Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the NDP motion on a seniors charter for Canadians. I would like to thank the member for Toronto—Danforth for sharing this speaking spot with me. I would also like to thank the member for Hamilton Mountain for her excellent work on this very important motion.
I want to focus on a small but growing group of Canadian seniors, first nations, Métis and Inuit elders. We usually think of the population of Canada's aboriginal peoples as being overwhelmingly young. Although this is true, the life expectancy of first nations and Inuit, in particular, is increasing, even though it is still far beyond the average Canadian life expectancy.
In the next 15 years 57,000 more first nations members will be aged 65 and older and the Inuit population over 65 is increasing at three times the rate of the general Canadian seniors population.
In aboriginal communities elders are regarded as important, productive and creative members of their society. They are essential to the survival of language and culture in their communities.
The problems affecting seniors in the general Canadian population are far worse for first nations, Métis and Inuit elders. For example, the average income for aboriginal elders is between $5,000 and $15,000. This is well below the poverty line and is a shocking number today in Canada. Elders also have lack of access to secure housing.
Many of these problems arise from disputes over jurisdictional authority, disputes between the federal, provincial and territorial governments, and no one often claims responsibility for fixing these problems.
Even within the federal government, the departments often do not coordinate their responses. For example, the Auditor General recently reported that mould in housing was an example of where the federal government took take responsibility for the problem. Long term care is an area where the provincial government has responsibility and Indian and Northern Affairs has no mandate to provide it on reserves.
I want to talk about a specific case as an illustration of this, the Anishnabe Long Term Care Centre at Timiskaming, Quebec. In this care facility there are approximately two dozen elders, all of whom cannot stay in their own homes any longer. Without the Anishnabe, these elders would have to go to provincially run long term care centres in surrounding communities where French is the operating language. Yet most of these elders speak either Cree or English.
There is a need for the federal government to step up with its provincial partners to provide the range of care facilities that is required. In this context I want to reference the Assembly of First Nations action plan on continuing care. It talks about some elements that are critical to looking at continuing care. Its vision is to provide a holistic continuum of continuing care services, ranging from home support to higher levels of care under first nations control, reflecting the unique health and social needs of first nations. Services are comprehensive, culturally appropriate, accessible, effective and equitable to those accessed by Canadian citizens.
That is specifically dealing with first nations, but I would argue that Inuit, Métis and other aboriginal people should have access to services that are culturally appropriate.
There are also other critical issues impacting on the health of elders. For example, epidemics such as diabetes mean more first nations, Métis and Inuit elders live in poor health longer than the general Canadian population. More and more these elders will need options that will keep them in their community where the care is culturally appropriate and in their own language, without fighting through multiple layers of bureaucracy.
I want to move to another topic in terms of mental health. A recent Senate report on mental health referred specifically to these inter-jurisdictional problems to which I have already referred. I will quote from the report on the confusion around responsibility. A seniors advocate, as proposed in our motion, would focus on this kind of inefficiency. It states:
The federal government has had ample time to clarify its own role and responsibilities through legislation and to develop policies to reduce interdepartmental confusion. It is time to take significant steps to rectify the interdepartmental fragmentation that contributes to the overall poor health status of First Nations and Inuit.
In addition, the legacy of residential schools also leaves elders with greater mental and physical health burdens than the average population for seniors. The Senate report on Mental Health indicates:
Inuit reviewing the Aboriginal Healing Foundation program see the need to expand it, to have it not only focus on residential schools and the negative impact of those schools relating to abuse but also the negative impact relating to language loss, cultural loss and the loss of parenting skills.
I want to speak specifically on access to government services. The first nations action plan on continuing care looks at the continuum of care for elders and highlights two important areas: the need for culturally appropriate services; and health and human resources training and capacity development.
For elders whose first language may not be one of Canada's official languages, finding care givers who can provide the specialized care in their own language is a real challenge, even for home care services; that is, even if elders have access to secure housing.
Aboriginal peoples in Canada face a huge housing shortage. The Senate report on Mental Health described the effect this housing shortage has on families. It stated:
In many regions, housing shortages have reached crisis proportions in our area. The mental impact on families so crowded that people must sleep on the floors and in shifts cannot be underestimated in our region. Homeless people drift from relative to relative to find a spot for the night.
That kind of overcrowded housing on reserves and lack of affordable housing off reserves means that many elders living in poverty do not have secure shelter. Again, from the Senate report on Mental Health, it stated:
Poverty, crime, violence, addictions, all categories of abuse, overcrowded housing, alienation, abandonment and suicide are all connected to mental and physical well-being. That interconnectivity of mental health issues is often forgotten
We would expect in this day and age that seniors, that elders in communities are given the respect that is their due. They have served their communities for decades. They have contributed in first nations communities and Inuit and Métis communities. They have contributed to the ongoing survival of the culture and of the language. They have provided guidance and teaching to the youth and others. In their declining years, we would expect that they would not have to worry about having enough to eat or having a decent place to live.
It is a shameful comment that in this day and age we are having to have this discussion.
I want to end my speech by returning to our motion and saying, again, how important it will be to have these rights enshrined in a charter to protect elders, to provide for elders and to celebrate elders and their achievements.
I urge all members of the House to join with the NDP to ensure that we have a seniors charter, to ensure that we enshrine those fundamental elements in a charter that say: yes, elders are an important part of our community; yes, we respect the work that they have done; and, yes, they deserve to live their declining years without any worries around those essential quality of life elements that so many of us take for granted.