Seniors deserve their own department and minister

It’s no secret that too many seniors in Canada are struggling to get by. As our population becomes more elderly, the challenges related to this will only grow. That was the reason the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA) conducted a study on Advancing Inclusion and Quality of Life for Seniors.  The committee reported to parliament last week and while the recommendations are a good step in the right direction, New Democrats feel they could have gone further so that Canada is best prepared for our the future.

The committee report is timely since we are about to encounter some key milestones as our population ages. According to Statistics Canada, there will be more seniors than children aged 14 and younger by 2021. This will be a first for Canada, and just seven years from now seniors will account for a full quarter of our population. By 2036 it is expected there will be as many as 10.9 million seniors in Canada.  If we want to get out in front of that, we will have to act swiftly.

The HUMA report includes strong recommendations for better housing, home care, accessibility, social inclusion, age-friendly communities and more.  Now what is required is strong leadership from our government to implement these ideas.  New Democrats also presented a minority report in addition to offering support to HUMA’s efforts.  That report is calling for a number of measures which fill gaps identified in the larger report and is highlighted by the call for a specific department and minister to champion seniors’ at the cabinet level.

That’s because issues faced by seniors are too often overlooked, and without a specific department to oversee and implement a national strategy and subsequent programs, they will continue to get lost in the current super-sized department. The New Democrat proposal would see the government create a full federal Department for Seniors, led by a Minister for Seniors, to oversee a national strategy that ensures adequate income, strengthens services, and plans for the coming ‘growing grey tide.’

In addition to a new department, the NDP minority report cites the need to immediately implement a comprehensive and long-term plan that helps seniors, particularly those in high-risk groups, including Indigenous Peoples, women living alone, individuals identifying as LGBQT2, racialized minorities, and recent immigrants.   Additional recommendations call for a full-blown  National Pharmacare Program to help seniors with their medications, and recommends special attention be given to seniors living in rural and remote areas. The report details the need for better training and supervision of home care workers, protection against financial abuse, improvements to GIS, and having companies face tighter regulatory rules to fulfill pension obligations to employees as important steps for the government to pursue.

The time for action is clearly upon us and the HUMA report is a strong foundation that can guide us forward. It won’t be long before every 4th Canadian is a senior, and the reality is that the golden years are not so golden for too many vulnerable seniors. With a little planning and the appropriate resources we can make sure that more seniors can retire with the dignity they deserve.