Dr. Rosana Pelizari, Peterborough’s Medical Officer of Health, addresses delegates to ISARC’s exploration of health and poverty. Photo by Michael Swan

Cuts not the cure to what ails Ontario health system

  • April 5, 2012

TORONTO - We live in a sick society and the illness can be measured by the depth and the prevalence of poverty across Ontario, faith leaders who run shelters, food banks and counselling services heard on a visit to Queen’s Park March 29.

They weren’t talking about sickness as a metaphor for moral corruption. Rabbis, imams and bishops were discussing the epidemiology of diabetes, cancer, depression, hypertension, addiction, obesity and a dozen other conditions.

“The poor and the vulnerable are always the sickest,” Dr. Phil Berger, St. Michael’s Hospital chief of family and community medicine, told Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition delegates at a day-long exploration of health and poverty.

More hospitals filled with more technology will not make Ontarians healthier, said Peterborough Medical Officer of Health Dr. Rosana Pellizari. Income inequality shortens life spans. Public investments in everything from water fluoridation to public education were responsible for increasing life spans over the last century, she said.

“Most of what we call health care is really illness care,” said Pellizari.

Research shows that wealth determines health, even in a country with universal hospital and doctor coverage, she said.

“The richer you are the more likely you are to live to age 75,” she said.

A map of Toronto showing diabetes rates by postal code matches almost perfectly with an income distribution map. The poorer the neighbourhood the higher the diabetes rate. The same effect could be shown with almost any major disease, said Pellizari.

Two days after a provincial budget that promised sharp reductions in public investments, faith leaders had come to Queen’s Park to question the wisdom of solving every problem with cuts, said Presbyterian lay minister Rafael Vallejo.

“We need to ask questions like who benefits from tax cuts? Who pays for austerity? Who says there are no choices?” said the chaplain for Occupy Toronto.

Vallejo urged the ISARC faith leaders to “make your protest a spiritual practice.”

A more healthy Ontario has to include higher taxes, particularly higher taxes on the wealthy, said Berger.

“Essential services to citizens should come from the state and not depend on the generosity of a rich banker,” he said. “We have to convert some of the bad connotations people have with taxes into something positive.”

“The fact is the wealthy in our society are able to pay more,” said Murray MacAdam, who heads up the social justice and advocacy office at Anglican diocese of Toronto. The Anglicans have recently released a “Theology of Taxation.”

Berger is one of 187 doctors in the recently formed Doctors For Fair Taxation (doctorsforfairtaxation.ca). Like Lawyers For Fair Taxation, the doctors argue governments should raise taxes, create new tax brackets for the most wealthy and use the tax code to even out incomes.

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