Building Health Promotion Capacity: Action for Learning, Learning from Action


140 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-1150-1
DDC 613





Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


“Capacity-building” is the ability of an organization and its
personnel to fulfill a mandate or function. In this case, the area is
public health; the book deals with the capacity of community health
services, governments, public and private organizations, and
professionals to meet the challenges of public health. In addition to
what might be called the routine social challenges to health in any
society, there are grave new issues: environmental diseases such as
those caused by the contamination of the Walkerton water supply, and
major—often global—outbreaks of communicable diseases, such as
HIV/AIDS and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

The authors are an academic (McLean), a former coordinator of a health
promotion research centre (Feather), and the first chief public health
officer of Canada (Butler-Jones, CEO of the new Public Health Agency of
Canada). Since this is a book written by professionals, primarily for
professionals, it is not surprising that there is no general overview of
public-health institutions and procedures in Canada. The lay reader thus
does not know how much capacity needs to be built.

Considering Butler-Jones’s responsibility for national public health,
the second omission is more surprising and disturbing. In the
discussions of organizational health-promotion capacity, there is no
treatment of the workplace; one type of workplace, the school, gets a
passing mention. Yet Canadian workplaces—both generally and in the
broad health-care sector—routinely and strongly address occupational
health hazards, with unions and employers cooperating in their solution.
With the huge increase in communicable diseases of all sorts, there is
obviously a need to deploy workplace health-and-safety structures to
address public-health issues. The only difference is that most
communicable diseases come to the workplace from the outside rather than
being internally generated. From there a major source of transmission,
both within a workplace and beyond it, consists in the workforce. All
the more reason to use the capacities of the workplace in the fight
against communicable diseases.

Butler-Jones certainly has a challenge ahead of him. But this book
gives no indication that he is acutely aware of the challenge.


McLean, Scott, Joan Feather, and David Butler-Jones., “Building Health Promotion Capacity: Action for Learning, Learning from Action,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 24, 2024,