May 04, 2021

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Federal budget boosts spending on seniors

The federal budget tabled on April 19 included several spending programs directly targeting older Canadians.

The single biggest measure was the announcement of $3 billion for long-term care.

“We have invested $3 billion dollars to support the provinces and territories to ensure that standards for long-term care are applied, and that permanent changes are made to long term care,” said federal seniors’ minister Deb Schulte.

“We recognize the tragedies that occurred, and it really put a spotlight on the areas of long-term care that need to be to be addressed,” Schulte told Respect. 

There has been a loud call for national standards in long-term care since the Covid-19 pandemic exposed serious gaps and flaws in the system. But since long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction, Ottawa cannot create and implement standards on its own.

Schulte said there is broad support for improvements, and she believes the provinces and territories will see this as the moment to make changes.

“I've had conversations with my counterparts in all the provinces and territories across the country, and [the pandemic] has really put a focus on long-term care,” she said. “It certainly put a focus at the federal level, and I believe I'm seeing and hearing that from my colleagues at the provincial and territorial levels as well. So this is the time.”

In addition to the long-term care funding, the budget includes a 10 per cent increase to Old Age Security payments or recipients over the age of 75. The increase will begin in July 2022; eligible OAS recipients will receive a one-time payment of $500 this summer.

Other spending includes:

• $90 million over three years to support seniors aging in place through the “Age Well at Home” initiative

• $50 million over five years to design and deliver interventions that promote safe relationships, including elder abuse prevention

• $29.8 million over six years to improve access to palliative care

• $100 million over three years to support people suffering mental trauma during the Covid-19 pandemic, including seniors

• $27.6 million over three years for my65+, a Group Tax-Free Savings Account offered by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare to financially support front-line health care workers

• an additional $2.5 billion to build, repair, and support 35,000 affordable housing units for vulnerable Canadians, including seniors, through the $70 billion National Housing Strategy.

• Improvements to benefits for caregivers.

“We recognize the desire of seniors to stay in their homes as long as possible,” Schulte said. “This is why we're creating a new program, a $90 million investment for a new Age Well at Home initiative that's going to fund services by community groups to help seniors live longer at home.”

Laura Tamblyn Watts is president and CEO of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy organization. She said the budget falls far short of the transformational measures seniors need.

“We were very pleased to see that long-term care was in the budget,” Tamblyn Watts said. “This would be the first time that long-term care has been included in the federal budget, so it's a good start.

“But if we divide that $3 billion over the many years and the many jurisdictions, you end up at about $200 million per year per jurisdiction. And it's not the amount of money that's going to make fundamental change,” she said. 

The same applies, she said, to the $90 million budgeted to support people aging in place, including money for home care. She described that initiative as “a good step forward, but not transformative by its nature.”

The federal government has turned to two organizations to develop long-term care standards for proposal to the provinces and territories. The Canadian Standards Association is working on standards for the buildings, Infection Prevention and Control, and other physical infrastructure; the Health Standards Organization is leading the conversation around care standards changes. 

The federal government will spend from the $3 billion to begin improvements once the standards have been established and the accreditation process has been finalized.

Tamblyn Watts, who sits on one of the working groups, says the process “avoids the conflict of authority between the two levels of government.” 

But the issue will remain political, and much will depend on what a future federal government on one hand, and the provinces and territories on the other, are willing to do.

“The NDP under Jagmeet Singh has been promoting a significant transformative amount of money, and that that money be tethered to following the standards in the provinces,” Tamblyn Watts said.

“The Conservatives under Erin O'Toole have generally rejected national long-term care standards and have preferred to say it's just up to the provinces. And the Liberals have taken this middle path of supporting the standards organizations to approve it, and then helping to provide some funding to fix things after.”

“Again, $200 million per jurisdiction per year is not insignificant. But if we think about all of the long-term care homes which are going to need to have changes made, it won't go far enough.”

Schulte said the federal government has been active on seniors’ issues since their election in 2015. “We've been rolling out enhanced services and enhanced supports for seniors. And we will continue to listen carefully to what seniors are telling us about what their needs are and work hard to address those needs,” she said.

But major, transformative change is still needed—and soon, according to Tamblyn Watts. 

“If we want to make things different, the time to start is well before now,” she said. “But every day counts.”