When Canadians make health a top political priority, politicians will too

In a recent blog post, I discussed the concern of many in the health community that health has not emerged as a major campaign issue in Election 2015 and set out to explain why this is the case. Noting that health has not been a policy or political priority for years in Ottawa, I suggested that it is not surprising that health hasn’t emerged as a top issue on the campaign trail. But perhaps more importantly, I made the point that health isn’t a top issue in this election because the public hasn’t made it one.
While poll after poll shows that Canadians put health at the top of their priority list, they haven’t made political leadership on health an electoral imperative at the federal level. Until voters tell our federal parties and candidates that health is a ballot box question for them in federal elections (not just provincial ones), federal politicians have little reason to pay it more attention.
Does that mean we can’t put health back on the political priority list in Ottawa? Not at all.
While we see many health groups targeting the political parties and leaders on various policy issues during this campaign, those that will be successful are those that can mobilize Canadians behind their agenda. To put health back on the federal priority list, it won’t be enough to encourage the political parties to show leadership on health – we must have the public demand it.
So how do we build public support for greater leadership and investment in health at the federal level?
Increasingly, organizations understand that in today’s political reality it is as important to engage and mobilize Canadians as it is to engage our political leaders. These organizations are devoting as many resources to public engagement and building communities of support as they do to direct engagement of political influencers and decision makers.
Public engagement, like Research Canada is promoting through its Your Candidates, Your Health campaign, has become an integral part of any organization’s efforts to influence government decision-making. The Your Candidates, Your Health campaign educates supporters, stakeholders and ordinary Canadians about the importance of federal leadership and investment in health research. It equips them with the tools they need to raise these issues with other potential supporters and with candidates. It will help to build a community of support for health research, a community that can influence the election discussion in 2015 and the decisions of the next Parliament.
Successful public engagement campaigns, like Your Candidates, Your Health, are our best chance of translating notional support for health care evidenced in many public opinion polls into tangible political pressure on federal parties to acknowledge the issue of health and health research. Because when Canadians make health a top political priority, you can be sure that politicians will too.

Michelle McLean
Vice-President, Hill & Knowlton Canada