Evidence of meeting #135 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was experience.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Krista James  National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law
Gisèle Tassé-Goodman  Vice-President, Réseau FADOQ
Philippe Poirier-Monette  Collective Rights Advisor, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ
Madeleine Bélanger  As an Individual
Hannah Martin  As an Individual
Nokuzola Ncube  As an Individual
Dharana Needham  As an Individual
Jaelyn Jarrett  As an Individual
Immaculée Kalimurhima  As an Individual
Megan Linton  As an Individual
Valérie Daniel  As an Individual
Phoenix Nakagawa  As an Individual
Charlotte Scott-Frater  As an Individual
Claire Belliveau  As an Individual
Eugénie Veilleux  As an Individual
Corina Picui  As an Individual

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Good morning and welcome to the 135th meeting of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. This portion of the meeting is in public. Today we'll continue our study of the challenges faced by senior women, with a focus on the factors contributing to their poverty and vulnerability.

For this, we are pleased to welcome Krista James, National Director of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law. She is coming to us via video conference from Vancouver, British Columbia. Krista will be the only witness making an opening statement this morning, as she is not one of the returning witnesses.

I am also pleased to welcome back Madeleine Bélanger, as an individual, by video conference from Quebec City.

We also welcome the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées. To all of those people who are francophone, I apologize for my pronunciation. Emmanuella, you can help me on that later. Representing that organization is Geneviève Tremblay-Racette. She is the Director and is replacing Luce Bernier, who appeared on February 28.

From FADOQ, we welcome Gisèle Tassé-Goodman, who is the Vice-President, and Philippe Poirier-Monette, Collective Rights Adviser for the Provincial Secretariat.

Welcome back, and thank you very much for making the time to come back. We'll start with our opening statement, and I'll turn the floor over to Krista James for seven minutes.

9:45 a.m.

Krista James National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law

I was actually asked to prepare a 10-minute statement, but you would like a seven-minute statement instead. Is that correct?

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Seven minutes would be appropriate, if you wouldn't mind.

9:45 a.m.

National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law

Krista James

Okay.

Thank you for this invitation to speak to the committee. I am a lawyer by training. I direct an organization called the Canadian Centre for Elder Law. I have been with the CCEL for 12 years. The CCEL is a think tank focused on—

Oh, there's an echo, suddenly, where I hear myself in English. Is that normal?

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We're just checking with the studio for you to see what the issue may be.

We've been advised that the volume is a little too loud on your side and that's creating the echo, so you have the opportunity to turn that down.

9:45 a.m.

National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law

Krista James

I cannot.... Well, I can whisper.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

We can actually see you much better now. It's perfect. Is the sound okay? Is it still echoing?

9:45 a.m.

National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law

Krista James

I can hear you perfectly. I just hear myself while I speak. Can you change that? It's like being God with the echo of your own voice.

9:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

You're awesome.

We're being advised that it has something to do with your end. Maybe they can work on that in the studio. Are you able to continue, though, with your seven minutes?

9:45 a.m.

National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law

Krista James

Sure, I'll continue. It's a little crazy-making.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Okay. Please go ahead.

9:45 a.m.

National Director, Canadian Centre for Elder Law

Krista James

Thank you for this invitation to speak to the committee. I'll do my best.

The CCEL is a think tank focused on law and policy issues related to aging. We are part of a B.C. non-profit. A large part of our work involves consulting with seniors about their experiences and then working with expert advisory committees to craft law and policy recommendations to address the problems identified through consultation.

From 2011 to 2017, we worked on our older women's dialogue project. This work was funded over the years by various organizations, including the Government of Canada. We started this project because we noticed that, while gender has a significant impact on life experience, research and policy analysis seemed to be focused on younger women. Feminist work tended to focus on girls and women of child-bearing age, and aging policy tended to be gender-neutral. As a result, older women's experiences became invisible. We developed our project to address this gap in research.

We held a total of 35 consultation events collaborating with local agencies, holding events in 10 different languages, as well as American Sign Language, and speaking with women from their fifties to their nineties. We held five consultation events with indigenous older women. In total, we consulted with over 500 senior women living in the Vancouver area.

Our findings and recommendations are summarized in two reports, which are included in the brief I provided. There are also links in my brief to summary reports available in English and French. I will highlight a few elements of those reports.

I'd like to underscore at the outset that an overarching finding of this project was that the experience of poverty and the vulnerability of senior women are significantly impacted by many aspects of identity—not only gender. Women with disabilities, indigenous women, ethno-cultural minority and immigrant women, and LGBTQ women experience unique challenges as they age. Policy responses thus must be tailored to address the experiences of older women in all their diversity. Generic policies will fail to support the most vulnerable women in Canada, and I can't underscore that enough.

In my presentation, I'd like to talk about poverty, health care, violence and abuse, and access to justice.

Certainly, catastrophic events such as divorce, injury, and job loss can negatively impact income security in old age. However, the poverty of senior women is often a function of events occurring across their lives, particularly the choices women must make to prioritize unpaid family caregiving over paid labour. Currently, policy measures do not adequately address the reality that women often earn a lot less than their male counterparts and so have fewer savings in old age. Recent changes to the guaranteed income supplement unfortunately do not lift the most vulnerable women out of poverty.

For many women, I must also say that “retirement” is a misleading term. Many of us are engaged in caregiving throughout our supposed retirement years. Days are filled with physically and emotionally demanding care for spouses, adult children with disabilities, and grandchildren. This caregiving labour is often a treasured part of women's lives; however, they require financial support to fulfill these critical roles in our communities.

In our report, we have three recommendations related to income security. We recommend that the government enhance the old age security and guaranteed income supplement programs; amend the Canada pension plan to include a dropout provision, parallel to the child rearing provision, that would be applicable to all years of full-time family caregiving; and develop programs providing better financial, housing, and other supports to senior women who are the primary caregivers of underage children, particularly indigenous women. What happens often is that eligibility terminates when you turn 65, but caregiving does not stop.

In terms of supporting senior women survivors of violence and abuse, we learned that violence has a significant impact on aging. Some women do experience violence in old age. Others experienced violence as children or younger women that continues to impact their quality of life. In particular, historic trauma has had an enduring impact on the lives of indigenous older women. Keeping their children and youth safe is a priority.

Through consultation with service providers who work with senior women who have experienced violence, we learned that senior women are particularly reluctant to go to a transition house. Maintaining a connection to their communities is very important to them. Leaving home often means transitioning to long-term care, because transition houses are not set up to address their complex health needs. Also, as they value family relationships, sometimes over their own safety, they will stay in dangerous situations to make sure the people they love are cared for, including spouses who are harming them.

Current policy measures also increase risk for immigrant women experiencing abuse. Pension policy excludes many senior immigrant women from access to old age security and the guaranteed income supplement. Immigrant women stay in dangerous situations because 10-year to 20-year agreements between their sponsoring family members and the Government of Canada prevent them from accessing many publicly funded services, thereby effectively tying them to family members who harm them.

To address these concerns, we have recommended that the Government of Canada and the provincial and territorial governments fund initiatives to enable senior indigenous women, women elders and their communities to develop locally based and culturally appropriate programming to support healing within their communities.

We ask that you enhance support for organizations that assist senior women experiencing or fleeing abuse. This not only means transition houses and safe houses, but also seniors-serving agencies and immigrant-serving agencies, particularly to develop and enhance outreach services so that women can be served without leaving their home.

We would like enhanced funding to safe houses and transition houses, to allow them to implement practices identified in the report “Promising Practices Across Canada for Housing Women Who are Older and Fleeing Abuse”. It is referenced in our brief. This would allow programs and agencies to enhance accessibility and appropriateness for senior women.

Also, we are asking for a review of old age security and guaranteed income supplement eligibility criteria respecting access for senior immigrant women who otherwise have no financial support.

In terms of access to health care, I'm going to skip some of my introduction and just lead into the recommendations.

We've recommended that the government fund patient advocate and navigator programs to provide support and assistance to senior women who experience barriers to receiving timely and appropriate health care. Women with complex health issues find system navigation challenging. Health care is often delivered through a mix of providers.

We recommend enhancing funding for programs aimed at providing housekeeping assistance, such as meal preparation, laundry and housework to senior women requiring support. This is essentially home support. What we've found in recent years is that some of these kinds of services—which are the services women tend to need more than others—have been cut.

We ask that you explore models of health care delivery that better serve women with complex health circumstances, such as community health centres that bring together primary care physicians and allied health professionals. The problem with going to see a physician, as many people know, is that you're often limited to seven minutes with a doctor. If you're an older woman or a woman with disabilities with many complex health issues, seven minutes does not allow you to tell your story and get the right kind of care.

Finally, I have a few words about enhancing access to justice. Senior women tell us that they find it difficult to access legal representation and legal advice. Most cannot afford the legal services they need, and many do not know how to find a lawyer to get help. For some reason, the outreach and promotion of legal services did not seem to reach older women.

Senior women who have survived violence have told us that the legal system can be harmful and re-traumatizing, rather than helpful. Lawyers don't provide the assistance they require; judges may not support them to tell their stories in court, and justice professionals do not seem to help keep them safe. We have worked with a group of older women to develop an eight-minute documentary to illustrate this dynamic. You can watch it on our website. It's called No Voice.

We also have a number of recommendations related to access to justice, as follows.

Provide sustainable funding for programs that provide legal representation to grandmothers who are the primary caregivers of children, including in-house staff lawyer positions within key community agencies. Grandmothers providing care tend to be a group of people that the policy never contemplated would happen.

Identify practical solutions to barriers to access to justice facing older women in B.C. and other provinces, with particular attention to outreach strategies.

Increase the number of hours of funded legal representation in instances where older women require legal aid.

Ensure that justice sector stakeholders, including lawyers, judges and law students, develop a better understanding of the dynamics of trauma.

Enhance funding for advocacy programs that allow senior women to access support that they would not get from a legal aid-funded lawyer. Advocates can provide holistic, emotional and practical assistance that allows women to make better use of their advocates and their legal counsel in a limited time. It provides a better wraparound service for women with complex needs.

Those are the issues that I wanted to highlight in my submission.

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much, Krista.

I hope you've been okay with listening and getting that feedback. I hope it's getting better there, and I know it's finally getting light outside in Vancouver. Thank you very much.

We're going to start with our first round of questioning, and we're going to turn the floor over to Emmanuella Lambropoulos for her seven minutes.

April 2nd, 2019 / 9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you for meeting with the committee again here in Ottawa.

Thank you for being here with us today.

My first questions are for the representatives of the Association québécoise de défense des droits des personnes retraitées et préretraitées and the Réseau FADOQ.

You've met with the committee before.

What further initiatives could the government take to improve the situation of seniors? Our government has already implemented the new horizons for seniors program. It still plans to invest $5 million a year in the program, which will help many more organizations.

What more can we do to help seniors, and senior women in particular?

10 a.m.

Gisèle Tassé-Goodman Vice-President, Réseau FADOQ

Good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members.

At the Réseau FADOQ, when we think about the survival of our life partners, it's a serious matter. Women have a longer life expectancy than men. We know that 8.4% of women in Quebec are widows, which is significant. The death of a spouse is a difficult life experience for anyone. It's difficult on a financial level. When you get up one morning, as a couple, to see the sun rise, and the next day your spouse is gone, your life changes.

When Old Age Security and Canada Pension Plan recipients die, their benefits stop. We want their benefits extended to three months after their death, because the bills keep arriving in the mailbox. The widowers or widows, who are seniors in many cases, continue to fulfill the financial obligations. These obligations were often established before the death of their spouses. We're asking for compassion in this area.

We also want the guaranteed income supplement increased by $50 a month. Many women were in the workforce before they needed to stop working to raise their children at home, and they weren't able to contribute as much as their spouses to an RRSP. We're also asking for compassion in this area.

Before the age of 60, men are more likely than women to live alone. We want this reality to be taken into account and we want an increase in old age security benefits. For the guaranteed income supplement, we want an increase of exactly $50 a month.

We commend the government for improving the earnings exemption for experienced workers. We're very pleased with it.

Many women in Quebec act as caregivers. The gap between women caregivers and men caregivers is larger among those aged 45 to 64. In this age group, 39.7% of women are caregivers. One in three women caregivers holds a job, while one in five men caregivers holds a job. We want the government to double the caregiver tax credit because it's often given to women. The credit must also be refundable.

In 2016, the Appui pour les proches aidants d'aînés estimated that 2.2 million adults in Quebec perform a caregiver task each week for a senior.

The Réseau FADOQ recommends that the federal government raise the weekly earnings threshold for calculating caregiver benefits so that the amount provided is closer to the income of program recipients.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Okay.

Thank you, Ms. Tassé-Goodman.

10 a.m.

Philippe Poirier-Monette Collective Rights Advisor, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ

From a broader perspective, we address the Canada Health Transfer issue in our brief.

I believe that more resources must be allocated to the provinces so that they can provide quality services to citizens. The health transfers used to increase each year by 6%. The federal government then reached an agreement with the provinces for increases of about 3%. We want the federal government to raise its annual increase in health transfers and to calculate the transfers based on the aging population variable. For example, our brief states that it costs $12,000 a year to provide health care for a senior, as opposed to about $1,200 per person in the general population.

I also want to remind the committee that the nurses in our hospitals and CHSLDs are primarily women—

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I hate to interrupt, but I must. Sorry about that, but there are bells going right now.

I will need unanimous consent to continue. We will need to decide what to do. Of course, we have to recognize that we've just brought these witnesses back for the second time. We have the opportunity to continue or stop. I need unanimous consent to continue for, I would say, up to 15 minutes.

Can I get unanimous consent for us to continue?

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Please go ahead.

10:05 a.m.

Collective Rights Advisor, Provincial Secretariat, Réseau FADOQ

Philippe Poirier-Monette

As I was saying, nurses and orderlies are primarily women. These women are responsible for many patients each day. Clearly, an increase in health transfers would make it possible for the government to provide more resources to help these women and give them a break.

These are the FADOQ's recommendations.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I'm now going to have to stop you because we're quite a bit over your time.

I'm going to switch over to Rachael Harder for the next seven minutes of questioning, and then we'll go to Irene Mathyssen so we can finish up and have all parties ask questions.

Rachael, you have seven minutes.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Madame Bélanger, my questions will go to you, in large part. In your testimony that you had the opportunity to share with us on February 28—and on behalf of the committee, I apologize for the disruption you faced that day—you talked about the importance of choice, the importance of freedom, the importance of autonomy, but you juxtaposed those with the fact that many elderly women find themselves feeling perhaps lonely or isolated.

Could you talk about that a bit more in terms of your observation and what could be done?

10:05 a.m.

Madeleine Bélanger As an Individual

I've had the opportunity to meet with many senior women. I don't need to deplore the difficulties that I've just heard about with regard to senior women. I've always been willing to take the place given to me.

However, many women are becoming isolated. I think that we need a public awareness or educational movement and that we must change mentalities. We've just talked about how more women are becoming widows or how they sometimes live a long time without a partner. When women end up alone, we often think that they're being left behind somewhat or that they'll get together with other women. They aren't solicited enough for the public service or jobs. Mentalities change, but it still isn't easy for women who have reached retirement age to return to the labour market [Technical difficulty—Editor].