Quebec Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais says she came out of retirement to return to politics because she has a mission: to develop a policy to give public support to caregivers.
One in four Quebecers older than 15 are caregivers to an aging or ill loved one. It can be demanding and exhausting; many of them say they often feel alone — and that there’s no one to take care of them.
On Tuesday, Blais held a daylong consultation in Quebec City about a first ever government action plan for caregivers.
“Today I feel like I’m not doing politics, I’m doing something with and for the society,” she said. “I believe it’s going to be one of the most important policies in the history of Quebec.”
Blais held the consultation in her role as minister, but it touches a personal note: she lost her husband to brain cancer in 2015, after taking care of him throughout his illness.
“It was the most fabulous experience of my life,” Blais said.
“Being able to be with the person you love for 37 years and knowing that he’s going to die, and knowing that he’s losing his autonomy and being able to love the person, even if the body is not there anymore; falling in love with the soul, falling in love with the heart, it’s a big privilege in life.”
Singer and Actress Chloé Sainte-Marie took care of her husband, Quebec director Gilles Carle, for 17 years. She explained what it is like to be someone’s caregiver much differently.
“You’re a slave,” she said.
“What is the value in society of caregivers? Absolutely nothing,” she said, adding that caregivers are not paid and don’t have access to any formal training.
Sainte-Marie has become a spokesperson for this issue. She says 1.5 million Quebecers are currently caring for aging parents, which saves the government about $5 billion per year.
Many caregivers say they are frustrated by a lack of support, financial constraints, and a lack of access to education about how to take care of a loved one.
“It’s something that we each live in each of our ridings,” said Liberal MNA and former seniors minister Francine Charbonneau, who attended the consultation day, along with Québec Solidaire MNA Catherine Dorion and Parti Québécois MNA Harold LeBel.
Charbonneau said the solution is more than just a tax credit.
“Money is not the only solution,” she said.
“We have to look at the day-to-day life of those people.”
Blais already has some suggestions of how to make life easier for caregivers.
“I believe strongly that they need a medical plan as well as the person that they are helping. We don’t want caregivers who are getting sick — they need to be supported,” she said.