One of the key goals of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is to connect the dots among the many factors that influence wellbeing. The intention is to go beyond the traditional "silo approach" that has too often shaped public policy decisions, toward more comprehensive solutions. It is only by understanding how a variety of factors combine and interact that policy shapers and decision makers can bring forward policies and programs that meet the challenges of the 21st century.
The CIW differs from other conventional "wellbeing" indices because it captures a broad range of indicators from diverse areas that reflect our everyday lives. Since the index is broad in focus and its domains are interrelated, we can consider multiple aspects of wellbeing when analysing policy options.
For example, a healthier population will lessen the pressure on resources dedicated to health care treatment, allowing funds to flow to other areas of wellbeing that matter to Canadians, such as education. A more educated workforce increases our innovative capacity, making us more productive and prosperous. A wealthier economy can afford more robust social programs and cultural activities for all residents whose health outcomes, in turn, benefit from enjoying closer ties to their communities. A more sustainable environment can protect jobs and exports, produce nutritious foods and offer myriad activities for leisure, recreation and quality family time. An ongoing cycle can begin with improved health and clearly demonstrates the overlap between indicators.
It is clear that despite the availability of universal health care services, with which a large majority of Canadians are satisfied, persistent health gaps continue to exist among different social groups. This suggests that while improvements in the various provincial health-care systems may be badly needed and highly desirable, they alone will not eliminate or significantly reduce these disparities.
Many socio-economic conditions greatly influence health. These conditions have been shaped both by private economic practices (i.e., "the market") and by public policies (i.e., regulations, taxes, transfers). Delivering better health outcomes for Canadians will require activity in both of these areas. The effects of these conditions on health can be further mitigated by government programs and services, and by belonging to a cohesive and inclusive community.
There is, in short, a need for both public policy interventions tailored to socially excluded groups, as well as initiatives outside the health field, including poverty reduction measures such as a living wage, affordable housing, food security, early learning initiatives, and more available, affordable childcare. The challenge to Canadian policy shapers and decision makers is to take this knowledge and use it to produce more comprehensive policies that will improve the lives of all Canadians. We have taken the liberty of starting the discussion by offering some progressive policy solutions where the CIW can inform ideas for positive change.