Government workers represent the needs of the majority of people. It is our job to manage your money wisely and to spend it as you have mandated us to do. We must strive to give you everything you want with diminishing funds. However, there are two crucial aspects of Nova Scotia’s survival, which government cannot give you: an acceptance to learn and a healthy lifestyle.  A healthy, wealthy society depends on health and education levels. Years and hundreds of programs have tried to help people understand their part in the healthcare equation and everyone needs to put these teachings into practice.

As minister of health, it is my job to improve the health of all citizens. To do this, we need a population that looks after its own health. Healthier citizens would mean more money and time available for those who require immediate medical intervention. Everyone deserves medical help. Sometimes, though, help comes in the form of a dietician telling us what to eat or in a nurse prescribing daily exercise.   

This reminds me of a story: during a yearly flood, caused by decreasing accommodation for natural water flow, rising waters forced a man to seek refuge on his second-floor balcony. Neighbours canoed to his rescue, but he declined their help, saying, “Thank you, but I’m praying to God to lower the water.” Soon afterward, he had to climb onto his roof. Emergency Measures personnel arrived by raft to take him to safety. He preferred to stay, saying “No thank you. I’m praying to God to stop the rising waters.” The water continued to rise. The man climbed to the top of his chimney. A Search and Rescue helicopter went to save him, but again, he refused. “No. God will save me,” he said. Well, he drowned. When he met God, he asked, “Why didn’t you save me?” God answered, “I tried to. I sent you a canoe, a raft and a helicopter.”

People need to recognize when help is being offered, be it in the form of nutritional and exercise regimes or doctors’ advice. Abuse of the body is like abuse of the environment. They both lead to disaster. They both require effort to maintain.

Every government has recognized the need to improve Nova Scotia’s healthcare system to improve the health of our citizens. Healthcare is the largest expenditure in Nova Scotia. Some drastic measures have been undertaken and are seeing continued and positive results, such as the dismantling of one of the largest burdens on our system: smoking. Do we need to take further drastic measures? Some have suggested looking at the banking model. Canadian banking systems are highly regulated to help thwart abuses. Clients must be approved before receiving financial assistance. They must prove that they practice a healthy financial lifestyle before being able to borrow money. These regulations have helped Canada through difficult economic times.

Imagine if healthcare worked like banks. Patients would have to prove they practice a healthy lifestyle before receiving assistance. They would have to prove that they practice the basic tenets of proper eating and exercise. Such a system would save money for those who have not abused their health and need medical care. 

But, copying this approach would be archaic and inhumane, and it is not for me to judge those who are dependent on the system. The root causes of their needs are generations deep. It is for me, however, to help people understand the importance of individual health for a healthy system. These people need help to break unhealthy habits, because the consequences of smoking, uncontrolled eating and avoidance of physical activity deplete funds that could otherwise go toward saving lives and finding cures. Then there are people who are cognizant abusers of the system. They accept government assistance, yet still have money to travel.  These people are abusing their neighbours’ hard-earned money. The goal of assistance programs is to help people out of a difficult time, not give people free money.  

Proactive healthcare is the best way to restore long-term wealth to our province. Individual responsibility for basic health is crucial. It is very encouraging to see so many active constituents and local grocers and retailers who are providing for healthy eating choices.

*This piece appeared in the 6 February 2014 opinion section of the King’s County Register