Madam Speaker, it is always an honour to rise on behalf of the good people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the greatest riding in the country.
I want to take a quick moment to thank the member for Vancouver Centre for this very important private member's bill, this very important piece of legislation. I am glad to hear that many of the folks in this room who have been speaking tonight are in support of this legislation.
Today's debate is about elder abuse. What is elder abuse? According to the World Health Organization, abuse of older people is:
...a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.
Currently there is no standard definition in Canada. It can mean different things to different people, depending on their life and ethnocultural experience.
The government is committed to strengthening Canada's approach to elder abuse. This includes creating a policy definition. The creation of a policy definition would provide a common understanding of the issue. Having the same understanding would help raise public awareness and support cultural change in hopes of preventing elder abuse. This would also help the Government of Canada to better target its programs and policies directed at addressing the topic.
To support the development of the policy definition, in the summer of 2021, the government held nationwide consultations, seeking feedback from experts, stakeholders and Canadians on a definition. Activities included an online consultation and targeted round table discussions. The Government of Canada is taking concrete measures to prevent and combat elder abuse.
In addition to cofacilitating the regional round tables on a federal policy definition of elder abuse last year, since its inception in 2017, the national seniors council has provided multiple recommendations to the Government of Canada and has examined issues related, notably, to elder and financial abuse.
Their first report on the issue was published in 2007 and led to inform the Government of Canada's awareness campaign on elder abuse. In March of 2019, the council hosted an expert round table and a town hall on financial scams and harms targeting seniors perpetuated by strangers or by someone they know. The council concluded its work on this topic with the release of a “what we heard” report, summarizing the discussions as well as a number of federal initiatives that currently address the issue. The report was published on the Government of Canada website in August 2019.
The Government of Canada also participates in the federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for seniors forum, which works to discuss issues of importance to seniors, advance issues of common concern and focus on concrete collaborative projects. For this work cycle, one of the key priorities established by the forum is addressing abuse experienced by seniors during the pandemic and beyond. This is key in our fight against senior abuse and critical to ensuring that we collaborate with our provincial and territorial colleagues to develop policies that reflect the needs of seniors and ultimately promote their full social inclusion.
Most recently we launched the 2022-23 New Horizons for Seniors program call for proposals for community-based projects. This call for proposals closed November 1, 2022, and included a specific national priority for projects that help to prevent elder abuse. For members' awareness, the 2021-22 New Horizons for Seniors program call for proposals for community-based projects resulted in providing almost $13 million in funding to 607 organizations that identified that their project would have a focus on the national priority of preventing elder abuse and fraud. Of the 607 organizations, 419 projects have programming on elder abuse awareness as a key objective.
Through the New Horizons for Seniors program, the Government of Canada is investing in projects that address one or more of the program's five objectives, which include expanding awareness of elder abuse. In 2020-21, Justice Canada approved more than $800,000 through its victims fund to support public legal education information projects with nine organizations across Canada. With this support, these organizations produced clear, accurate and informative material on elder abuse and neglect, specifically designed to reach seniors and those responsible for their care.
I should also mention that budget 2021 invested $50 million for the Public Health Agency of Canada to design and deliver interventions that promote safe relationships and prevent family violence, including elder abuse and other forms of violence, such as child maltreatment and intimate partner violence, that put Canadians at a higher risk of experiencing elder abuse later in life.
Our top priority remains to protect Canadians' health and safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-standing and systemic challenges in infection prevention and control, staffing, infrastructure, and quality of care in long-term care homes across Canada. Canadians were really concerned and so were we.
We immediately knew that something had to be done, so we took action. To keep older Canadians safe and improve their quality of life, the federal government has been working collaboratively with provinces and territories, while respecting their jurisdiction over health care.
Through the 2020 fall economic statement, we invested up to $1 billion for the safe long-term care fund. This funding supported the provinces and territories in protecting those living and working in long-term care settings, as well as improve infection prevention and control measures.
Some of the other actions to support provinces' and territories' long-term care facilities during this time included creating volunteer inventories to support the public health response, including in the long-term care sector; deploying the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian Red Cross to long-term care homes to respond to urgent needs; and accelerating training for up to 4,000 personal support worker interns to address critical labour shortages in long-term care facilities and home care.
Through budget 2021, an additional $3-billion investment will further support provinces and territories in their efforts to ensure that standards for long-term care are applied and permanent changes are made. This includes improving the quality and availability of long-term care homes and beds, as well as workforce stability measures such as wage top-ups and improvements to workplace conditions. Palliative care is also a vital service for people living with life-limiting illness, often elders, and those delivering that care.
We are committed to improving the quality and availability of palliative care for all people in Canada. Budget 2021 provided nearly $30 million to help advance the government's action plan on palliative care and build a better foundation for coordinated action on long-term and supportive care needs.
I promise that we are committed to continuing to work with provinces and territories to ensure the quality and availability of palliative care for everyone in Canada, including people living with life-limiting illnesses, caregivers, stakeholders, and communities, as well as those who are most vulnerable.
We know that better care throughout the entire health care continuum, especially supporting home and community care and long-term care, is a key component of addressing elder abuse. We also know that seniors want to stay in their homes for as long as possible when it is safe to do so.
We created the age well at home initiative, which provides practical supports to seniors who want to continue living in their own homes. This $90-million incentive, from budget 2021, helps community-based organizations provide practical support to help low-income and otherwise vulnerable seniors stay in their home, again, for as long as possible.
Elder abuse is an important human rights issue, as well as a social and public health issue. Elder abuse can undermine an older person's quality of life, autonomy, dignity and sense of security. All Canadians and levels of governments play a role in preventing elder abuse. That is why we have been taking action to ensure Canadians can age with dignity and respect.
Older adults are among the fastest growing demographic groups in Canada. Data from the latest Canadian census shows that from 2016 to 2021, the number of persons aged 65 and older rose 18.3% to seven million Canadians. According to population projections, in 2051, one-quarter of the population could be 65 and older. That is why it is all the more important that we take concrete and effective prevention efforts to address elder abuse.
In the future, our actions will become more and more important as we progress in our work to better target our programming and policies directed at addressing elder abuse.