In a cabinet shuffle last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Hamilton MP Filomena Tassi Minister for Seniors. The intent was to help government better understand the needs of seniors, and to ensure programs and services respond to Canada’s aging population. However, North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney said Tassi is limited as to what she can accomplish because she has no resources.
“All she can do is talk to the several ministries that she’s related to, and try to get them to spend those resources,” Blaney said Thursday in a media teleconference. “I think when you look at the growing population of seniors in our country, we need a ministry with some resources to do some planning. If we don’t, then we’re going to continue to see seniors and their families fall further and further behind.”
The number of seniors in Canada is expected to double by 2036. Blaney, who serves as Seniors’ Critic for the NDP, continues to advocate for a National Seniors Strategy to help struggling seniors.
“That’s seniors who can’t afford to make ends meet, having challenges with housing, having challenges with affording medication and having challenges just affording to feed themselves.”
She notes a recent increase to Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) payments worked out to just $12-16 more per month.
Blaney is concerned about a change in methodoloy used to measure poverty in Canada.
“When they (federal government) changed the method of how they measured poverty, seniors went from about 14 per cent to four per cent poverty. I would challenge anyone to talk to that other 10 per cent and ask them if their life has got any better. I believe that part of the challenge there is that the minister does not have her own ministry, does not have the capacity to do the research and the work for seniors across this country that desperately needs to be done. Seniors are still facing significant challenges.”
Unless Canada addresses those challenges — with a national seniors strategy mandated by the minister, with accountability measures in place — Blaney fears that seniors will continue to fall through the “holes that are developing in our system.”
Blaney has met with numerous residents challenged by a lack of access to pharmacare.
“One of the things we’re hearing again and again is that we need to make sure there’s medication that’s available for people. We have to remember to include their disease in part of that strategy.”
She said the NDP has proposed a single payer public pharmacare model — working together to ensure medication is affordable and accessible.
“Let’s buy collectively. Right now, all the provinces and territories are buying individually, which means their bargaining power is not as strong as it could be. If we all do this together, we can bargain more effectively and save some money.”
A report suggests $4 billion-plus could be saved each year from collective purchasing.
The party also advocates a single payer as a way to pay into the system to help people access medication.