Evidence of meeting #138 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 seniors.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Kenza Gamassi
Amanda Grenier  Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual
Oluremi Adewale  Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

Thank you so much for coming and for giving us your time today. I'm looking forward to engaging with you a little further and hearing your thoughts and ideas on different things.

A shift has been taking place in society over the last few centuries. Seniors were once within our homes, and our aging parents were cared for within a home environment. They were a part of the family, so there wasn't this problem or concern with regard to isolation.

There was also something else that took place, and that was that those with grey hair were looked to as people with wisdom, experience and groundedness, and they were able to contribute to the overall home environment and its productivity. Perhaps they didn't invest in a way that brought about economic benefit to the home, but they were able to invest in a way that brought about stability, and they were valued for that.

There were also some contributions made, when possible, toward child care and the overall well-being of the home. Elders were people to be respected, honoured, valued and cherished. There was this worth that was attributed to age.

Fast forward to 2019, and people want to be younger. Youthfulness is the trump card; it's the crème de la crème. We see it in facial products that are advertised for women. We see it in the push toward small surgeries in order to help a person's face look less aged or in hair implants for those who might be losing their hair. We see it with hair dye and wanting to move from grey to blonde. All these things point us in this direction. According to this belief, age is to be avoided and youthfulness is to be pursued.

In 2015, one of the first acts of the current government was to get rid of the minister for seniors and put in a minister for youth. Putting a minister for seniors in place was really bold, and it was the right move of the previous governments because they saw the trends and where we were going as an aging society, and the fact that this demographic was going to make up the bulk of Canada.

Now we find ourselves in this place where youthfulness is again held at a high standard, I guess, and where seniors unfortunately are not. They're often overlooked.

Everything from government policies and marketing to the conversations we have within our families and the conversations we have at work impacts our view of the aging population. They have lost their value in our society, and that is very sad because we are talking about women and men who have worked incredibly hard to give back to this country, who have raised families, who have built careers and who have contributed in positive ways.

My question for you is this: How do we better include those who are aging in our day-to-day lives? When we talk about prevention, families have a very key role to play. Governments have a key role to play. Society as a whole has a very key role to play. The responsibility is on each and every one of us, and there needs to be a mind shift that takes place. How do we do that?

10:05 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

Wow. I don't know if I have all the answers, but I will try.

Thank you so much for bringing so many wonderful ideas, which I'm sure are not new to anyone here.

Society, in my opinion, needs to change its thinking in regard to seniors in general and specifically senior women, because they have contributed significantly to the opportunities that we all enjoy today. We know that there are not sufficient resources in the housing system to keep seniors in their homes. Research has shown that many seniors want to stay in their homes. How can governments begin to look into that area to see what is needed to be done to keep more seniors if they choose to stay, for their own dignity, their own peace and their own happiness? They want to stay in their homes without fear of falling, without fear of poverty, without fear of not being able to pay their rent or their mortgages, and without fear of not being secure in their homes.

The government needs to look into broader perspectives of how to support senior women. I'm saying women because we know from research that a lot of them are alone and most of their friends have died. Their spouse, based on the data that I just shared with you, mostly from Canadian statistics.... In Canada, women are outliving their spouses, so they're lonely. We know from research that families, even with good intentions.... Children want to stay nearby but sometimes that's not the reality of what we're seeing. So, what needs to be done?

Also, there are limited nursing home and long-term care facilities, and there are challenges that come with that. We know, and we've read, that unfortunately there are situations where incidents happen to some of our seniors.

I'm sorry. I am passionate about this. You've asked so many things. Women Focus is focusing on women because we know that, when women are thriving and they're successful and happy in all areas, it impacts the community, the children, the husband, the government and the nation.

I can talk until tomorrow. I'm so sorry.

There is so much we need to do.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Oluremi, you're so kind that it's hard for me to cut you off.

I'm now going to pass the floor over to Irene.

Irene, you have the floor for seven minutes.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I want to begin by saying thank you to you. When I turned a certain age, someone said that women over 50 are invisible. Unfortunately, I think that may well be true. But you in your work are focusing on those women and I am very grateful.

At one time I was the seniors critic for my party. I did a lot of research, and I know there's a great deal to do.

I have a number of questions, and I hope that Madame Grenier, Madame Adewale and her lovely companion will feel free to jump in at any point.

One thing that was talked about was the vulnerability of immigrant women, particularly those who arrive after age 40. The reality is that our pension system is set up to discriminate against them. There are deductions in regard to CPP that these women are subject to. If they're alone, then they're poor or, even worse, if they are sponsored by someone who is violent and abusive and uses that sponsorship as a weapon to continue that abuse, they're extremely vulnerable.

There was a time when the whole pension issue was discussed. Of course, it was dismissed unceremoniously because, sadly enough, it touched on some very deep-seated prejudices within our communities. Could you comment on that?

I also wonder if you could comment on the reality of discharge from hospital. This is particular to people who are suffering from mental illness. They're thrown out of hospital, and they have nowhere to go. You talked about safe, affordable housing, and we still don't have a national housing strategy. We lost it in 1993 federally, and we lost it again in Ontario in 1995. It ended. Affordable housing was gone from our social structures.

I have lots of questions. Could you begin with those two questions?

Please, feel free to jump in. I would love to hear from all three, if that's possible.

10:10 a.m.

Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Amanda Grenier

Thank you for the question. There are a number of issues there.

The point I would like to come back to is exactly what you're talking about: the intersections and how, for example, the intersections between the social locations of migrant women may differ even within that. For example, women who have come over on the live-in caregiver program and women who come over sponsored, as part of families or alone, have different trajectories. We want to look both at the ways in which there may be a structural vulnerability and a structural issue in terms of inequality in the pension system and also at how their needs are going to affect their experiences.

It becomes most apparent when they lose their housing or when they have a hospitalization. That's the point that I would like to bring the committee back to, looking at transitions and the social locations and the transitional moments when those happen. At the moment, we tend to look at particular groups, and we look by age and mental health. You can also say that groups such as migrants may experience a premature aging that's about disadvantage. Age doesn't always help us to address the issue. We need to look at the disadvantage and the experience or the need at that point in time. That's the piece that I would answer.

We don't yet have the data for our project on precarious aging. I primarily collect qualitative data, so I'm looking at stories and experiences. What we're hoping to do with that is to show exactly the transitions or the moments where we could intervene, and in what ways. It's perhaps a bit premature to speak to the data on that, but we know from other research that it exists. That would be part of the solution: to try to think about the transitional moments.

10:10 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

In addition to that, the intersectionality is something that we all need to think about all the time. Many factors come to intersect. There is immigration, being an immigrant. Maybe poverty is an intersect. We've talked about education as an intersect, as well as religion. Many things come to intersect that make mostly women and senior women vulnerable.

I think the government needs to look into that. We know from research that every study shows that older men's health is more strongly affected by education, whereas older women's health is affected more by income, psychosocial factors and stress-related factors. When we talk about all of those intersectionalities, we need to consider that women interrupt their pay and work more often due to family responsibilities. These are things that we need to think about.

Also, we can look at it in terms of pay. Who is getting more pay when we look at factors between men and women? Gender issues need to be at the top of our radar. Also, the tax system currently allows caregivers to claim a small tax credit to compensate for the loss in providing care for those who are disabled and terminally ill, but it should be brought into all kinds of care, including chronic care and long-term disabilities. A lot of the time, senior women are at home for many reasons, such as long-term disability, and they are not being covered.

Another thing I wanted to speak to is that the government needs to find a way to introduce new learning skills for older women. New and younger folks come in and are very technologically savvy. Digitalization is what we're seeing in many of our organizations right now, and we can see that women in their fifties or sixties are still able to.... I'm sorry.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

You can finish your sentence. It's okay.

10:15 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

That community cannot cope with the transition in technology. The government needs to come out with new skills so that if these women still want to work they can still be productive and supportive.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

That's excellent. Thank you very much.

We're now going to move over to you, Emmanuella. You have seven minutes.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you very much to all of our witnesses for being here with us today.

My first question is for you, Ms. Grenier. In your testimony, you touched on the fact that the situation of senior women today is the way it is because of how they've lived their lives and the social structures that have been in place throughout their lives. Is there anything more that you'd like to say about that specifically? What are some preventative measures so that the next generation of seniors is not in the same situation?

10:15 a.m.

Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Amanda Grenier

I think the pertinent question for this committee, as well, is about poverty and eliminating poverty earlier in the life course. There are various ways that one could think about that. Some of it, I suppose, really comes back to care and labour, women being compensated for care work and/or in the labour market. If we take for granted that the pension structure is set up as it is, then we need to be able to find ways for women to have that kind of 40-year calculation of full-time work that would lift them out of poverty.

One of the experiments I'm interested in seeing 20 years from now is what will happen in the case of Quebec, where you had public day care and women returning to work. I suppose we would need 30 to 35 years. How does that, or does it actually, lift older women out of poverty? My impression would be that it probably would, because it's changed the labour force contributions of women. The question to go along with that, though, is whether women and their families—and here I'm talking about younger women with families—can afford their housing. So that's the key question.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you very much.

Would you guys like to add something to that?

10:15 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

I think that was well covered.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Okay.

My next question is for Ms. Adewale.

You mentioned that with a lot of the different services that are available to seniors, and the different activities that are available to them, there are often language barriers, because a lot of our seniors today are not from here and they don't speak English or French as a first language. Obviously, that's at the community level. There aren't really many services offered by the federal government that work hands-on with people. What are some suggestions you could make to improve the situation for immigrant women who come here and who don't understand either language?

10:15 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

If I may say so, I don't think language barriers are the only issues we're having. I think they are one of the issues that might be stopping some of our senior women from enjoying some of the facilities we have, but I would also mention things like the need for us to assess the current services at the municipal level, or even at the provincial level, or the funding that the federal government is putting forward, in a broader area, that is doing what it is meant to do at the local level. That might include but is not limited to barriers.

Why are the seniors not benefiting from those programs? I'm not sure if the seniors are involved in the planning. Earlier, I talked about how we need to involve the seniors from the planning stage, because if we put it in mind that they will be the ones benefiting from those programs, then why are we depending totally on the experts to plan what they think might be best? I'm not saying that the experts should not be part of it. I think there should be collaborative planning and we need to be thinking about the evaluation piece even from the planning stage.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Okay. Thank you very much.

You also mentioned that a lot of these programs that are available many times are not advertised properly and that people don't necessarily know they have access to them. Can you give us any recommendations for how to better publicize what is available? I will give one myself, which is that speaking to your MP about these things would actually help as well, because your MP would know about these programs. If you asked them to let you know about them, they would probably provide you with that information. Other than that, is there anything our government could do to better publicize these programs?

10:20 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

That's an excellent question.

I would recommend that if the federal government is funding a program, there should be policies or mandates from the federal government to evaluate and ensure that the program is functioning as it should be.

I think it's broader than speaking to the MP alone. I think the MP might not even be able to or might not have the time to assess everything that is going on in the community. If there are structures in place, if there are mandates, if there are policies that people know they have to follow, I think that is one way it could be done. There has to be an ongoing evaluation.

April 11th, 2019 / 10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you all for all of the great work you do. Seniors are our biggest population, or they will soon be the biggest part of the population. We appreciate all of your efforts, and we hope you continue.

If there's anything you need, I would suggest reaching out to your MP. I know they can't do everything, but I will give you an example. There was a seniors' organization in my riding, and because I knew there were some funky things going on, I stopped funding from going to a specific project they had applied for. I would strongly suggest keeping your MP informed when you know about something going on that shouldn't be, or when there's something wrong with a certain organization.

Thank you, though, for everything.

10:20 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

I do communicate, and one of my...the honourable Sonia is here. We do a lot of programs together. We need to have something more, bigger.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Emmanuella Lambropoulos Liberal Saint-Laurent, QC

Thank you very much.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Excellent. Thank you very much.

We're now going to start round two.

I'm going to pass the floor over to Rachael Harder for five minutes.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Maybe both of you can comment on this. One of the observations that I'm making in this conversation, and that I've made in other conversations that have taken place at this table, is that women often choose to stay home or reduce their hours in the workforce in order to take care of a loved one, who is often an aging parent.

This is very helpful in making sure that this aging senior receives the care she or he needs, and making sure that isolation is not a factor. At the same time, once this woman moves through her career, she will herself become a senior. Because she chose to take time to be at home with her parent, she may now feel repercussions in terms of CPP availability or the CPP amount made available to her.

On the one hand, we solve a problem, which is socialization, and that is a huge problem. Also, we solve another problem, which has to do with the worth and dignity of a human being, and the fact that the aging population deserves to be treated with respect and a high level of care. On the other hand, we create a bit of a problem because now you have a woman who invested in the life of her aging parents and who may now be in a place of vulnerability herself.

How do we solve this?

10:25 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, President, Founder, Women Focus Canada Inc.

Dr. Oluremi Adewale

I strongly believe that women need to be compensated for the work they do, and not only outside of their homes. That is something the government, in my opinion, has not looked into as it should have.

I'm not sure if I have the answer to that. There have to be things in place to acknowledge women for their support. If a woman is supported and isolation is eliminated through that process, or physical or mental illnesses are prevented based on the fact that an adult child is home to support a senior woman, the government is actually saving money, when you think about the potential of spending money on health care services.

If the government looked at it from that perspective.... I think women need to be compensated. For taking care of children, with the child care piece, to support them in a way that financially...just give it to them, month by month, where in terms of CPP for a long time, their retirement is secure. I think the government needs to come up with strategies to look at supporting caregivers from that perspective.

I'm sorry. I don't have a concrete answer to how that could be done at this time.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Ms. Grenier.

10:25 a.m.

Professor, McMaster University, As an Individual

Dr. Amanda Grenier

Thank you. I'll echo your point on compensation. I think that's a valid position that I would have as well.

Where I would go is even less practical than where you're going, but the question this raises for me, from a life course perspective, is that we need to know more about why the women are making those choices. If they're framed in terms of choices, we talk about choices that are made within constraints. Are those constraints because the women can't afford the child care in their local area, etc.?

How do we not only compensate them for the work they're doing but also make the choice have fewer repercussions down the road? This raises issues that are actually on the other side of vulnerability. With vulnerability, as I mentioned, there is the responsibility to respond. You could say that it's a public responsibility to respond to care, and it's a justice issue not to put women in a position whereby they will be in a situation of having unmet needs in late life. We need to compensate women and address women's disadvantages earlier in order to prevent them from being in a situation that's unjust in late life.

The question is what kind of society we want to be. That's the larger philosophical and ethical question that's behind compensation.