Where are seniors on the Trudeau agenda?

It is not immediately obvious.  We no longer have a Minister for Seniors, but we never had a department for seniors issues anyway. Crafting a smaller cabinet inevitably meant the loss of some titles.  Harper tied historically with Mulroney for the largest Cabinet ever.  As it shrunk, some titles, such as minister for seniors, disappeared.  And we have one entirely new seat at the Cabinet table – a minister responsible for science.

Searching the mandate letters, one finds the commitments for our aging population divided between Health minister Jane Philpott and Families, Children and Social Policy minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Among Minister Duclos’ instructions are clear priorities to address seniors’ poverty and housing needs:

“Work with the Minister of Finance to improve the income security of lower income seniors living alone by increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) by ten percent, indexing Old Age Security (OAS) and GIS payments to a new Senior’s Price Index, cancelling the increase in age of eligibility for OAS (65 to 67), and working with provinces and territories to ensure adequate and coordinated support programs to address seniors’ poverty…”


“In your role as Minister responsible for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities to develop a strategy to re-establish the federal government’s role in supporting affordable housing, including: “prioritizing infrastructure investments in affordable housing and seniors’ housing, including finding ways to support the municipal construction of new housing units and refurbishment of existing ones…”

Minister Philpott is instructed among her myriad of responsibilities to:

“Healthcare across Canada is changing at a rapid pace to keep up with the changing needs of an aging population and advances in health technology. The federal government must be an essential partner in improving outcomes and quality of care for Canadians. I expect you to work with provincial and territorial governments to support them in their efforts to make home care more available, prescription drugs more affordable, and mental health care more accessible….”

And to:

“support the delivery of more and better home care services. This includes more access to high quality in-home caregivers, financial supports for family care, and, when necessary, palliative care..”

Given the massive demographic shifts in Canada, that, according to Statistics Canada, Canadians over 65 now outnumber Canadians under 15 for the first time in our history, it can be fairly suggested that the Speech from the Throne and mandate letters underestimate the urgency of the situation.

It is true that young Canadians have been getting less from our society than aging Canadians for many years.  A focus on children and youth, on making it possible for the next generation to have an affordable education, to find good jobs and be able to buy their own home is critical.  But so too must we ensure health care, home care, affordable homes, decent and safe public transit and healthy life choices for seniors.

We must enhance CPP.  Ideally we should double CPP, phasing in the transition over the next seven years. Greens are concerned that the pension funds of the CPP have been, since 1997, under management of the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). In 2007, Stephen Harper legislated a far more aggressive approach to the management of those funds. The assets of the CPPIB were over $200 billion at the end of 2013, placing it in the top ten of pension plans anywhere in the world. These dollars in the CPP are now being played in the global casino of mergers and acquisitions, wheeling and dealing in take-overs and other higher risk behaviours. Failures in the market could undermine the security of CPP. Greens believe that CPP funds must not be gambled in the market.

We need to develop a comprehensive dementia strategy. Within 25 years, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia could reach 1.3 million and will have the highest economic, social, and health costs of all diseases in Canada. Although many anticipate that this will precipitate a crisis for health care and social services, the challenge and opportunity is to provide our seniors with independence, well-being, and dignity.

For all segments of our society, we need national pharmacare.  No longer should aging Canadians have to choose between filling a prescription and buying decent food for the month.

We have work to do to meet and enhance the first round of commitments from our new government to meet the needs of our aging population.

Originally published in the Hill Times.