Should there be an onus on personal responsibility to health

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Commentary with Geoff deGannes

Nova Scotia Health Minister Leo Glavine has sparked quite a controversy with recent remarks about Nova Scotians and their need to live a healthy lifestyle. 

The minister was expressing his opinions in a column published in the Kings County Register earlier this month.

He emphasizes that his personal comments are not reflective of government policy. Glavine called on Nova Scotians to quit smoking, get more exercise, and eat better. Few would argue with that advice. 

What raised eyebrows was the health minister’s remarks in one paragraph of the article that points to what he terms “cognizant abusers of the system.”

To quote Glavine, “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.”

The comments have led some people, including NDP Health Critic Dave Wilson, to suggest the minister is targeting low income Nova Scotians and blaming them for being a burden on the system. 

At the same time Wilson is calling on the minister to apologize for his remarks. Minister Glavine may have been off message singling out the small minority who will take advantage of the system, but if you read the article in its entirety, it is clear he wasn’t targeting low-income families.  

His critics have found it convenient to simply lift the one paragraph out of context. 

Actually, I found Glavine’s column to be rather honest, refreshing and progressive. As the minister has pointed out, when it comes to health, soft messaging hasn’t had the desired effect.   

Not unlike other provinces in this country, Nova Scotia’s health care system is in crisis with diminishing dollars and an aging population. That calls for drastic measures on the part of government to ensure the system is sustainable for the long term. 

Glavine says 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.  

The health minister is all for assisting those to want to help themselves. As he says, they 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.

Despite the best efforts of medical professionals and health organizations to promote wellness, many of us can be accused of ignoring the message. Should there not be some onus on personal responsibility when it comes to one’s health?  In Glavine’s words: “Proactive healthcare is the best way to restore long-term wealth to our province”. 

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.  



Organizations: Kings County Register, Tantramar Radio Society

Geographic location: Nova Scotians, Nova Scotia

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