Seniors’ advocate role still unclear as Libs, NDP vie for votes

At left, Jane Osborne of the Lionsview Seniors Planning Society. - Outlook file photo
At left, Jane Osborne of the Lionsview Seniors Planning Society.
— image credit: Outlook file photo

With both the BC Liberals and New Democrats accusing each other of ignoring seniors’ issues — a hot topic locally, given the North Shore’s large aging demographic — the Liberals are again talking up their plan to establish a non-partisan seniors advocacy office for the province next spring.

Earlier this month, B.C. New Democrats held a seniors rally at North Vancouver’s Lynn Valley Centre, wherein party leader Adrian Dix joined North Vancouver-Seymour MLA candidate Jim Hanson in accusing the ruling Liberals of pushing seniors’ concerns such as long-term health care to the bottom of their agenda.

“The current government, when they debate seniors’ issues and heath care, seem to view seniors as some sort of impediment,” Dix told the 40-odd attendees. “I hear them talk about the ‘silver tsunami’ which is going to bankrupt our health care system. This is not the case and it’s not an appropriate way, I think, to deal with the problem.”

Hanson, of course, agreed.

“During the last 10 years, all we have seen is cuts — cuts to services, cuts to support the seniors. It appears that the BC Liberal government places supports to seniors at the bottom of the political agenda and not the top, and this has hurt seniors in British Columbia.”

But just last week the incumbent MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, Ralph Sultan, wrote on his MLA website that the government is preparing to announce its independent seniors’ advocate in Victoria, modelled on the province’s Representative for Children and Youth.

“With Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition complaining government is ‘not moving fast enough,’ Victoria is about to appoint another advocate, this time for seniors,” Sultan wrote.

In a phone interview with The Outlook to explain his message Wednesday, the three-term MLA said the idea of an advocate for the elderly — first proposed in February — came directly from the Premier’s office.

“The idea, I think, really came out of Christy Clark,” Sultan said. “She’s the one who should be named as the author of this idea. But as soon as Christy said it’s a good idea, the NDP started hounding the government saying, ‘Why didn’t you do it last week?’ or ‘Why didn’t you do it yesterday?’”

In June, the government held a series of 10 public consultations across the province with Health Minister Mike de Jong to discuss the seniors’ advocate’s role and to take suggestions on it.

At the beginning of those discussions, the health ministry described the job’s aim as “to ensure a more accessible, transparent and accountable approach to seniors’ care.” Sultan describes the role as “to make it very, very uncomfortable for the government” to maintain the status quo on seniors’ issues.

But what formal power the office will have is still anyone’s guess.

“They’ll have the power of illumination and education, if not embarrassment,” Sultan said. “But they are not in charge — they’re just advocating.”

Beyond that, all that’s agreed upon seems to be; first, the need for such an office and, secondly, the need for it to be independent of government ministries like health, answering instead to the legislature and the public on issues of not only health, but transportation, housing, education and finance.

Jane Osborne is a North Shore senior and advocate with the Lionsview Seniors' Planning Society. While supportive of the idea to establish a B.C. seniors’ advocate, Osborne said she’d like to see funding for a complementary network of local seniors advocates who would have the ear of the provincial advocate when local grievances need systemic fixes.

“I don’t think everything can be solved by a single seniors’ advocate,” Osborne told The Outlook in a phone interview. “We need to know what’s happening in individual care facilities, for example, and in all of the services being offered to seniors — we can’t always find out what we’d like to.”

One of those much-needed systemic fixes, according to Osborne, is the harmonizing of the many different rules governing different types of seniors’ homes offering different levels of care.

While assisted living centres and some intermediate care facilities are licensed under B.C.’s Community Care and Assisted Living Act, others are not. Meanwhile, in-home care providers and privately run seniors’ centres have their own standards and aren’t required to regularly report to a provincial authority.

“What that does is it creates this unevenness and creates inconsistencies in our legislation,” Osborne said. “If you’re a senior living out in the community in let’s say subsidized housing, you actually have a place you can go to say, ‘Hey, things don’t look good here.’ Whereas with a lot of the facilities we have that are providing some level of care, where do you go other than to the newspaper?”

British Columbia is home to 688,715 seniors, according to the 2011 census, making B.C. the only province or territory west of the Maritimes with more seniors than youths under 15 years old.

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