Let’s plan for our aging population

It’s a fact that over the next two decades, the number of seniors in Canada will increase significantly.  With families struggling just to make ends meet, saving enough for retirement can seem more like a dream than a real possibility.  The Conservative solution to this has been to raise the age of eligibility for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement while backtracking on plans to support and expand the Canada Pension Plan.   Currently there are more than a quarter of a million seniors living in poverty.  That number is sure to grow in the absence of a plan to address the problem which is why New Democrats have been working with seniors to develop a national strategy on aging.

One thing is certain, the challenges related to an aging population cannot be wished away and ignoring them will only make things worse.  The federal government has to work with the provinces, territories, municipalities, seniors and their organizations to ensure we are much better prepared for the big bump in the number of Canadian seniors.

The New Democrat national strategy on aging proposes 6 items that will make a difference.    They are: collaborative federalism which will bring all levels of government together with seniors organizations to achieve positive change; putting people first to meet real needs instead of focussing on ways to make the government look good; seeking  better value by emphasizing investments that have the most impact while ensuring that existing resources are allocated as efficiently as possible;  thinking long-term and recognizing the real cost of high youth unemployment, stagnant incomes, and growing inequality all of which prevent Canadians from saving for retirement; recognizing the  contributions,  wide range of abilities and resources of older Canadians; and by listening to evidence so  policies are developed to ensure  we make the most of proven initiatives and target all programs wisely.

At the heart of the plan are a group of issues related to health, financial stability, housing, and quality of life issues.   Plans to restore the age of eligibility for OAS while working with provinces to improve the CPP, as well as raising the Guaranteed Income Supplement will ensure no senior lives in abject poverty.  Investments in items like affordable housing and retrofit programs allow seniors to stay in their own homes longer while maintaining independence and dignity.  Finally, the quality of life for seniors must be an ongoing concern for any government.  While the basic needs of food, shelter and medical care are critical components, tackling issues such as elder abuse or the difficulty many seniors have accessing services must become priorities as well.

If the strategy on aging sounds ambitious it is only a reflection of how long we have allowed these challenges to persist.  The fact that our population is aging is nothing new, the mean-hearted solutions of this government indicate that they have no real plans to do the hard work needed on this front.  Without a plan going forward the number of seniors living in poverty will balloon along with our aging demographic growth and the last thing Canada needs is more seniors living in poverty.