Nothing specific for Seniors in Ontario Budget -could have done better in an Election year

At first glance, it appears that there is actually not a single thing in this budget targeted at older Ontarians.

You would think that in an election year when the federal parties proposed any number of measures to make life better for Canadians as we age, that the largest provincial government would trumpet a few ideas of its own.

The budget does contain a couple of important measures – but they’re well hidden and few details are available at this time.

On health care, two items stand out: a 3 percent annual increase to the community services sector, including long term care homes, and $93 million on a new Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.

This could have included specific funding for more and better home care services- the current 4-year spending of $1.1 billion ends in 2011 – but it does not.

The 3% increase applies to the Long term care budget which is $3.5 billion and would increase to $3.7 billion for 2011/12. This is expected to add 1,100 PSWs and expand the care envelopes which should also increase the nursing care hours per resident of long term care homes. However, no new nursing home bed licenses are proposed.

The 3% increase also applies to community services generally – to improve community-based support and help manage acute care costs by freeing up hospital beds and unclogging emergency rooms. No details yet but the current budget of $4 billion will increase to $4.2 billion for 2011/12. It is not clear whether there will be new programs or just growth in the existing programs.

These services should include support for family caregivers – even a modest effort to provide support services, training or respite services would be welcome. But nothing ws mentioned to this effect.

The new Mental Health and Addictions Strategy is explicitly targeted at children and youth – although it could easily have included a Dementia Strategy to address the growing need to support families coping with the dementia of a loved one.

The $100 million to enhance pharmacy services will be small comfort to the pharmacists who claimed to have lost much more due to generic drug pricing reform. The medication checks and other services mentioned might be useful services to seniors and other ODB recipients. This funding is on top of the increase to the Medscheck program. The proposals underway to enhance the professional services which may be provided by pharmacists should have more impact.

Ontario could have provided some modest income support to help the estimated 100,000 seniors living under LICO and the estimated 475,000 Ontarians receiving GIS makes ends meet. A note of optimism. In federal-provincial discussions relating to the federal budget proposal for a GIS top-up, it was agreed that the top up would not erode the amount of the provincial GAINS. Thank goodness for small mercies.

CARP has called on all levels of government to adopt a comprehensive strategy of income supports and mitigating costs to ensure that no Canadian lives in poverty.

So besides income support, CARP members wanted to see containment of their property taxes, electricity costs and added HST burden – none of which was addressed in this budget. In fact, there was an ominous listing of all the services that would be cut and jobs lost if there were even a 1 percent cut in HST.

The rehash of the Province’s position on pension reform has retained the one notable commitment to pressing for a modest CPP enhancement along with work on the PRPPs –but no indication of responding to the concerns raised about high fees and adequate protections for plan members.

CARP members resolutely reject a private sector run plan – not least because the profit taking will erode their retirement savings as have current private sector offerings. When the CPP was first created, the income replacement and coverage was deliberated limited to ensure that the private sector industry would not be cut out of the retirement savings business. Public sector plans are specifically limited by legislation from offering their services beyond their specific employer-members or sector.

Since not enough employers ultimately established workplace pensions, we have the savings gap that we have today. The attempt to address this gap through pension reform has once again been hampered by the need to guarantee that there is no public sector competition for the private financial industry.

So between now and the Ontario election in October, we can hope for further announcements and more detail – and more concrete proposals

Keywords: election, seniors, long-term care, budget