Mr. Speaker, I appreciate having the opportunity to debate Motion No. 106 today, which is brought by the member for Nickel Belt. Indeed, I am happy to speak on any motion with an ultimate goal of improving the lives of seniors.
I think it is crucial that we have a senior strategy put in place immediately. This is an issue that we have been talking about for many years, not only the 42nd Parliament, but the 41st Parliament, the 40th Parliament, and so on. We have talked about a national senior strategy ad nauseam. I am worried. The time for action has come, but all we seem to do is talk about it.
We need to deal with the growing senior population. I know from first-hand experience in my own riding, which I am sure many members can reiterate, that we see seniors within our constituencies who are struggling to make ends meet today. Therefore, I am proud to be a member of a caucus and a party that has a long tradition and history of bringing forward a thoughtful and strategic approach to seniors care.
The member for Nickel Belt, in his motion, correctly identifies the demographic shifts that are going on in Canada. We know that our population is aging rapidly, and we know that for the first time there are more people age 65 than there are children under the age of 14. By 2036, just two decades away, it is expected that seniors are going to make up 25% of the population. The fastest-growing age group are people who are 85 years and above. Indeed, the population of seniors is expected to double in those two decades. This is very much a demographic time bomb that is heading our way. The more we can do in these initial years, in fact immediately, the better, otherwise future governments will be struggling to keep pace with the changes that will be needed. We know that in the last 25 years, the proportion of this population grew by over 130%.
With these shocking statistics, it is clear that Canada's health care and social system is not designed to meet the challenge. I do not want to give the impression that these are just future problems because these are happening right now. I recall a time when I served as a constituency assistant to a former member of Parliament for seven years, and many of the clientele I helped directly were seniors.
Seniors face a multitude of issues, such as financial, health, housing, social inclusivity, and so on. Indeed, they are are quite a varied group, but they are a vulnerable part of society. They certainly deserve our respect for building Canada into the country it is today. I believe that every Canadian, no matter what their social or economic status, should be able to retire in dignity. I think that is a sacred obligation that we have as members of Parliament in the House, and we have the privileges and rights in the House to make sure that we fulfill that obligation.
Our health care system was initially designed to deal with the acute and episodic care of a younger population. Indeed, that is one of the reasons it is struggling today to properly care for patients who are elderly.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the hard work of my colleague for London—Fanshawe, who in the previous Parliament developed a national strategy on aging. One of the big quotes from several years ago pointed out that there are only 242 certified geriatricians in Canada. It is estimated that we need around 700, but we are currently only filling those spots by 15 to 25 a year. Therefore, this is certainly an area where Canada needs to see some action.
It has been reported that about 75% to 80% of Canadian seniors have one or more chronic conditions. The differences are stark when we look at gender. Canadian female seniors are twice as likely to live in poverty as male seniors. It is estimated that 30% of older Canadian women are living below the poverty line. We certainly believe on this side of the House that a national strategy should not only focus on improving the lives of seniors, but also removing that very stark inequality between older women and men.
A 2010 report outlines that approximately 50% of older Atlantic Canadians spend 30% of their income on housing, while 20% spend over 40% of their income on housing, which makes them the most financially vulnerable individuals in Canada.
One of the big concerns that we have in Canada, it being a federation of provinces, is that we have this patchwork quilt of standards, and where people are in Canada determines how well they fare. One of the strengths of the federal government is that it can reach out and make sure that those strong national standards are in place. I would urge the governing members to really use that federal power to make sure that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian, and that no matter they live, they have the same standards.
I mentioned my colleague from London—Fanshawe and the important work that she has done on the national strategy on aging in a previous Parliament. She does have a motion in the House, on the Order Paper, known as Motion No. 21. She has worked with stakeholders over the years to create a national strategy. The main components are focusing on health care, affordable housing, income security, and quality of life, but also focuses on creating a seniors advocate.
We already have a seniors advocate in British Columbia, Isobel Mackenzie. She has been great at issuing reports for the Province of British Columbia that outline the key facts and figures, and lay bare the holes that exist in government policy. I think such a policy created at a national level could only do good.
All MPs in this House believe that seniors have worked very hard to build a society of prosperity, generosity, and sound institutions, and that even after retirement they continue to make valuable contributions to our society. I know many recently retired seniors I talk to tell me that they do not know how they even had time to hold a job because they are so involved and so busy in their community. With the volunteer hours they put in and the way they provide that mentoring to a younger generation, they really do form that bedrock for many communities across Canada.
Due to the role seniors continue to play in Canada, we owe them that debt of responsibility to continue to make sure that no one is growing old in poverty, insecurity, or indeed in isolation.
This motion before us is a call to action for further study, but as I outlined in my introductory remarks, I worry that this is an issue that gets studied to death. I really want to see some action. Previously, I asked the member for Nickel Belt what had happened to the government's promise for the creation of a seniors price index. We are more than a year into it, and we still do not have those costs dealing with seniors incomes, old age security, and guaranteed income supplement. We still do not have word from the government on what is going to be happening to those all-important missing drop-out provisions for the child-rearing years and those times when Canadian seniors might have had a disability. Those are big, gaping holes.
Overall, we do support the intent of the motion. However, I would hope that the member for Nickel Belt, maybe during the second hour of debate, would be amenable to some kind of an amendment to his motion, something to include the recognition that much more work needs to be done, and that all seniors need to live and retire in dignity.
I think we need to have wording in the motion that acknowledges the importance of the social determinants of health, and how we institute more preventative medicine and the prevention of illnesses and disabilities and all the ailments that come with old age. A national pharmacare plan, the affordable housing component, and of course the creation of that seniors advocacy position need to be included.
I will conclude my remarks by thanking the member for Nickel Belt. I know his heart is in the right place. I certainly hope that, in consultation with him, during the second hour of debate he might be amenable to changing the wording of this motion so that we acknowledge those important factors I just listed. I appreciate the opportunity to give voice to this important issue.