Evidence of meeting #38 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was community.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard  Professor, National Seniors Council
Victor Kuperman  Associate Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual
Gisèle Tassé-Goodman  President, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Danielle Widmer
Debra Shime  Vice-President, Community Initiatives, United Way Centraide Canada
Danis Prud'homme  Director General, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ

June 3rd, 2021 / 4 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses.

My question is for Ms. Dupuis‑Blanchard, president of the National Seniors Council, whom I welcome.

At the beginning of your remarks, you reminded us of the objective of the National Seniors Council. I'm looking at it myself right now: your role is to engage seniors, stakeholders, and experts in order to advise the government.

When it comes to engaging seniors, in what ways do you consult them?

I am asking you this because in Quebec, the mobilization of seniors has been very strong with regard to the impoverishment of seniors and their financial situation. Yes, the pandemic has hit hard, but it has also highlighted the impoverishment of our seniors. Yes, health and mental health issues must be considered, but the financial issue is also important.

In your recommendations and advice to government, do you address the issue of the impoverishment of seniors?

If so, do you recognize that seniors can find themselves in very precarious financial situations as early as age 65?

4:05 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

Thank you, Ms. Chabot. This is a most important issue.

The mobilization role of the National Seniors Council can be interpreted in different ways.

The members of the council often come from different provinces, so we have a fairly national representation. All members are very close to the elders in their communities and engage with them in different ways. Often, my council colleagues bring back the experiences and stories of the seniors they consulted.

Of course, when we launch a consultation or hold a roundtable, for example, it allows us to reach out to certain groups of seniors. We recognize that the number of people we can engage is limited. However, we always make a strong effort to reach out to seniors so that their voices are heard.

I can speak from personal experience, although I know we are focusing on the council right now.

We are certainly well aware that there are seniors living in poverty or with low incomes. The council has done some work on elder crime and elder abuse. In that work, we have found that seniors with low incomes are often at risk.

In terms of my own work, our team in New Brunswick worked to develop a picture of the economic situation of seniors. We focused on the situation of francophone seniors in the province. Often, statistics show us that francophone seniors have a lower income than anglophone seniors because of their education. They have a lower level of education and hold more precarious or seasonal jobs. This results in their having a much lower income when they reach retirement age than their anglophone counterparts.

So my personal work converges with my work on the council. My colleagues on the council and I are always trying to get [Technical difficulty—Editor] and see what other sometimes underrepresented subgroups of seniors need to be part of our discussions and recommendations.

4:05 p.m.

Bloc

Louise Chabot Bloc Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Ms. Dupuis‑Blanchard.

You know that the government decided to increase the old age security pension for people aged 75 and over, even though this pension is available to Canadian seniors starting at the age of 65. However, no evidence has been provided to explain why seniors aged 60 to 74 are excluded. As you just said, poverty has no age limit.

As part of your health care and financial studies, have you collected data by age group? For example, do you have data on seniors aged 60 to 70 and seniors aged 70 and over?

4:05 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

I've collected some data as part of my personal work. I could send it to you if you're interested.

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Chabot.

Next we are going to have Ms. Gazan, please, for six minutes.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you so much, Chair.

My first questions are for Madam Dupuis-Blanchard.

On ageism, seniors have paid the cost of poor planning and policy with their lives and well-being during this pandemic. I believe the pandemic very clearly exposed the role of ageism in Canada and how elders in our communities—not in all communities—are really quite devalued. It's very sad.

Can you tell us more about the role of ageism during the pandemic?

4:10 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

Yes, certainly, and I agree with your comment about how sad [Technical difficulty—Editor]

Ageism certainly happens in the intersection of sexism as well and sexuality. It's not an isolated phenomenon that happens.

During the pandemic, what we've seen is often what we say is “compassionate ageism”. What I mean by this is that older adults have been portrayed as passive persons who should rely on someone else to receive care and support. We've portrayed them in that pity kind of way of looking at things. For sure, the pandemic's impact has been phenomenal and we can't deny that, but there is certainly a way to portray it that would not necessarily conduct to ageism.

As Dr. Kuperman said in his opening remarks, as soon as the pandemic was declared an older adult disease and something to be preoccupied by, on Twitter all of a sudden we saw the BoomerRemover hashtag and things like that. We've witnessed during the pandemic that ageism is certainly present, even in new ways that weren't there, like needing to take care of them, but they're so passive and they're not active, it's.... Yes.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

I totally agree with that analysis.

In response to that, do you have recommendations on how to create societies and systems that aren't ageist and to put those systems in place?

4:10 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

It's a complex question. Certainly, at the National Seniors Council, we are just starting our work on ageism. It was one of our priorities in the last work plan and we are carrying that priority into our new workload as well, because we have ongoing work that's happening there.

As far as recommendations go, again, I think it's to have that link that we're able to apply and to look at new policies and programs and at our discourse, the vocabulary we use, and to be conscious of that: to understand what ageism is, first of all, and to be conscious of it. I would certainly say create a lot of awareness around it as well. A lot of people and even we gerontologists will say things sometimes, and we'll stop ourselves and say, “Oh, that was so ageist on my part to say that.” It's sort of part of that regular vocabulary we use, and all of a sudden you have to stop yourself and say that there's a better way to say that, that there's a positive way to say it as well.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Because I have a limited amount of time, I will ask about Canada Post and one of the programs that they wanted to offer needing to be supported by the federal government in regard to social isolation of seniors [Technical difficulty—Editor] while they're doing their postal routes.

I'm wondering, Mr. Kuperman, if you could speak to that.

Maybe you can add to it as well, Madam Dupuis-Blanchard.

I think it's a great idea. It's an idea that I certainly support. I was wondering if I could get your thoughts on it.

4:10 p.m.

Associate Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Victor Kuperman

Yes, I think that would be a terrific initiative. Indeed, there are only a few professions, a few occupations, that get physical access to just about every locale, every house and every domicile in our country. Canada Post would be a great candidate for that.

I will just add to the entire discussion that, as a country, whatever we invest now in the public awareness programs or educational programs that fight ageism will be an investment that goes way beyond the end of the pandemic. The problem did not begin with COVID-19, and ageism unfortunately will not go away.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you very much.

Madam Dupuis-Blanchard, do you have anything to add about Canada Post?

4:15 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

I think that would be a great idea. In my own work on aging in place, we've started to explore that. We have retired employees from Canada Post in our community, and they were telling us that we really should look into this because they know it would work. Even newspaper carriers who go door to door have an access that others do not have, as does anybody who goes door to door or does regular check-ins with older adults.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Thank you, Ms. Gazan.

4:15 p.m.

NDP

Leah Gazan NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Thank you so much.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Sean Casey

Next, Mr. Tochor, please go ahead for five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Corey Tochor Conservative Saskatoon—University, SK

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, witnesses, for what you have shared today and for your work during the pandemic and the public service that you're doing representing an important segment of our population, which I think, especially during the first and second wave, was overlooked. Unfortunately, the pandemic has ravaged the senior population more than any other segment, whether in terms of actual direct effects of COVID or indirectly in suffering during the restrictions. I think as a country we should have bubble-wrapped our seniors and supported them a lot better than we have.

I'd like to hear from both of you whether you have individual stories about seniors who have passed away, unfortunately, from COVID and how the grieving process has changed during a pandemic and all the restrictions. Do you have any individual stories you'd like to share?

4:15 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

I can share one personally, not from my own family but from research we did on caregivers who had a relative in long-term care who they hadn't been able to visit. We heard from a designated care person who was allowed to go in how difficult it was to not be able to have the full family support there. They recognized that their relative was at the end of life. That's already a difficult experience, with the grief and with preparing for that stage in life, but to be limited to doing it with only the staff there and maybe one additional person who was able to access the long-term care facility, for example, while the other family members either tried to be at the window or were just at a distance.... It's that lack of presence and that lack of humanness as well. That's what they were sharing with us. They said, “We knew mom was going to die and it's not that it was a surprise; it's the fact that she did it with only me and my sister there and that the others were just not being part of it.”

This caregiver said, “I actually feel privileged that I was the one to be there, because that's part of my grieving process”, but the other family members who weren't able to be there are living a very different grieving process, and it makes it very, very difficult.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Corey Tochor Conservative Saskatoon—University, SK

Before we hear Victor's comments on this, have you heard of more seniors turning, unfortunately, to MAID? There have been media reports that seniors are just giving up. Getting vaccines into the province or into the country has been too slow. Have you heard of that?

4:15 p.m.

Professor, National Seniors Council

Dr. Suzanne Dupuis-Blanchard

I've not heard of requesting or thinking about MAID, but I have certainly heard of seniors wanting to stop eating.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Corey Tochor Conservative Saskatoon—University, SK

That's unfortunate.

Victor.

4:15 p.m.

Associate Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Victor Kuperman

I would just add one personal story. I have a friend who works in a long-term care facility. What she told me was that the seniors who were, unfortunately, in their terminal stages were trying to make arrangements to be on the first floor of that facility because that allows window access. They could see their loved ones. This makes a lot of difference for them. There's a sad aspect both, of course, for those who pass away and for their families. The grieving has multiplied.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Corey Tochor Conservative Saskatoon—University, SK

Victor, have you heard of, unfortunately, more people accessing MAID in some of your studies?

4:20 p.m.

Associate Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Victor Kuperman

I've not directly, but that is something I will definitely start paying attention to.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Corey Tochor Conservative Saskatoon—University, SK

I appreciate that.

I understand that you have a study coming out shortly on the loneliness and the aspects of mental health in seniors during these trying times.

Just quickly, have you heard of many seniors who are waiting to access surgical care or health care outside of COVID concerns?