Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning to all members of the human resources committee. Thank you so much for all the work you do.
Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts with the committee today. I'd like to begin by sharing some wisdom that was related to me by Senator Sharon Carstairs: there are as many ways to age as there are Canadians who are aging. Seniors are defined by how they live, not by their age.
Canadians have recently heard alarming statistics with regard to our aging demographics. This motion sets the stage for all levels of government to work towards servicing our seniors population across Canada. The time for action is today, and planning for the future is where motion number 106 comes in.
I want to thank the House of Commons for approving this motion on May 17. It sets the wheels in motion to formalize and develop a national seniors strategy.
As you perhaps know, my motion M-106 opens the door to dialogue with the National Seniors Council. A study will provide the recently reformed council with information on the best way to develop and implement a national seniors strategy that will bring about positive change in quality of life and well-being for seniors and those caring for them.
I would be remiss if I didn't thank the all-party seniors caucus—MPs Deb Schulte, Mark Warawa, and the NDP's Alistair MacGregor—for their work relating to seniors. This is work that goes across party lines to discuss ways to improve the quality of life for seniors.
Here's why I decided to focus my private member's business on developing a national seniors strategy.
My motion was inspired by two factors: first, my family and then, the seniors living in poverty on nothing but a fixed income.
I have heard about this all over my constituency of Nickel Belt, and in other places in Canada. My father became an MP in the House of Commons in 1968. He is the oldest in a family of 16 children. My mother is the oldest in a family of 15 children. We are a large, French-Catholic family from northern Ontario, with 60 aunts and uncles and more than 100 cousins.
Sometimes, family members take care of one, two or three people who are related to them. I am concerned about them. Of course, we should be there for our families. However, I know that not all Canadians have large families like mine. That is why we are studying ways to take care of our seniors as families get older.
What's more, we are now seeing a rise in the number of seniors caring for seniors. This includes seniors who are caring for their senior spouses, friends, and even parents who are aging in this stage of life. Often, these seniors are on fixed incomes and/or have certain mental or physical challenges of their own, making it difficult to care for their loved ones and even themselves.
It's been an honour to discuss this across my riding and with many MPs, and to talk with staff and seniors at assisted living centres, such as the Au Château home for the aged in Sturgeon Falls, St. Gabriel's Villa in Chelmsford, the Saint Elizabeth centre in Valley East, and St. Joseph's Health Centre and Finlandia in the City of Greater Sudbury, and throughout the riding of Nickel Belt.
I have met with people from a number of community organizations, like the golden age clubs in River Valley, Field, St. Charles, Verner, Sturgeon Falls, Lavigne and Azilda.
There are also the golden age clubs, like Warren, Mulville, Capreol, Chemesford, and Onaping-Levack.
Furthermore, as the northern Ontario caucus chair and vice-chair of the rural caucus and a member of the Algonquins of Ontario first nations community, I continue to learn and understand the needs and challenges faced by seniors living in rural areas and of indigenous communities across Canada.
What I have heard are stories of the resourcefulness of seniors, who want to remain independent and live in their homes for as long as possible, but are unable to afford the cost of making their homes accessible and friendlier to their needs.
I've heard stories of caregivers who work tirelessly to support their loved ones, but at a cost to their income and sometimes their mental and physical well-being. I've also heard stories of seniors who want to be happy, healthier, and active in their community, but are having a hard time making ends meet.
Above all, I hear stories of people who love their families and who want to ensure that they live long, happy, and healthy lives. That motivates me to focus my private members' business on developing a national seniors strategy.
I completely agree that one of the most important topics this committee can study, with regard to improving the quality of life of seniors, is more affordable and accessible housing.
According to the Canadian Medical Association, caring for the elderly in their homes and in their communities is one of the most cost-efficient ways in which Canada’s healthcare system can meet the needs of the seniors who are not suffering from complete dementia or are not gravely ill.
I would like to acknowledge the presence today of the president of the Canadian Medical Association, Dr. Granger Avery, who has been actively campaigning for this cause among MPs in the House of Commons and Canadians for the past three to four years. I would encourage all committee members and Canadians to visit demandaplan.ca
ou, en français, exigeonsunplan.ca.
This plan has already signed up 50,000 Canadians.
Thank you, Dr. Avery, for all the work the association is doing and your work on behalf of seniors across Canada.
The need to encourage treatment of seniors in their homes and to enable seniors to live in their communities as long as possible is something that nine out of 10 seniors have said is critically important to them.
According to a CMA study, most home care in Canada is provided informally by unpaid family, friends, and neighbours. In fact, the Conference Board of Canada report in 2007 estimated that unpaid caregivers provide ten times more hours of home care than paid workers. Put another way, in 2007 roughly 3.1 million people delivered unpaid care to seniors in Canada, which is over 1.5 billion hours.
A Senate report called “Canada's Aging Population: Seizing the Opportunity” by retired Senators Carstairs and Keon in 2009 noted that family and friends provide about 80% of all home care to seniors living in the community and up to 30% of services to seniors living in institutions.
In my opinion, federal and provincial governments need to participate collectively in a study to assess the current system of financial support. That could help seniors to receive a basic income that would allow them a respectable and dignified retirement, as well as to reduce poverty among the elderly.
A significant element of the seniors strategy should also identify and provide support for improving seniors' social determinants of health. These include income, social status, social support networks, education, employment, continued working conditions, the social environment, and physical environment, and should provide for personal health practices, and coping skills, while also looking at gender and culture.
It should also consider the way in which the federal government can support the expansion and improvement of leisure, social and support programs for the elderly, particularly for Canadians living with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. There are fewer programs of this kind for people with those conditions, and they generally cost much more than others.
In fact, as a permanent member of the status of women committee, I heard Tamara Daley, a professor CIHR research chair at York University, tell the committee last Tuesday that these programs cost up to $30 to $40 a day, a cost that many seniors can't afford, unfortunately.
A great example of a centre that offers such good programming in Ottawa, which is here today, is the Good Companions Seniors' Centre.
Thank you, Monique, and the board for being here today to support this motion.
This day program offers seniors minimal assistance for $18 a day. It's those types of programs that we have to look at for best practices all across Canada. I'm glad to see they are here today, as well as seniors from these centres.
I would also like to thank Carolyn Pullen from the Nurses Association for being present and also helping with this motion.
In closing, I would like to express my gratitude to the committee for undertaking this study in order to discover how the government can both support seniors today and prepare them for tomorrow.
I'm looking forward to your questions.
Thank you very much, meegwetch.