Around 150 people, mostly seniors or approaching the age group, attended the event, which was focused on issues affecting older Canadians and hosted by a number of Saskatchewan organizations representing seniors and retirees.
“There’s a lot of media coverage of the election, but not too much about the concerns of older adults,” said organizer Brian Harris. “This is the largest growing cohort of our population. We think it’s important that the politicians have an opportunity to hear from seniors.”
The forum tackled three issues — healthy, positive aging, access to medicine and affordability — developed by an organizing committee as well as questions submitted by the audience.
Harris said the opportunity to age healthily should be considered a right for all.
“The federal government has taken a step in the right direction by appointing a minister of seniors. We would like them to take that a step further in developing a national strategy for healthy aging for all seniors.”
Harris described “healthy aging” as “the ability to remain active and engaged in one’s community.” He said a strategy should promote health, recreation and social engagement while discouraging isolation.
When it comes to affording medicine, Harris says some seniors are forced to make a difficult decision.
“There are a number of people who are unable to afford medicine. They are sometimes forced between paying for medicine and paying rent,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to make that kind of choice. We should have a national pharmacare program so that everybody can access what they need.”
And in general, Harris says, old age security and guaranteed income support are sometimes not enough to keep seniors out of poverty.
“They can afford a small apartment, perhaps. But when they require care, there’s really nothing available for them,” Harris said. “If you require some assistance in living you have to pay for it. You may find yourself in a situation of outliving your savings.”
“Care can cost $5,000 a month. How many years is it going to take before all your money is gone? We don’t think it’s appropriate that seniors should have to bankrupt themselves to afford care.”
The problems are complicated by the fact that there are more seniors in Canada than ever before. A 2016 report from the Canadian Institute for health information predicted that there will be over 10 million Canadians aged 65 and older in 2037.
The Greens, Liberals and Peoples Party of Canada (PPC) attended the forum with candidates from each of Regina’s electoral districts. While the NDP have now announced candidates for two Regina ridings, Jigar Patel, who is running in Regina-Lewvan, was the party’s lone representative at the forum.
The Conservative Party was not present.
“We were a little disappointed that they weren’t able to come,” Harris said. “They said they were unavailable due to other commitments.”
Care for older Canadians has already become a party talking point ahead of the election.
The Liberal Party has promised to increase Old Age Security by 10 per cent for Canadians over 75. It says that will amount to an extra $729 on average and will lift 20,000 seniors out of poverty. The party has also said it would increase the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the Quebec Pension Plan survivor’s benefit by 25 per cent.
The Conservative Party of Canada has announced intentions to increase the Age Tax Credit by $1,000 if elected, an income-tested benefit that it says will benefit low to middle-income seniors.
WATCH (Sept. 19, 2019) Andrew Scheer announces tax credit boost for low- and middle-income seniors
The Greens say that, if elected, they’ll develop a National Seniors Strategy. Among the listed priorities of the plan is a promise to change the CPP increase replacement rates and ensure CPP investments promote environmental sustainability.
The NDP, meanwhile, has addressed seniors’ access to medicine under its pharmacare plan. It also says it intends to create a national seniors strategy with a focus on preventing dementia and ending elder abuse, among other things.
Attendee Russell Shoeman, 60, said he was impressed with what he heard at the forum for the most part.
“There are a lot of seniors who have fallen through the cracks who could use some help with payments and lifestyles,” he said. “I thought the majority of the parties responded quite well. It’s all very progressive. I was 80 per cent convinced who I was going to vote for and now I’m only 50 per cent, so I’m going to attend a few more of these.”
Attendee Jim Elliott, 64, listed climate change as one election issue he thinks needs a bigger spotlight. He said it was the candidates’ answers to questions that went beyond the three predetermined issues that interested him the most.
“The diversity of questions that came afterwards pushed them in their understanding and awareness of what issues are important to us here.”