and policing are all important aspects of our lives and are largely controlled by the municipal government.
These things might seem unrelated to our health, but they’re precisely what shapes it over time. Prolonged exposure to negative experiences – like stressful daily commutes that leave you exhausted – has been proven to lead to serious concerns like heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.
NOW distributed an eight-question multiple choice survey to all mayoral candidates about their views on health disparities.
Here’s how Saron Gebresellassi, Jennifer Keesmaat, Sarah Climenhaga and John Tory answered.
Gebresellassi’s rights-focused platform lists ambitious goals for affordable housing, free public transit, spending for youth programs, expanded employment opportunities outside of the downtown core and electoral reform.
Most strikingly, she wants to “develop an overall mental health and accessibility framework that underpins all aspects of city planning and budgeting.”
Keesmaat is promising to build 100,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, and to get “shovels in the ground” to expand the TTC in underserved areas like Scarborough. Keesmaat has also pledged to complete LRT projects along the waterfront and on Jane Street while improving road safety.
In terms of community safety, Keesmaat is seeking to expand community policing initiatives. Some of her goals might help address health disparities, but the principles of equity are not evident or clearly stated in her platform.
Climenhaga wants to expand mobility opportunities, build “housing for all” and deepen citizen engagement. She explicitly addresses equity in her platform, acknowledging that racialized people in Toronto are far worse off than white people. She also mentions the environment in her platform.
Though Tory has claimed a desire to challenge inequity, his approach to the overdose crisis and gun violence – not to mention his ineffective response to our newly elected premier’s damage to our local democracy – suggests otherwise.
He claims he’s made Toronto more “affordable, liveable and functional.” But Toronto has become increasingly polarized and segregated by race and income across rich and poor neighbourhoods, with Black, Indigenous, and newcomer families concentrated in underserved areas.
Toronto has many great qualities, but if we want to see better conditions for all people who live here, we’ll need a mayor who has explicit goals to achieve them.
Anne Rucchetto is a public health researcher.
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