More federal assistance for seniors: Senate report

OTTAWA April 21st— The federal government needs to do much more to assist the aging population, including beefing up pension, old age assistance and compassionate care benefits, says a new report.

The final report of the special Senate committee on aging, released Tuesday, concludes there are serious gaps in health care, housing, transportation and support systems for seniors.

And those problems are only going to grow as the baby boom generation enters the retirement years.

“Our committee has heard from Canadians across the country and it’s clear there are some serious gaps to be addressed,” said committee chair Sharon Carstairs, a Liberal senator.

“Some seniors are being denied their rights.”

Deputy-chair Wilbert Keon, a Conservative senator, said the government needs to develop integrated health and social care for the elderly.

“Too many people are falling through the cracks and we need to fix the system so that there is a smooth transition as their needs change,” said Keon, a renowned heart specialist.

The special committee was created in 2006 to examine public programs and services available for seniors, whose ranks are ballooning rapidly as Canadians have fewer babies, seniors live longer and baby boomers reach retirement age.

Among other things, the report recommends that the government increase Canada Pension Plan benefits and bolster the Guaranteed Income Supplement, which ensures households do not fall below the poverty line.

It also recommends that the government “look more closely” at the idea of providing a guaranteed annual income for all Canadians.

Moreover, the report calls for reforms to Employment Insurance so that people who leave work to care for an ailing relative can receive enhanced compassionate care benefits.

It also recommends increased federal funding to the provinces to develop integrated seniors’ care, including home care and community services, and to develop a national drug policy for seniors that might eventually form the basis of a national pharmacare program.

CARP, an advocacy group for older Canadians, welcomed the recommendations, particularly those aimed at the five to six per cent of seniors who live in poverty.

However, CARP’s Susan Eng expressed doubt about the adequacy of recommendations aimed at the roughly 5 million Canadians who provide informal family care to an aged relative.

She pointed out that elder care often isn’t urgent. It might mean accompanying someone on trips to the doctor or grocery store or, sometimes, simple companionship. She said it’s not good enough to boost benefits only for those forced to take time off work to provide palliative or emergency medical care.

The NDP, meanwhile, announced Tuesday that it will organize a cross-country consultation tour on seniors’ issues.

The party is also calling for creation of a fund that would guarantee workers receive their private pension benefits even if their employers go out of business.

“New Democrats are stepping up to the plate because the government is sitting idle while Canadians see their pension funds devastated,” said MP Wayne Marston, the bill’s sponsor.

“We won’t let them get away with it.”

© The Canadian Press