Category Archives: Health

How are we feeling?


Is there some sort of correlative relationship between the health of a population and the condition of its economy?

We’ve known, for decades, that New Brunswick is becoming increasingly geriatric. Now, it seems, we’re also getting sicker, and in ways that are not exclusively linked to the ravages of aging.

A stern and alarming report from the New Brunswick Health Council concludes that this province “ranks last among. . .ten. . .on the percentage of the population that perceives their general health or their mental health as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. As for having pain or discomfort preventing activities, it ranks nine out of 10.”

Adds the Council’s CEO Stéphane Robichaud: “The proportion of the population with a chronic condition is growing and chronic conditions are appearing in younger age groups. The current trend is that a growing proportion of people are developing additional conditions as they age. The demographic trends have not taken the system by surprise; they have been expected and should have been better taken into account during planning efforts.”

Certainly, there’s a great deal of truth in this. But aging demographics do not entirely explain why health problems are cropping up with morbid persistence in ever-younger people in the province. Nor is it clear how a health care system that’s more concerned with palliation than prevention can fight the trend.

Recent research by Statistic Canada shows that the incidence of smoking in New Brunswick is the third highest among provinces in Canada – 20.9 per cent, just behind Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia.

A separate study by the numbers-crunching agency shows that as a percentage of the population, New Brunswickers tend to imbibe more heavily than their fellow citizens in other parts of the country.

When it comes to obesity, this province is also a national trend leader, especially among males.

In a CBC website commentary a couple of years ago, Gabriela Tymowski, who was identified as an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology at the University of New Brunswick, wrote, “ While the numbers vary between surveys, recent indicators reveal 63 per cent of adult New Brunswickers and up to 36 per cent of New Brunswick children to be overweight or obese. At the most extreme classifications of obesity, New Brunswick adults have the highest rates in all of Canada.”

What’s more, she noted, “Obesity comes with personal, health and economic costs for individuals and societies, and here in New Brunswick we are heavier, more sedentary, smoke and drink more and eat fewer vegetables than most other Canadians.”

The economic costs of poor health seem self-evident. Absenteeism, short- and long-term disability bleeds skills and productivity from the labour force. According to a Conference Board of Canada report some years back, “There is a wide range of potential impacts of aging and poor and declining health on individuals and businesses. The indirect costs of poor health, including lower productivity due to short- and long-term disability and loss of future income due to mortality, provide some indication of the effects of poor health on productivity and, in turn, how well the economy can supply health care. For ten selected health conditions and chronic diseases, the economic burden (nationally) from indirect costs is estimated at $119 billion in 2010, up from $79 billion in 2000.”

All of which convincingly points to the link between the health of a population and the condition of its economy.

In this regard, Mr. Robichaud properly rings an alarm about a crisis in New Brunswick that’s not only humanitarian; it’s also distinctly and observably practical.

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Dancing in the light


A word to the wise: A daily, six-kilometer fast walk and a nightly, 45-minute endurance routine on a floor mat does not prepare a 55-year-old body for a sudden dismount from a handstand – especially if said body lands on its tippy toes, like Baryshnikov on a really, really bad morning.

“CRUNCH!” was the sound heard round the living room of the Bruce family homestead in Port Shoreham, Nova Scotia, on Labour Day.

To be clear, this was not morning and I cannot confirm or deny the presence of certain liquid substances at the ready to lubricate the traditional, family dance party that, thanks to a wide variety of eclectic music on hand, tends to drown out the yipping and yapping of the ever-increasing population of coyotes in that dark, starry Guysborough county of the Maritimes.

What I can confirm is the solicitude of my wife, sister, brother-in-law, niece, nephew, and a close friend from England. We had been dancing for hours, affecting every style – from punk, to doo-wop, to head-banger, to ballroom, to the hokey-pokey – before I managed in one fell swoop (literally) to crack my foot.

“I think it looks dislocated,” my wife helpfully advised, having surveyed the 90-degree angle the big toe on my right foot had assumed.

“Maybe, you could pop it back in,” my nephew offered.

“I don’t think it’s broken,” my niece observed. “Can you move it?”

I looked at all of them as if they were terrorists intent on hobbling me forever. (After all, my dance moves put them all to shame. . .ahem).

“Look away,” I instructed. “I will handle this.”
And so I did. I grabbed the offending appendage and hauled it over to the neutral position. “CRUNCH!”, again, was the sound heard round the living room. And the dancing continued, as it most certainly should have (sans moi, bien sur).

In fact, there is no better way to appreciate the Maritime spirit than from a reclined position. The odd mood of contemplation that injury and humiliation engender is a priceless asset in the ancient effort to get back onto one’s feet.

Sitting there on the couch, watching them all dance like fools, I remembered why my wife and I and our grown children, with children of their own, fully appreciate this part of the world.

This is where the main chance hits the yellow brick road. This is where fantasy meets reality and you slide down the rabbit hole with both. This is when, the moment you think you’ve got everything nailed down in Bristol fashion, you break your foot.

It’s happened before in this region; it will happen again.

The trick is to ice that part of our Maritime souls, to exercise it, to nurture it, to believe in its recovery – in its sturdy capacity to surge ahead even, especially, when it’s injured.

In a nerdy sort of way, I recalled a passage from the 2014 Ivany Report in Nova Scotia: “While the continuing retreat of the federal government from a regional development role and fiscal weakness at the provincial level are serious constraints, the single most significant impediment to change and renewal is the lack of a shared vision and commitment to economic growth and renewal across our province.”

Yup, say it brother.

“How’s the foot?” my niece inquired. “Can you move it yet?”

I smiled and said, “Shall we dance?”

And so we did, in the light of a strong moon, a starry sky and the company of family. She pranced like a gazelle; I limped like a troll.

But, at least, we danced.

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How a fiscal leopard changes spots


New Brunswick’s former Finance Minister Blaine Higgs, God love him, has always been a straight shooter. Except when he hasn’t.

Whilst in Tory office for all of four years, he inveighed against the provincial government’s tendency towards profligacy, calling for deep and painful cuts in the public service.

He suggested that everything “must be on the table”, and that included a serious review of his government’s tax policies – even going as far as intimating, off the script, that a prudent hike in the HST might save New Brunswick years of unnecessary fiscal pain at the hands of international bond holders who held – and continue to hold the province’s $12-billlion long-term debt in abeyance.

He talked darkly about streamlining the educational system; about cutting services to rural citizens; about rationalizing the way we pay for basic infrastructure, like roads, highways, sewer systems and pubic meeting spaces.

Apart from a few trims to the fiscal petticoat that hides a multitude of sins in this province, he largely failed and largely through no fault of his commitment or character. The political winds within his own party of silos and principalities were simply not in his favour. (Have they ever been for any sitting provincial finance minister in any province of this country)?

Still, now that the man is drifting freely in the soft winds of a durable New Brunswick spring – far from from the tethers of Cabinet discipline that once constrained him – one must wonder at the temerity of his latest proposal, a proposal that he must know has no chance of finding purchase in Canada’s only bilingual province.

Conflate New Brunswick’s two health authorities, he says, into one fully bilingual one. Why? “Because,” he told the Saint John Telegraph-Journal last week, “we don’t have a choice. In order to provide the quality of health care we need in the province, we need to look at how we can work more closely together, not further apart.”

Leaving aside, for the moment, just how breathtakingly ambitious – both politically and administratively – such a move would prove, the obvious question arises: If Mr. Higgs feels this strongly now, having prowled the perimeters of the political wilderness for seven months, why didn’t he speak up (as he did about public service cuts, education and infrastructure) just as forcefully when he had a better chance to use his position to win friends and influence people on an important matter of public policy?

Answer: Because, on this file alone, he would have been burned like a bad bagel, kicked to the backbenches and consigned to vacant seat in the “independent” section of the legislative gallery by the whips and goons of his own party. And he knows it.

Of course, on the face of it, his proposition to merge the province’s health authorities is fatally flawed, if only because it can’t work. The law stipulates in excruciating detail that health, like education, is a central plank in the Equal Opportunity platform that has guided New Brunswick politics since the late 1960s. Dismantling this apparatus would be tantamount to declaring war (real or imagined) on the rights of Francophones.

Beyond this, though, Mr. Higgs’ late-game candor conveniently ignores the real problem with health care in this province, which is not linguistic “duality” but service “duplication” and the fact that nobody in government or health authorities seems to know (or, perhaps more accurately, cares to think) about how to both profitably privatize and regulate certain elements of geriatric and long-term care and, in so doing, remove huge costs from critical-care facilities.

Methinks, politics will always win out when its erstwhile gunmen aim low and shoot from the lip.

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