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A collective voice for advancing public health: why public health associations matter today


We reflect on why public health matters today from the perspective of Canada’s provincial, territorial, and national public health associations. As independent, non-profit organizations that transcend professional roles and sectors, public health associations are positioned to play an essential role in strengthening public health, broadly speaking, across Canada. We outline three reasons why public health associations matter today. First, public health associations are uniquely positioned to champion a public health perspective. Second, they represent and connect a diverse range of roles, professions, and stakeholders involved in public health. Finally, they are positioned for advocacy, providing a platform for participation to those who may not otherwise be able to engage but who understand the importance of a collective voice. These reasons why public health associations are important are not new, but arguably carry renewed importance in the context of a contemporary public health landscape characterized by, among other things, weakened formal public health infrastructure, neoliberal agendas and individualism, and public health imperatives such as growing economic and social inequity and ecological determinants of health that require intersectoral responses.


En réponse à la question Pourquoi la santé publique aujourd’hui?, nous réfléchissons à l’importance de notre association nationale pour la santé publique et de ses pendants provinciaux et territoriaux. Comme ce sont des organismes indépendants et sans but lucratif qui transcendent les rôles et les secteurs professionnels, les associations pour la santé publique sont en position de jouer un rôle essentiel dans le renforcement de la santé publique au sens large partout au Canada. Nous présentons trois raisons pour lesquelles ces associations importent aujourd’hui. La première est qu’elles sont particulièrement bien placées pour faire valoir une perspective de santé publique. La deuxième est qu’elles représentent et rapprochent une grande diversité de rôles, de professions et d’acteurs de la santé publique. La troisième est qu’elles sont bien placées pour faire de la sensibilisation en offrant une plateforme de participation à des personnes qui sinon n’en auraient aucune, mais qui reconnaissent l’importance de parler d’une même voix. Ces raisons de l’importance des associations pour la santé publique ne sont pas nouvelles, mais elles ont sans doute gagné en importance depuis que le paysage de la santé publique se caractérise, entre autres, par l’affaiblissement des infrastructures officielles, par l’individualisme et les visées néolibérales et par des impératifs comme la croissance des inégalités sociales et économiques et les déterminants écologiques de la santé, qui exigent des interventions intersectorielles.

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  1. Civil society refers to “the wide array of non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations that have a presence in public life, expressing the interests and values of their members or others, based on ethical, cultural, political, scientific, religious, or philanthropic considerations.” They may include community groups, NGOs, labour unions, and other service agencies (

  2. NTNUPHA website:

  3. PHABC website:

  4. The notion of “wicked problems” was developed in the planning literature but has extended to public policy more generally to describe problems that, among other things, are difficult to define, have multiple explanations, have no clear solution, and may be a symptom of other problems.

  5. Examples include (but are not limited to) speech language pathologists, dental hygienists, audiologists, health information scientists, and community nutritionists.





  10. This benefit of PHAs may be particularly important in jurisdictions with small populations, where many members are employed by formal institutions such as government ministries.

  11. PHABC website:

  12. OPHA website:

  13. ASPQ website:


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We are grateful to Ian Culbert and Frank Welsh, Executive Director and Director of Policy, respectively, at the Canadian Public Health Association, for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.

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The Canadian Network of Public Health Associations. A collective voice for advancing public health: why public health associations matter today. Can J Public Health 110, 335–339 (2019).

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  • Public health
  • Public health association
  • Intersectoral
  • Advocacy
  • Partnerships


  • Santé publique
  • Association pour la santé publique
  • Intersectoriel
  • Défense des droits
  • Partenariats