Canada has a growing and aging population. In 2014 there were more than 6 million Canadians aged 65 or older, representing 15.6 per cent of the population. By 2030, seniors will number more than 9 million and make up about 25 per cent of the population. At a time when Canada needs a national strategy and leadership on health and aging, we find the government moving away from funding our cherished universal health-care system, which was based solely on need and not how much money one had. At one time the envy of the world, Canada's health-care system is slowly being eroded and privatized. March 31, 2015 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of the national health accord. These words should be edged in black to commemorate that date in 2014 when the federal government allowed the ten-year health accord to expire and refused appeals by provincial and territorial leaders and many in the health community to renegotiate an accord for the next ten years, one that would have provided national standards and secure funding going forward. Instead they have left it open for private clinics and even some hospitals to begin charging for services on the pretext that the money is just not in the system.
Just recently another study, one of about a dozen from respected research organizations on all sides of the political spectrum, advocated once again that a national pharmacare program would save the Canadian health-care system several billions of dollars annually, money which could be reinvested in providing much-needed services for homecare, dementia care etc. Canada remains one of the few G7 nations that do not have a national dementia strategy.
It does not need to be this way. Seniors vote in greater numbers than other demographic age groups. Seniors are the most committed voters; 65 per cent or more of older voters turn out to vote regularly, so there is an opportunity this October for seniors to tell politicians what we want and expect from future federal and provincial governments. Recently representatives from a significant number of national and regional senior organizations, retirees, professional and advocacy groups have formed Seniors Vote. They have been meeting and have agreed to work collaboratively to raise common concerns which particularly resonate with older Canadians, to let politicians of all political persuasions know what we want and expect. We demand these not only for ourselves but for future generations coming behind us.
We need federal leadership in pension reform to ensure that people don't outlive their money. We need to expand and increase the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) -- the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) has long advocated an increase to 50 per cent of the average wage, phased in as the original CPP was. Seniors Vote also advocates that the government restore the Old Age Security (OAS) eligibility age to 65 from 67, increase the exempt earnings band for Guaranteed Income Security (GIS) and increase the amount of OAS and GIS for low-income Canadians.
We need federal leadership in health care; we need the federal government to work with the provinces and territories to create a national pharmacare plan with the ultimate goal of first dollar coverage for all Canadians.
We need the federal government to:
- Work with the provinces to fund and set standards to improve access, affordability and quality of post-acute and chronic care, in the home, the community with particular focus on dementia care.
- Increase financial support and provide workplace protections for caregivers.
- Work with provinces to ensure every Canadian has access to housing appropriate to need, including affordable and supportive housing, and assisted living services.
- Work with provinces to reform the tax code in a way that addresses income inequality. More and more seniors are falling below the poverty line. Seniors are also concerned that too many of our children and grandchildren are facing precarious work and a bleak financial future.
We can do better. It's time for real change. When seniors vote, let's make it count.
Doug Macpherson is the National Coordinator for the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) and a vice president of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC).
Retiree Matters is a monthly column written by members of the Congress of Union Retirees of Canada (CURC) that explores issues relevant to retirees, senior citizens, their families and their communities. CURC acts as an advocacy organization to ensure that the concerns of union retirees and senior citizens are heard throughout Canada.