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N.B. finance minister supports federal Healthy Seniors Pilot Project

Critics sceptical of benefits of federal budget for New Brunswick seniors
New Brunswick has the fastest-growing population of people over the age of 65 in Canada and the federal government's new budget has allocated millions of dollars for a new pilot project addressing the issue.

The federal government has announced budget funding of $75 million for a seniors pilot project that will be launched in New Brunswick.

The millions in funding tabled in Tuesday’s 2018 budget will be provided through the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the Healthy Seniors Pilot Project, aimed at helping other governments address their aging populations.

New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers told Global News she’s pleased about the project and said there are already a number of partners willing to come on board.

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“New Brunswick is like a microcosm of maybe the rest of Canada where we have representatives or urban, rural, we have Anlophone, Francophone and Indigenous people. And what’s unique about New Brunswick though is we’re small and we have the fastest-growing rate of seniors, so we have more people over 65 and that population group is growing fast,” Rogers said.

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Rogers said the funding is new money, in addition to the more than $20 million announced to help seniors in the provincial budget.

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New Brunswick Conservative opposition critic Ernie Steeves said he hopes to see the funding trickle down to seniors.

“It’s paralysis by analysis,” Steeves said.  “We’ve been analyzed to death. We know what the seniors need, we know all the projects that need to be attracted, we know what we need to do for seniors and the fact of the matter is we’ve got $75 million and I’m scared that they’re using it just to kick the can down the road.”

Steeves said he wants to see the money fund programs that will make a difference in the lives of seniors across the province.

“Seniors need real programs. They need help.  They need real help to stay in their homes or the appropriate level of service.  They need $75 million to go to real, tangible things so the money trickles down to them.  They don’t need it for more analysis,” Steeves said.

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New Brunswick Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights executive director Cecile Cassita said she also hopes the money will be used for more than research.

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“In New Brunswick we have the highest aging population across the country, not to say other provinces are not aging, and I recognize the Premier has been trying to get more money, but I would hope that they would take this money and put it directly into home care,” Cassita said.

She said there’s not enough information at this point to determine if the province will roll the money into increasing wages for workers to address problems with retention.

“We all knew that we’re all going to age and we’re not going to stop and wait for a pilot project. We basically need to move forward and get these things in place we need to be actionary…. and if the research they’re going to be doing is going to use $75 million I’m really saddened by that,” Cassita said.

Rogers said the project will have a positive impact on seniors and said the province is focused on helping seniors age in their homes.

“This isn’t just research that will sit on a shelf,” Rogers said.  “It’s actually helping us to help to put this into action and others can learn from our lived experiences.”

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Other budget positives

Rogers said there are other items in the Trudeau government’s budget that will also benefit New Brunswickers including changes to Employment Insurance that will help address the “black hole” workers in seasonal industries, like fish processing and tourism, experience.

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The federal budget also includes funds to help stop the spread of spruce budworm to protect forestry jobs. According to government researchers, spruce budworm is one of the most damaging native insects affecting spruces and true fir in Canada.

“We’re very happy to see the federal partners at the table for the spruce budworm initiative because if we did nothing, we risk a significant loss with our forest, but also economic loss in the billions of dollars so that’s very important,” Rogers said.

She said she’s also happy money going to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

“I particularly would highlight that their support [is] tailored for women entrepreneurs, so that’s always nice whenever we can remove barriers to make sure that all labour force participants can be active and women definitely do have different barriers than men,” Rogers said.