MADAM CHAIRMAN: Good morning, I would like to call this meeting of the Community Services Committee to order. This morning we are joined by the Senior Citizens' Secretariat. In the centre we have Ms. Valerie White. To her left, Heather Praught and Mr. Steven Coyle. Can we go around the table and introduce ourselves, for the benefit of our guests.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Begin whenever you're ready.
MS. VALERIE WHITE: I would like to first say thank you for the opportunity to appear before you. In my recollection, this is the first time that the secretariat has been asked to appear before a standing committee so I'm really pleased and I think it will result in some good dialogue with you. I'm really pleased to have staff, number one, and to have the staff with me because we have been very low on staff for a number of years. It is great to have Heather Praught, who has recently joined the secretariat, and Steven Coyle.
Basically, to begin, we can talk about the role of the secretariat in two ways. Number one, it does provide a one-door entry to government for seniors and their families. The other side of that is the policy and planning role that we play with government departments and with other levels of government. So it is a planning and policy arm of the provincial government.
At the moment, our staff consists of six full-time employees: myself, as executive director; an administrative assistant; a project officer; Heather Praught, coordinator; Steven as our policy analyst and researcher; and a librarian. During the last year we did hire three new staff. I would invite you to come and see the development of our resource and information centre that Jane Phillips is in charge of. It has been a great addition to the secretariat.
Of course, by having this staff, and well-qualified staff, we can increase our communication and collaborative efforts with the community, with seniors' organizations and with the many agencies that work on behalf of seniors, so it is an exciting time for us.
As I proceed, you will see that we are involved in a wide range of projects and addressing a number of issues that keep coming up to us from seniors' organizations.
On a day-to-day basis, we operate the toll-free line. We have four lines that come in so that seniors, wherever they live in Nova Scotia, can call in with any kind of concern that they have on their minds. Believe me, we get a full range of those concerns, from the most serious concerns to sometimes saying, well, I would like someone to come out and walk my dog, whatever. We get the full range.
We make an effort to make the buck stop in our office. If we don't have an immediate response, we do the legwork and get back to them and get the response for them, instead of just simply referring them. There are some situations where it makes sense to directly refer. For instance, if they are calling in about Old Age Security or the Guaranteed Income Supplement, then we know, by directly referring them, that immediately staff at that end can go into their computer and get the response for them.
We produce a newsletter four times a year. The audience we serve with that are seniors, of course, and professionals or people who work in the field of aging. So we try to make sure that in that newsletter there is the up-to-date information on programs, projects that may be occurring in some other part of the country or the world. So it gives these people ideas, different ways of doing things, different ways of approaching the work that they are involved in. Approximately 1,500 of those newsletters go out at the moment but if anybody wants to have their name on that list, we add them to the list so the list continues to grow.
Each year we update Programs for Seniors and that has just been done. A great deal of work went into it this year. Heather took responsibility for tidying it up, making it more clear, adding a detailed table of contents. So we're pleased with that, that that's going to be more user friendly, more senior friendly. Also, this year, we're printing 60,000 copies. Up until now we printed 50,000. This year we ran out. We increased the ways in which we circulated the booklet so now we will be increasing that. It's also a publication that we produce at no cost to government. The booklet is tendered and The Daily News has that contract at the moment. They sell advertising and that offsets the cost of the book.
We have a Web site. So that's an ongoing task to keep that updated. The Programs for Seniors booklet is on the Web site and, of course, more and more seniors are using computers. So that's another way of getting information out to people who need it.
We also respond to a wide range of requests and correspondence from seniors and, again, people working in the field of aging, people who have concerns that they want addressed and staff also serve on a very wide range of committees and research projects, not just what we do within our office, but we partner with a lot of other groups, like the Nova Scotia Centre on Aging, Dalhousie University and so on.
The 50+ Expo, which was formerly called Seniors' Expo, is a project that started with the secretariat. In planning that, we involved seniors from all parts of Nova Scotia who serve on a planning committee. So it really has become their event. It is their expo. This year, the theme is Healthy Active Living - Be the Best You Can Be. We are making some changes in that. We are moving it a month earlier. This year it will be held in June, June 14th and June 15th, and we are changing the site. We are moving to Exhibition Park.
Those changes are for a couple of reasons. First of all, at Exhibition Park there is parking; downtown parking was getting to be a real issue, the cost of parking and availability. Out there, of course, there is lots of space, parking is free. We know some people just don't like to drive downtown, and so we also think that will get more attendance, greater attendance. We'll be putting on shuttle services for people in the city, or people who want to come to those sites and be bused out to Exhibition Park.
Some of the exhibitors and sponsors felt that for them it was easier to staff booths at Expo if we had it in June instead of July. So we're trying it this year. If you don't try things, then nothing will improve. This is an effort this year to make sure we have even greater attendance. We are also, in the planning of the show, because of the theme, working closely as sponsors with the Medical Society, Sport Nova Scotia, the Sport and Recreation Commission, and Recreation Nova Scotia - the association of recreation staff around the province.
Other projects that have been ongoing for quite a number of years are the seniors' art gallery and photo galleries that are in the World Trade and Convention Centre. These projects started with an idea from a senior, saying that seniors don't have an opportunity to display their work and sell their work. We worked with them and started a gallery, and eventually we gained space in the World Trade and Convention Centre, which is really a long wall so it doesn't require any rental costs or anything. We were happy to have that space. We have a committee that works on that, they volunteer. The seniors sell the paintings, and we do sometimes as well. We look after the administration of the cheques. For instance, at the end of each show a senior will receive a cheque for the amount of paintings that were sold. We don't take any proceeds from that, the total amount goes to the senior.
Over the years, since it was started, we have sold $223,725 worth of paintings. These paintings have gone throughout the world really, because of the people who visit the World Trade and Convention Centre. I will tell you it's a real thrill for seniors, number one, to show their work there, but when someone - and they've told me many times - really likes something that they created, likes it enough to buy it, it's like seventh heaven, they are just thrilled to death. The photo gallery, through that, $70,000 worth of photos have been sold.
The idea is that it shows the kind of creativity within our senior population. It doesn't matter how old you get, you can still be creative. It also enables them to, with the money they get from those works, continue their hobby. Basically it offsets the framing of their works, so it helps them in that way.
Some of the committees that we as staff serve on are on such issues as women's health, seniors' driving concerns, mid-life issues of women, single-entry access program; there's a trauma committee, an ambulance fee review committee. We have served on respite care committees and on care for the caregivers. Those are just a few of the committees; there are many more.
I serve on a federal-provincial-territorial committee. In each province there is a colleague who is responsible for seniors' issues. We meet by teleconference on a monthly basis, and then depending on agenda items that would be in the works or being prepared for ministers responsible for seniors, we all serve on subcommittees. We do the work in between, when ministers responsible for seniors meet. They meet approximately every 18 months. They were due to meet last September, but it was right around the time of September 11th, so that meeting was postponed until June of this year. We've offered to host the next meeting of ministers responsible for seniors, so that will go forward to them in June. If they accept, then we'll be very pleased to organize that here.
Some of the other committees that staff serve on outside the office, we work on a committee with the RCMP on a project called PACT, Partners Against Consumer Telefraud; we consult and the VON consult with us on issues of concern and items they want to put forward in the way of new programming or when they establish their information line; we work closely with DVA at the moment on the issue of falls, preventing falls among seniors; and we work co-operatively with the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association, they have been supportive of some projects that we have embarked on, such as the Expo, and they funded that. They were also helpful when we initiated the prudent use of medications project. We're involved where we can be, we work with the corporate sector.
Lots of times they provide the funding so that we can initiate some projects and partner with them on those issues. Some other issues that are really in the minds of all of us are safety and security issues, marketing and consumer awareness, the seniors' insurance
rates, the issue of home invasions, medication concerns among seniors, and the changing housing needs and concerns among the senior population.
Twice a year we hold consultations with the broad network of representatives from the seniors community. These are held at Mount Saint Vincent, in the Motherhouse. We pay seniors to come in, they get mileage to come to these meetings. If they are from the far reaches of the province they stay overnight at the Mount, because it's a full day. We start at 9:00 o'clock in the morning and we often don't finish until 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock, and then they are on their way home again. It's a full day and at least by coming in the day before they are rested and ready to do the work that they have to do on that day.
When we have those consultations there are representatives from the seniors councils, and there are seniors councils in almost every county in Nova Scotia. The councils are made up of reps from the clubs within that county. We also invite directors of the seniors centres to attend. The other organizations that make up what we call the Group of IX and other special interest groups, such as the Indo-Canadian group, Community Links and there are some others that are working on behalf of seniors.
When we have those days it's a combination of having people make presentations to the group and also gives the groups, the individuals an opportunity to bring any concerns that they want to bring in from their memberships and from the constituency that they work with. It's beneficial, I think. It provides new information to them, and it also corrects a lot of misinformation. Sometimes in our communities people pass on a tidbit that they think is accurate and it's not, so it gives us an opportunity to correct those pieces.
In addition to the spring and fall consultations, we meet with the Group of IX on a monthly basis to discuss a wide range of issues and in particular they are advisory to the Minister of Health on Pharmacare and the single-entry access process. This is really beneficial for them, this brings them to the table. That's what seniors want today, they want to be part of the planning process. They don't want to hear about a program once it's been designed and set up, they want to be part of it right from the very beginning. If required, they will have more than one meeting a month, it just depends on the issues. Sometimes when they are preparing to make their recommendations to the Minister of Health they need extra meetings, so we just arrange those.
Some of the new committees that we've involved retired people in are an elder abuse committee. Over the last two years I had a larger committee working on an elder abuse strategy. That strategy is complete, so now we've started a smaller committee that will take that strategy, pull out the priorities and determine who should be responsible for following through and making changes on those items.
A second committee is on medication awareness. We have had the Towards the Prudent Use of Medications project in the past and now what this small committee will be doing will be looking at that project and seeing if there is a way of packaging that so it can be instituted in any community, it can be adapted to any community. It really is a peer education project. The seniors are trained to counsel other seniors about their medications and encourage them to ask questions of their physician and pharmacist. The senior who has been trained reinforces how the physician and pharmacist want that senior to use their medications. That has been a very successful project, it uncovered a number of areas where seniors were not understanding how they should take their medication and were taking more than they should have been taking and not dropping the one that the doctor intended for them not to take any longer.
The other committee is on senior safe driving and, of course, that's a hot topic at all times because it seems as though every time someone over 50 is in an accident that their age gets reported in the paper. The seniors take exception to that, they don't feel that seniors should be really made a lot more of than anyone of any other age and that driving concerns are for everybody, that we are all aging drivers from the time that we get our license at 16 years old. So that committee looks at those issues and has also been dealing with the issue of increased insurance rates.
We have developed a fact sheet on insurance rates which I brought copies of this morning that really encourages seniors how to shop around, because there are mainly two insurance companies that raised their rates based on age and that was Allstate and The Co-operators. There are companies that are senior-friendly like Johnson Insurance and Grey Power but there are specific questions that seniors need to ask insurance brokers so they're not comparing apples and oranges, so we think that has been very helpful to them.
As I mentioned, the 50+ Expo Committee, that is another way we involve retired people and draw on their expertise and their whole lifetime of experience. We are involved in a number of research projects which we have partnered on. We have taken the initiative on some of them and then found partners. We are involved in an Atlantic research project called, Aging Well in Rural Places and that project was endorsed by the Deputy Ministers of Health. A project had been presented to the federal government on their behalf and we had also taken the initiative to put in a project proposal on that topic. They came back and asked if we could marry the two projects and we said certainly, we could. So that is a joint project of the secretariat, Canadian Pensioners Concerned and the Atlantic Deputy Ministers of the Departments of Health. That is a two year project and it really focuses on seniors and mental health.
We have had a seniors and literacy project ongoing this past year, funded by the Literacy Secretariat. Phase I is completed and now we are applying for funding for Phase II, which will result in projects based on what we learned through the initial research project.
The other project in which we are a partner is one on the dentistry needs, the oral health needs of seniors. We have just received funding on that project, so that will start to roll out. These projects are mostly funded either by Health Canada or by the Canadian Health Research Foundation and I mentioned the Literacy Secretariat.
With those three projects, it really has brought a total of almost $250,000 to Nova Scotia and they are all doing some very important work. We are learning a lot from these projects and then it will help us move to the next phase, of how to best address the issues.
I mentioned the library, the Resource and Information Centre. I am really excited about that so I will mention it again because it was long overdue. In earlier years, Dr. MacKinnon and I tried to keep it going and as you know with filing, everybody files in a different way, so it was a challenge at times to find the information as quickly as we would like. So that is working very well and it is a lending library, it is approved, it is on the list of libraries now in the country. We have a range of books, journals, videos and those can be loaned out to people all across the province. We always have a number of students who use our offices also for doing their research work, so it will be a very important tool for them, as well. We do get a tremendous amount of information passing through our offices, so it is really great to have that catalogued and available.
This year, because we do have additional staff, one of the things I want to do and I am committed to doing this, is going around and visiting all the senior councils and work with them to either hold community meetings or to focus in on the issues that concern them. It has been a concern of mine for some time that the senior councils are not as strong as they used to be and that is for a number of reasons. The people who started these clubs and councils years back are aging and it seems like those of us in the baby boomer age range, number one, some people don't want to call themselves seniors and number two, they don't want to identify and join the clubs and councils.
I really think the role of the council is extremely important, so what I plan to do with them is talk to them about reconstituting their council and bring in some other partners, people in their community and in their county that should be included in that council, people who have an interest in aging concerns. With that, I hope that the baby boomers will be more willing to join forces with them to strengthen the councils and be involved either with an issue or develop a project. I think that should help strengthen them and keep that local voice out there.
Of course, an ongoing challenge for us and I guess any office, is to get the information out to seniors so it is there when they need it and to families when they need it. I would say about a third of our calls on the toll-free line come from family members looking for information about programs and services. With additional staff we will hold those meetings around the province and we will, as we have done already, develop the network of seniors that I mentioned to you. I guess just the fact that our population is aging - every
month in Nova Scotia approximately 600 people celebrate their 65th birthday. So that is a challenge in this field of aging, that in itself is a challenge. So we are working away at that.
Steven is involved in developing a booklet on statistics and relevant data which will be published and be available to everyone. That will be written in a way that people can easily look at the statistics and see what the implications will be, so it won't be a totally dry booklet, but it will be one that will be senior friendly, user friendly.
As I mentioned, staff spent considerable time on the toll-free line, not just simply answering yes or no questions, but some of the calls take a lot of time and it takes a fair bit of leg work and research to get back to them with the appropriate information and the appropriate answer. I really believe that the single-entry access process will serve the population well because a lot of people, up to this point, when they need to be considering what is going to be happening with mom or dad, can they manage with home care, do they need to go to a nursing home, it really poses a huge dilemma for families. This will streamline that process and make a number available so people can easily call that number and then have someone to talk to about the range of options that are there, in the area of continuing care, whereas previously, people would have to call home care separately or call a nursing home in their area.
I think all of us, as human beings - the analogy I often use is that I am not interested in mufflers for cars until mine breaks. Then if I need a muffler, I want to know who sells them, what is the best buy, what is the best quality and so on. I think that is what happens a lot with seniors and their family members. They don't really think about long-term care or home care until a crisis happens and all of a sudden, they need it. Of course, it is always a very emotional time too. I think that is really going to go a long way to helping people understand the process and the whole range of options.
I am going to stop there. Steven or Heather, if you have any questions for any of us.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Maureen.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Madam Chairman, I really appreciate this presentation and, as I said earlier before we started, I apologize, I am going to have to leave early. This is why I get to go first, I guess.
MR. DAVID HENDSBEE: Are you going to the press conference, too?
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Yes, I am.
MR. HENDSBEE: I will see you there.
MS. MAUREEN MACDONALD: There are a lot of things that you have raised. You are obviously very busy in a number of areas. I have many seniors in my constituency. I am fortunate in that Northwood is in my community as well as Victoria Hall and seven public housing manors: Gordon B. Isnor; Sunrise; Acadia Lodge; and so forth. I have to say I am the proud owner of a beautiful watercolour done by the seniors' group out of Bloomfield Centre. I have a lot of contact with seniors.
I am extraordinarily concerned about a number of things. The increasing cost of automobile insurance, particularly for seniors whose driving record is impeccable. This seems to be inappropriate, unfair. I am hoping that the government will really take some action on this and I hope that you are putting forward that point of view. I am looking forward to the handout about shopping around but it seems to me that there is almost some price-fixing going on across the industry that is resulting in astronomical increases. I am getting a lot of calls on that, so I think this is something that has to be done. The other thing is that the quality industry that is resulting in astronomical increases, and I'm getting a lot of calls on that. I think this is something that has to be done.
The other thing is that the quality of public housing for seniors is deteriorating in my view. Many seniors are living in senior citizen complexes where people who are not seniors are being housed in those complexes. This has been going on as a matter of practice for several years. It has resulted in seniors in their homes feeling vulnerable, feeling they can't leave because they are encountering other persons who aren't seniors, whose lifestyles are considerably different than their own. It's been a real encroachment on their quality of life. I see this every day. Then, to add insult to injury, Sunrise Manor has had the situation where a rehabilitation centre is being temporarily closed and persons relocated into their home. I would encourage you, as a secretariat interested in seniors' issues, perhaps, to meet with the residents of Sunrise Manor about this, given that the minister has refused to do that.
The last thing - well, there are two more things I would like to say. First of all, Stats Canada indicates that poverty among seniors under 65 is growing very rapidly, people without dependents, who are between the 55 and 65 year old group. It's one of the fastest-growing areas of poverty. Certainly I think as MLAs we see a lot of people in those categories, perhaps on CPP or on social assistance. They have no drug plans, there are often mental health issues and other issues. It seems to me that many seniors, particularly in that category, are not in any organized group with whom you meet. I am very pleased to hear you say that you're looking at how to strengthen the senior councils.
I want to end with a question on that. Senior councils, you said, aren't as strong as they had been or used to be. My understanding is that there certainly were small grants, like those New Horizon grants or something like that, that went to seniors organizations. They weren't large amounts of money but they certainly were there to provide for some of that organizational infrastructure for communication, mail-outs, local newsletters or whatever, even the tea and coffee at a meeting. Do those grants still exist, or am I correct in thinking
that they've gone? What is required to provide senior councils support so that seniors who have limited and fixed incomes don't have to absorb all of the cost of having some kind of infrastructure to do the kind of work you're talking about? That's a lot, but I'll get it all out.
MS. WHITE: It's true, the funding that was available years back was by The New Horizons Program with the federal government. They changed their policy, I'm sure it's at least five, maybe more years ago now, into a project they call Population Health. The funding they had was drastically reduced, and they then had to serve the total population, not just seniors. There hasn't been the funding for the councils. The funding, of course, was more helpful to the clubs than to the councils. Although funding is always helpful, it's more of a leadership issue with them. The people who have belonged to the councils are aging. I had a call from a senior the other day and she said, look, I'm 103 and I'm really concerned that maybe the seniors club is going to close. She said, no one seems to want to take an interest in it. I think that's the area that is concerning me more.
I know in some areas little cliques formed with the seniors clubs or councils and so then that leaves out a whole bunch of people in a community, but I think there are other reasons too. I think they need to be strengthened with human resources, so by adding more people to their council, perhaps a municipal councillor, someone maybe from the RCMP, maybe from the fire department or women's groups, just to broaden that network and get more people around their table who also have an interest in those concerns.
It's more leadership, I think, Maureen, than anything. When I brought the reps, the president and the secretary of the councils together - once so far - to talk about these issues, they just said it's hard to get other people involved and we're getting worn out. It's always the same group that leads. Of course, having grown up in a rural community I know that's true not just of seniors groups but of a lot of other groups. I think we can encourage them to join forces and partner more in their community rather than be sort of an isolated group.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Cecil, I'm going to skip over you and go to David, because he also has to leave, if you don't mind. (Interruptions)
MR. HENDSBEE: I have to apologize, I'm also leaving for a press conference at 10:00 a.m., the African Heritage Month announcements. I was glad to hear you talk about the insurance rates and stuff. It's best to shop around, apparently, and don't let the fear of two companies having the stranglehold on insurance rates and how it affects everyone. I am sure the government and the departments are also looking at other aspects of it, but I'm glad to hear you say directly that the Senior Citizens' Secretariat is willing to assist those seniors with some of the questions they should be asking when they are shopping around, to clarify any issues they may have.
My concern is about senior wellness. We are seeing more and more demands being put on the health care system, or even the long-term care system, for seniors who are ailing. The focus now of the government is trying to get more wellness programs and trying to assist all age groups to have more active lifestyles and more healthy lifestyles, and trying to get away from the dependencies of the medical profession, be it prescriptions or whatever the case may be. What recommendations do you have for the senior population of this province to try to encourage a wellness regime in their lives?
MS. WHITE: When we have consultations we usually have people talking about what they can be doing to remain healthy and keep healthy, but this year in particular the theme of the 50+ Expo is Healthy Active Living - Be the Best You Can Be. The partners we are working with on that, that is going to be the main focus, physical activity, mental, the whole health aspect but particularly getting moving. By moving the Expo earlier, too, as it turns out Seniors Week follows that, so our theme for Seniors Week as well will be focused on healthy active living, maintaining health, looking at options, what else can I do to make myself healthy.
We'll have all kinds of testing on site at the Expo, so people can have their blood pressure taken, cholesterol checked, body mass index measured and lots of demonstrations that will, number one, show them what they can do differently in their lifestyle and what is available in their community, who is available to get them involved in exercise programs, and of course not just for the healthy active senior but there are some wonderful innovative programs where seniors can exercise in their chair if for some reason they are at home and are not mobile in the community. We're going to pick up on some of those ideas and spread the word so that people will know who is in their community, through the recreation director or through the YMCA, and make some of their programs better known. It's not always creating something new but getting the word out about what is really in your community that you don't know about and how to access those programs.
MR. HENDSBEE: My last question is, there seems to be a dependency or a phenomenon that seniors are having more prescription drugs on a higher per capita basis than other groups and sometimes these prescription drugs can counteract or be counterproductive to each other. How do you feel about the health care profession perhaps over-prescribing drugs too often, too quickly to seniors.
MS. WHITE: Well that is really one of the reasons we have this Medication Awareness Committee and building on the prudent use of medications, so that seniors will ask a physician. We've seen - and I know the point you are raising - too many times our parents and grandparents saw the doctor as God and whatever the doctor said you should do, you did and you didn't question. Through this committee and the work this committee will
do, we will be encouraging seniors to question doctors as to is there something I can do instead of taking this medication.
We work with the Medical Society which is doing a lot with physicians right now to educate them about these kinds of issues. The Pharmacy Association is also working with the pharmacists and I guess the third piece are the seniors and that is why we are taking this on, to really create more awareness about those issues. Seniors should be concerned if they are taking a number of medications.
When we were doing Toward the Prudent Use of Medications project, part of the process was having seniors come in with a brown bag of all the medications they had in their house; prescription and non-prescription. There would be a pharmacist on site and sometimes a doctor, as well. They would go through all those medications and show them what they needed to discard and would help them catalogue in a little booklet they could carry in their handbag of the ones they really should be taking. You are right, and some seniors shop around, it is not always the doctor's fault. Some seniors will shop around and they want the pill. They are not happy if they go to the doctor and are not prescribed medication, they say he is no good, I'm going to go to somebody else. So it is not just a physician problem, it is a three-pronged approach we have to have and it is all about educating and making people more comfortable in asking questions I think, that is a big part of it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Cecil.
MR. CECIL O'DONNELL: Madam Chairman, I have a couple of quick questions. I believe you mentioned the number 1,500 newsletters are sent out.
MS. WHITE: Yes.
MR. O'DONNELL: Are they mostly in metro or do they go out to the rural areas too? The other question is, I noticed in the news lately, I believe it was in New Brunswick maybe, where the seniors are organizing, coming together so they can have a stronger voice and maybe going so far as forming their own political Party. Is this happening throughout Nova Scotia too?
MS. WHITE: First of all, the newsletter goes right across the province, we mail it out in bulk to the seniors councils and to organizations. As I have said, anybody who wants to be on that list, we are happy to add them to the list. I heard also about the possibility of forming the Seniors Party, there are a lot of them out there, the population is aging, who knows. But I don't see any movement in that here. The Group of IX is a very strong voice - those organizations that make up that group - and they are working very co-operatively together but I don't see any signs of them forming a Party at this point.
MR. O'DONNELL: One other quick question. What is the age of a senior citizen? Some say 50, 55, 60, is there a certain age or everyone has a different age?
MS. WHITE: It varies. I like to look at it as a phase of life. For pensions and that sort of thing, 65 is the age. We talk in terms of 50-plus because you have to get people thinking about retirement and what they are going to do with the rest of their lives beyond work and that sort of thing. We talk in terms of 50-plus because a lot of people from 50 onward, or just above 50 anyway, in some cases they are in that phase that often gets referred to as the empty nesters, where children have pretty much grown and gone on to whatever they are going to do. We all know they come back sometimes but that is life, I guess, these days. Anyway, I think it is more a phase.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Jerry.
MR. JERRY PYE: Madam Chairman, I want to follow on the same train of thought, I guess, as the member for Shelburne. On the same train of thought with respect to the age of seniors, the Act specifically spells out the age of a senior, that being the age of 65. Since many people have entertained the notion of early retirement and governments and employers have downsized and individuals have been asked to go out the door earlier and they have a lot of free time on their hands - those are normally individuals between that age of 55 to 65 - it might be necessary to look at some legislative changes with respect to the definition of a senior. I don't know if that's true or not, however, I do know there will be the need for basic housekeeping within the legislation anyway because now seniors are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and as such, will not be within the financial aid section, but would be from the Minister of Health. Also, the dissemination of administrative information and material and costs would come from the Minister of Health's Department, I would assume.
I don't know if there has been any thought or notion to look at the kind of legislative changes that need to be consistent with the change of where seniors now fall within the government purview. I think that might be something you are going to look at or are looking at and maybe something that comes forward in the spring.
I'm going to say a number of things. First of all, I want to mention about the 50+ Expo. I have attended the 50+ Expo ever since I actually became a municipal politician, when in fact it was the Seniors' Expo and so on. I found it an excellent venue for the dissemination of information. I was extremely pleased that seniors themselves are participants there by being creative and showing their crafts and works, as well, in this forum. I thought that it is most appropriate.
The other thing is with respect to the seniors' program. It is a wealth of information and I can tell you that it is extremely useful at my office, that we have asked for additional packages just because it is highly requested from my office. It is pleasing to see that within
the seniors' facilities that the programs are available, as well. They do offer a wealth of information but often seniors, even though they have this information, tend not to look at the book and tend to call you and tend to call the Senior Citizens' Secretariat. I think that's something that's worthy and I'm pleased to see you are going to increase the publication from 50,000 to 60,000 because I do know that more and more requests are coming forward for that.
The issue of tax rebate and rental assistance. The reason I'm going to say this to you is because it comes under the Senior Citizens' Financial Aid Act. In the Senior Citizens' Financial Aid Act there are tables indicating what the budgetary items might very well be. I do not believe that those budgetary items have ever been changed to reflect today's costs. In this book that you give us, this has 1982-83. I don't know if there have been significant reflective changes. I'm sure that will go to your researcher to see what the demands are and if those numbers ought to be changed. As you know, seniors who live in seniors' housing now are expected to pay 30 per cent of their gross income towards their shelter component. It used to be 25 per cent but it has gone up to 30 per cent. Many seniors have not seen that 5 per cent increase in the last seven years, let alone trying to cope with that, so their costs become enormous.
The other issue is the seniors' population. I know that you said every month 600 people have a birthday, reaching age 65. I don't know what the seniors' population is in Nova Scotia and I hope that you will tell me what the seniors' population is in Nova Scotia today . . .
MR. PAUL MACEWAN: It's a hard thing to define because we don't have a definition for it.
MR. PYE: . . . and if, in fact, we have looked at the needs of the seniors' population. Some of those needs would be uniquely different in urban areas versus rural areas. If, in fact, you have looked at the rural needs of seniors, and obviously there is information passed on to you by the caregivers association and so on, however, having said that, with the unique needs, I'm wondering if, in fact - I guess this is a question to Mr. Coyle, your researcher and policy analyst - you have looked at the pertinent issues that seniors consider their priority issues and if, in fact, they are consistent both in urban and rural settings and if, in fact, those issues are issues that are issues that government is addressing today, both at the national and the provincial levels and what kind of commitments they are putting to those and if, in fact, there are new policies that ought to be developed as a result of that research that's coming in and constantly coming forward.
I don't want to take a whole lot of time so I better start to shut up. (Laughter) I guess there are a number of concerns I have and in summary I will say, are you going to look at revising both the Senior Citizens' Secretariat Act and the Senior Citizens' Financial Aid Act to make it conform with where seniors fit in the government purview? Number two, are you
doing research and analysis with respect to the special needs of seniors and the needs of seniors and are all members of the public able to access that information and if, in fact, when you make recommendations to government, does that not only go to government but to Opposition members as well - to all members of the Legislature, I should say. I guess that, in summary, is what I am asking; I am asking a whole lot.
MS. WHITE: Well, the Senior Citizens' Financial Aid Act is one that the Department of Community Services deals with specifically so I will have to honestly go and look at that. That's not something that has been raised. The amounts of what people pay in seniors' housing, they have been paying 30 per cent for a number of years. That wasn't increased just recently.
MR. PYE: The last three years, hasn't it?
MS. WHITE: Yes, at least three years. The Property Tax Rebate Program has been reintroduced over a three year period so that will be up until, I think, next year and then everyone will be receiving the same amount. So that is in the works.
With the Senior Citizens' Secretariat Act, it's just a matter of who chairs the committee. At one time, the chairman took that chairmanship around with him to whatever other portfolio he had. The Minister of Community Services then chaired the committee for quite a number of years as well and then with the reorganization and some seniors' programs going to Health, the move was then made so that I would report directly to the Minister of Health instead of to the Minister of Community Services. Thus, it means that our budget is filtered through the Department of Health, too, simply so that we don't have to have a huge staff to deal with our budget. So that just goes through that for convenience, really.
I don't think there is really any need to change the Act. That's just something the chairmanship can change. As a committee of ministers, they could decide that maybe the Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations might be the chair. That really doesn't have to be defined, as far as the chair goes.
MR. PYE: I'm just saying what the Act says. The Act says the chairperson, the Minister of Community Services, within the Act and if, in fact, there are no specifics to the Act, then maybe that ought to be cut out and then simply say the minister shall be whoever.
MS. WHITE: Okay, I see what you're saying.
MR. PYE: If the Act specifically implies who the chairperson shall be, then I think there's a question of correction.
MS. WHITE: I don't know. That change did have to be made through a process when the Minister of Health did take on the responsibility. It may not be reflected in that but there was a piece that amended it. We'll look at that and send you what happened. There was a process that did take place. Am I forgetting some of your other questions, Jerry? Did I cover those?
MR. PYE: You forgot one of the most important ones, the number of seniors in the Province of Nova Scotia, and then I might ask you to refer it to Mr. Coyle with respect to policy and research.
MR. STEVEN COYLE: We have estimated the number of seniors in the province at just under 130,000, and that's increasing steadily and is projected to increase for the next quarter of a century. Seniors will become an increasingly larger and larger portion of the population of Nova Scotia. It's really the only segment of the population that is increasing. Right now 13.5 per cent of Nova Scotians are 65 or older.
You asked about some of the issues that related to seniors, and there are many policy issues that are important to seniors, not just in the province but nationally. In 1999 there was a policy framework developed for older people. It identified a wide range of issues that are very important to older people, and it included larger categories like: living with dignity; safety and security; health, of course; independent living.
You also asked about the difference between rural and urban seniors and their interests and concerns. I'm getting a fix on that as I get more involved in my work. Certainly one of the things that struck me when I first started the job is that there is a big difference in the senior population, urban versus rural. Proportionately there are many more seniors in rural areas of the province compared to Halifax.
MR. PYE: That's the kind of question I was asking, simply because there are special needs, like transportation; because many seniors no longer have their vehicles, emergency services and the like in rural areas would not necessarily reflect the urban setting. That's the kind of information I like to hear.
MR. COYLE: Certainly transportation is one of the big differences in terms of the issues facing seniors in urban and rural settings. Tomorrow we're involved in a committee that deals with transportation access in rural areas of the province, and seniors are one of the groups that will benefit from those types of initiatives.
MR. PYE: And housing issues in rural areas.
MR. COYLE: Yes. Certainly people want to stay within their own homes first, and secondly, if that's not possible, they want to stay within their own communities.
MR. PYE: Finally, do you work closely with adult protection, particularly for seniors in isolated communities who may live in environments that are not necessarily suitable for them to live in and yet no one comes forth because communities are close knit and they keep quiet about certain things.
MS. WHITE: We do work with Rob Turnbull, with adult protection. He did serve on the committee that worked on the strategic plan. He's also part of the committee that will be following up on what needs to be done. We get calls on our toll-free line sometimes from people who are concerned about a situation, and then that's a situation we refer to Rob Turnbull. Sometimes there are other groups in the community that can help, that may not be an issue that necessarily has to be dealt with through the Adult Protection Act. We will also then be in touch with home care or VON, someone who is a front-line worker who can go in and help the person. They might not really need the full extent of the Act, but just to try to get those supports in the home. It's an issue.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Madam Chairman, I apologize for being a few minutes late at the beginning but I think I caught most of your presentation and enjoyed it, although most of what you've been talking about kind of scares the hell out of me to become a senior.
MR. MACEWAN: You're as old as you think you are.
MR. WILSON: They are not good things. You mentioned poverty, just sort of glazed across the issue of poverty. What percentage, in your estimation, of seniors in this province are living in poverty?
MR. COYLE: The latest statistics we've looked at indicate that about 5 per cent of the seniors in the province are living below the low income cut-off.
MR. MACEWAN: Five per cent?
MR. COYLE: About 5 per cent.
MR. MACEWAN: Not where I come from, sir.
MR. WILSON: As my colleague is suggesting as well, that would vary from region to region. I would suggest, for instance, where I represent, the riding of Glace Bay, there would be a much higher percentage of seniors living in poverty.
MR. MACEWAN: The majority of them.
MR. WILSON: And the issues that face them become much more severe when you're talking about insurance rates, adequate housing needs and so on and so forth. I'll give you an example that I just ran into the other day, of approximately 20-some senior public housing units that are available just in the riding of Glace Bay and approximately 25 applicants for those vacancies. Those vacancies will remain there for some time because the Department of Housing, Community Services, whatever, does not have adequate funding to hire people to fix up those units or to clean those units and to put them in a state where they can be used by seniors. Some of the problems that seniors are facing are created by inadequate funding by governments.
MR. MACEWAN: Wait until they balance the budget, then you'll see cuts.
MR. WILSON: That's my statement. What I'm asking you is to give me an overall view of what the situation is right now in terms of this government and where seniors stand in terms of funding, what's available for them and what could be available for them, in your opinion. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but . . .
MS. WHITE: I guess there are two things, and we struggle with this - Steve and I have talked about it. What is poor, what is poverty? (Interruption) It depends on where a person lives, there are all these factors is really where I'm going with this. First of all, we know that at one point, very few years ago, 60 per cent of the seniors in Nova Scotia received a portion of the Guaranteed Income Supplement. That's now down to 46 per cent. Overall our seniors are better off financially than they ever were before.
Having said that, I know - and again I'll refer to my rural upbringing - that for some seniors who own their own homes, and even if they're just getting Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, they manage very well because they don't have rent, they grew up during the Depression, they know how to shop, they know how to stretch a dollar, and they really live very well. But there are other seniors who, perhaps, are renting in the open market, single older women especially who didn't work outside the home and therefore they just have OAS and GIS, and that's the group I see that is really struggling because they have their own choice of where they want to live. Some seniors don't want to live in seniors' housing. If they did, paying the 30 per cent even, that would give them more money to do the other things they need to do, to buy and to live.
Then you have, again, individual choice. People decide what they want to spend their money on. Again, that is a personal choice. Some people want to - I hate to use an example but I mean some people who I know are bingo fans. So they go to bingo all the time, and that is their personal choice, and God love them, that is their social outlet and so on, but it's like anything, if you spend a lot of money on bingo, you might not have it for food over here. When you are dealing with humans, there is a lot of personal choice but the question you raise is, how poor is poor and what can we do and what do governments need to be doing to address those concerns?
Those people who own their own homes, the property tax rebate is a great benefit to them. When that had been grandfathered, that was a serious loss to a lot of people and there was a large number of people who were caught in that squeeze. That's one way of helping them live a better lifestyle.
I think the whole issue of wellness, keeping people well, helping them to know that there are things they can do that really reflect on their lifestyle, then they don't have to be, perhaps, taking as many medications or having as many trips to doctors. It's some of those issues, costs of medications, sometimes, that aren't covered by Pharmacare or the transportation costs that really bite into a senior's income and create the situations that you are familiar with.
So that is the reality and what you have said is true. There are those people who really struggle and I guess earlier Maureen, I think, mentioned that age group of 55 to 65. That is a real concern to me as well. There are those people in that age group who just wait until they are 65 to get Old Age Security because they are struggling along. There's no simple answer.
MR. WILSON: Well, I won't take up too much more time. There are so many issues here that it's impossible to go at great length at all of them but housing was one of my major concerns. I'm just talking about my particular area for seniors. Not only the fact that what is available through public housing but their own housing, in other words, seniors are looking for help from governments to fix up their homes so they can continue to live in them and I find that rather inadequate in a lot of cases.
You mentioned insurance rates, which are another major concern. I had a call from a senior the other day who, for years, well over 50 years, had been paying an insurance company to insure her home. She got notification that the insurance rate was going up well over 30 per cent because they all of a sudden had determined that the house should be on a foundation. That's the kind of thing that I hear from seniors and I'm sure we all do, as MLAs, on a daily basis.
The whole crux of the issue here, I think, is how we treat seniors in general, as a society, whether it be as government or as individuals, whatever the case may be. When you talk about such things as insurance rates and you mentioned home invasions, the whole gamut, what I'm going to ask you, and this is just a general question, as a Senior Citizens' Secretariat, where do you think it is most urgent to make improvements regarding seniors in this province? Where do you have a sense of urgency that something has to be done right now in order to correct something that we can do to make seniors lives better in this province?
MS. WHITE: I guess I would focus on this whole issue of communication that I mentioned. I think, in a lot of situations, there is help for people but they don't know it's there. I think the biggest thing for me is to let people know what is available in their own
community or from government. There are lots of people who just don't know what is there and lots of time there is help. For instance, you mentioned the basement. That's something that the Department of Housing can help with. So I think that's the biggest thing, getting information, letting people know the resources that are there, and then of course if there isn't something in a designated program then let's look at how we can be flexible with programs to meet those needs. That's the biggest need.
MR. WILSON: One last question; it has to do with your councils and clubs. At one time, if I recall correctly, at least in the industrial area of Cape Breton . . .
MR. MACEWAN: They were everywhere.
MR. WILSON: They were everywhere. There were very active organizations in industrial Cape Breton. What you're saying now, is there a matter of money there for some of these clubs to get their feet back on the ground and keep running, or is it the membership itself?
MS. WHITE: It's membership, it's leadership and membership mostly. People are socializing in different ways today. At one time the clubs, that was the be-all and end-all, but now the younger seniors who have come along meet their social needs through other groups they belong to. It may be that the seniors' club as we've known it, as I've known it for over 20 years, has lived its course. I aim to find out if that's true when I meet with the councils and go through that exercise with them. There are a lot of people in our age group, the baby boomer age group, who don't want to be called a senior, and they bloody well aren't going to go join the seniors' club down the street. That's just a fact with the age group.
What I hope we can do is engage them in the issues with seniors, get them involved in a project, get them involved in the issues and making sure that even if they don't consider themselves a senior, we've got to look out for others in our community and at least keep the councils alive. Now the Cape Breton Seniors' Council, for instance, is definitely alive, and we work with them on issues. There are a few areas where the councils are no longer functioning, but it's really been a matter of leadership. The people who were doing it just got tired of doing it and couldn't get anyone else to come on board. It wasn't a financial issue as such.
MRS. MURIEL BAILLIE: Madam Chairman, some of my questions have already been answered, but I do want to touch on what you just said now about the terminology of senior. I wish, maybe you can come up with something, the terminology wasn't there. I have a 92 year old mom, I don't think she considers herself a senior yet. She lives in her own home - the community is very good to her - goes out to card parties two or three times a week, has never been better off financially. You spoke about the help the seniors get, you
didn't mention family. Of course we have a big family and everybody totes her around, wouldn't charge her anything for the world.
When you talk about the terminology, I wish there was some way of combining the young and the old more so. Mother likes to be around young people; she doesn't want to go with a bunch of seniors, she loves the young people. Of course they all make a big fuss over her. I don't know what your role is in that, and maybe I'm talking more in rural Nova Scotia; those things maybe happen more in rural Nova Scotia, more family units, I don't know. I don't know what I'm asking you, but do you think of getting away, as you say, from the seniors' clubs?
MS. WHITE: There's no question, I think it's a myth that family members aren't involved with seniors. I guess we've been talking about issues of concern and haven't emphasized how many wonderful things are going on, and that the majority of our seniors, as you say, are better off than they have ever been in our history. There are lots of opportunities for older people to mix with younger people. It is so beneficial to both groups.
We had a project a couple of years ago where we really catalogued all the intergenerational programs and projects that are happening within the schools, within nursing homes, just sharing, doing storytelling with each other, books that have been compiled with young people, interviewing their grandparents and learning and documenting that so that it really is archival. Of course, going through that process with kids, a lot of times the spinoff is the relationships that develop when you have adopt-a-grandparent programs for instance.
That spirit is really alive and well, and I think families are involved with seniors in both urban and rural areas. I guess I can't say it's greater in the rural areas, but a rural community just happens to be close-knit anyway because everybody tends to know everybody. We move into the city and we might not know the person in our apartment building. It's a phenomenon that is really worldwide. I don't know how you break that down, it just happens.
I think that there are always opportunities to involve younger people with seniors, and, as I say, it's beneficial to all. I think you asked another question and . . .
MRS. BAILLIE: I was wanting to know if this is the way you answered, with the fact of the aging population, would you say communication is the biggest challenge facing the Nova Scotia Government? What is the greatest, and I wonder if you had said communication. Is that the way you would answer that question?
MS. WHITE: Yes, I would say for us in the secretariat it's our biggest challenge. We do a lot, as we've discussed, but people are bombarded these days with television and papers and magazines and all kinds of other issues, and as much as you have out there, until they need it, they don't - we're all like that, it's not just seniors. We're all like that, until we need
something then - yes, it's a challenge for us to make sure that we get our information out to where it needs to be so that people can say, oh, I know, I'll call the secretariat or I will just call the single-entry access. For us, we see that as a challenge. Now with additional staff we'll be able to do more of it.
MRS. BAILLIE: Just one quick question. You say that you are hiring more staff and you're doing a good job of getting information out to seniors. Do you have a means of getting seniors information back to government?
MS. WHITE: Yes, through the consultation process and through our toll-free line, and letters, correspondence. It provides a two-way flow, and it's extremely important. It's one thing to get information out about programs and services, but it's really our responsibility to get those concerns and we do that through the spring and fall consultation. We meet with the representatives of the Group of IX on a monthly basis, and the Group of IX, I'll see if I can rhyme them off without looking: Canadian Pensioners Concerned; the Federation of Senior Citizens and Pensioners; the Federal Superannuates; the Provincial Government Retired Employees Association; the Royal Canadian Legion; Regroupment des aînées et aînées de la Nouvells-Écosse; the Retired Teachers Association; CARP, the Canadian Association of Pre-Retirement Planners.
I have them here, but we meet with reps from those groups on a monthly basis, and they in turn meet with their memberships. So, they bring the real grassroots concerns back. It's an excellent process. It's interesting, the structure we have in Nova Scotia is unique. Number one, it's unique that the secretariat itself is a Cabinet committee of ministers. That means five ministers meet on a regular basis to talk about seniors' issues, and the deputy ministers of those departments are there at that time too. The other structure that's really unique is the way, over time - and it took time - that we have these nine organizations working together. At one time they didn't, they would come and they really protected their turf. Now they work jointly on briefs and present these concerns to government.
This works much better than - at one time there was an appointed Senior Citizens' Commission. Having worked with that group I know that some of them got reappointed and reappointed and after awhile, they were out of touch with the real grassroots senior. But this group, if the presidents of this Group of IX don't do the job for their people, they're out. So it is a very democratic process in place and they really are an advisory to us, or we ask them to be an advisory to us, but they, on their own, will lobby government or if they don't agree with what's going on, that's their job, too, on behalf of their members.
It is really unique and the other jurisdictions are jealous. They envy what we have and as a matter of fact, I think we can be really proud that at the federal level they are now looking at this model we have with the Group of IX and how it works with government. They are forming what they call a congress and it is made up of representatives from 12 national seniors' organizations, so they are using our model.
I should also say that the Group of IX, that I have mentioned, also report to and relate to a national body. They are a provincial organization but they also link to a national organization, as well.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: John Chataway.
MR. CHATAWAY: Madam Chairman, I very much appreciate this conversation we are having and I basically agree with the member for Glace Bay saying many of the things we are discussing today are certainly wide areas and basically it is a good conversation. I very much appreciate the presenter, Valerie, for the information she has given to date. Just one thing and I may seem ignorant, what is the toll-free number?
MS. WHITE: The toll-free number is 1-800-670-0065.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: And what's the Web site?
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Coordinator): It's in the Submissions section.
MS. WHITE: The Web site is www.gov.ns.ca/heal/seniors/senior1.htm and it's on the front page of this paper.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You need a shorter Web site.
MS. WHITE: Yes, the Web site has been housed first in Community Services and now in Health. We are in the process of having it at the secretariat so it will be really brief and will reflect the secretariat, so you don't have to go through a department. With technology it is a process and we are all, hopefully, getting there but it is much too long.
MR. CHATAWAY: I very much appreciate the background you have been able to give very eloquently, really, because you certainly have great experience from there. The person beside me said the communication, you have emphasized the greatest challenge, per se, is communication and building up these groups in local areas, both rural and urban, just to gather in with other people. I think it is a very noble purpose and the other thing is I'm very impressed with what you described where you said you've done this and done this, so you certainly are going forward. You should all be complimented because you have done tremendous work, it really is and keep up the good work.
I wanted to specifically ask Steven that I have heard that we, in this province, get some aid from Ottawa for health care, and that's what they are talking about out in Victoria, among other things. One of the things we have heard many times is that Ottawa says, okay, you guys have this amount of money, there are so many people and this is what you get. But
we have a real problem in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada, per capita, we have more seniors than other provinces. I just wondered what . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Because people live longer?
MR. CHATAWAY: That too but the other thing is with health care, of course, you most likely spend more on people ages 55 to 65, than say a 20 year old. The old case is many people have left Nova Scotia, they were educated here and went out to Alberta, to Ontario and other places and got a job and they say, when I retire I'm going home to Nova Scotia because it is such a nice place and we all agree with that. But the thing is their health care problems in some cases get more senior. Steven, I wondered if you had any comment about presenting the facts to Ottawa and I would like to know if you could analyze what you felt they responded to but based on the fact that there are more seniors per capita in this province, what does Ottawa think?
MR. COYLE: That's a tough question. One of the first jobs I undertook was to compile and put together statistics that relate specifically to Nova Scotia seniors and near- seniors and I guess that is a starting point, in terms of those communications, not just to the federal government but to the people we serve here in Nova Scotia. You can't help but be struck by the fact that some of the - I have a chart here that looks at the population by county and the projections. So if you look at a county like Guysborough in 15 years, almost a third of the residents of Guysborough will be 65 or over. It is a huge issue.
MR. MACEWAN: What is it now?
MR. COYLE: It's 19 per cent, so even now it is big. I guess by compiling this information it helps us come to terms better with these issues that we are aware of and it will help us in terms of presenting cases for better policies related to health care and other areas that deal with seniors.
MR. CHATAWAY: I believe what we're telling Ottawa is just don't go by the number of people you have, you have to have other considerations such as age, inevitably and make it more fair. Older people have worked and paid taxes, et cetera and deserve good care. They have paid over the years - because they were young at one time as everybody was younger - so that as seniors they would be looked after and we have to see that that continues. I don't know the exact figures but we don't have as much as we had 10 years ago for health care, so we have to at least keep telling them in Ottawa what they should be doing for us. I know you aren't leading that charge or anything else and have lots to do but I was just wondering if you had any comment on that.
MR. COYLE: It is very true that Nova Scotia has the third largest proportion of seniors in the country, in terms of the population, the largest proportion of seniors in Atlantic Canada, so we do have an aging population here. As you have indicated, there are well-established statistics indicating as people get older they have more and more contact with the health care system, they are seeing doctors more frequently, they are taking more medications and so on, so it's an issue.
MR. CHATAWAY: I remember one time, I was asking for people's votes and they said, well you know, you are part of the baby boomer, but now we are part of the geriatric boomer. (Laughter) We're all getting older and this is going on, and we have to be careful to be worried about that because it's a very deserving place to live and things like that. The other thing is, of course, many people are retiring at say 55, what's the average age in Canada now, 78 or something?
MR. COYLE: The average age, the life expectancy?
MR. CHATAWAY: Yes. Well, the point is that nowadays (Interruptions)
MR. PYE: For a female it's 81 years of age and males are 78 . . .
MR. CHATAWAY: It used to be that many people worked until they were 65 and most people died within 10 years. Nowadays many people retire at 55 but they live to be 80 or 85, things like this. So we have the concentration that certainly has to be looked at. I'm very impressed with this show that you've given, Valerie, Heather and Steven and the other three people. Keep up the good work, because you are real leaders here and we certainly would like you to do what you can.
MR. MACEWAN: The real leaders are the four Cabinet Ministers, that's who the secretariat is.
MR. CHATAWAY: At any rate, thank you very much, I appreciate it.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Jerry, you had a follow-up question.
MR. PYE: Yes, Valerie, I guess I want to go back . . .
MR. MACEWAN: I didn't get to say anything at all yet.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Well, you didn't put your hand up yet.
MR. MACEWAN: You don't have to put your hand up.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Apparently not. You're next, Paul, just sit.
MR. PYE: I just wanted to come back to the issue of communication, because I do know that in my office we have a seniors' corner. In that is one tremendous wealth of information, it goes from family caregivers to Community Links to CARP brochures to the Nova Scotia Federation of Senior Citizens annual reports, there's a wealth of information all the way down through that. I can tell you one seniors' corner in itself can occupy a tremendous part of the office space that I have. Many seniors, I find, come through that door and do not know that those reports and annual reports exist.
I want to go back to the Programs for Seniors directory, it's a huge, thick book. It has everything in there including phone numbers, contact names, and so on. You say you were going to do 60 publications this year, and yet there are 130,000 seniors in the Province of Nova Scotia. I am wondering if it isn't appropriate to send those out to individual households with a note, "everything you wanted to know, seniors, sort of message" to them so that they can peruse that book, because everything is there at their fingertips if they had the opportunity to look at that book.
I don't know if cost is a factor, because I do know that you designate venues right now in which those program directories are given, mostly seniors' centres, mostly community centres, mostly areas that deal directly with seniors. A lot of seniors, as you have said, no longer link themselves with seniors' clubs and/or organizations because they consider themselves physically fit and they want to be out there participating in the everyday activity that all other citizens are participating in. So no longer do they do elder aerobics in a seniors' community, they go to the Sportsplex or something of that nature. They're not totally in touch . . .
MR. MACEWAN: They play hockey . . .
MR. PYE: They play hockey and they get their head banged every once in a while. (Interruptions) Valerie, I guess my question is, without going on a rant . . .
MR. WILSON: Too late, you're already there, Jerry.
MR. PYE: . . . there is this need to open that door of communication even wider, because obviously the material isn't getting through the door.
MS. WHITE: We did, for a couple of years, a number of years, mail them out. The difficulty with that, of course, is you can't get the mailing list for Old Age Security, but we did work it through an agency where it got mailed out, but in that case where there was a married couple they each got two. If you want to believe our phones didn't ring off the wall, why was government wasting all these books. Then there were a lot of people whose cheques are now directly deposited in the Royal Bank, so a whole bunch of those went to the bank
and didn't go to the seniors. So we went back to Plan A and that is to use the tremendous network of seniors, all the drugstores carry the book and they do that as a partner with us, and all the seniors' councils take them in bulk and get them around to doctors' offices and wherever they can get them in the community. We mail a lot out directly; if people call in and they want one, we just simply mail that to them.
We've found, all in all, that works best, but again, as you say, they can even have a book and if something goes wrong they might not think of looking in the book, they just immediately think about who they can call. That's where I hope we meet some of those needs, or a lot of those needs, with our toll-free line. In this day and age it's a constant challenge. We need to just have everybody thinking about this and get our seniors who are joiners and are organized to make sure that other people in their community have a copy of it and all the information that's in there.
Going back to your comment, I certainly wouldn't want people to leave this session today thinking there aren't so many wonderful, active, exciting projects going on with seniors, and the expertise and the vitality that is in this segment of the population is tremendous. They do so much volunteer work, they are still the leaders and organizers in our communities. It's just a tremendous contribution that seniors are making to all of us, to all of our communities. Unfortunately, sometimes when we talk about seniors we just really talk about some of the difficulties and those issues, but there really is a wealth of contributions being made.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Paul, did you have some questions or comments?
MR. MACEWAN: Well, I take it that means I'm being called on to speak.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You seemed to indicate you wanted to.
MR. MACEWAN: I'm not going to get distracted by procedural problems, I'm going to get straight to what I wanted to talk about. There has been some mention here about seniors. What are seniors? I heard another term about the about-to-become seniors or the near-seniors, and they are casting a pretty wide net in my view.
I noticed in The Daily News this morning Harry Flemming's column on Page 2 headed, How old is too old? It begins with the following historical examples of Winston Churchill who became Prime Minister six months past his 65th birthday on May 10, 1940 and served for five years that time, and then later on for two more years from 1951 to 1953. Konrad Adenauer at 73, in 1949, became Chancellor of the Bundesrepublik Deutschland and served, I believe, in that capacity until two years before he died; he retired at the age of 87. And then there was Ronald Reagan, who served as President from age 69 to age 77. And then there was Louis St. Laurent, Prime Minister of Canada from 1948 to 1957, who came to office at the age of 66. And so on and so forth. Georges Clemenceau became Prime Minister
of France in 1917 at the age of 76. Charles Andre-Marie-Joseph de Gaulle became President of the Republic of France in 1958 at the age 68 and served until his death.
Now, the case is that these people all served quite well for their respective countries and provided good leadership, and they were all past 65 years of age, every one of them. I personally think we cast too wide a net on these matters. When I was a young man 70 was the age at which the Old Age Pension came into effect, not 65, 70, and it wasn't until Lester Pearson was Prime Minister and he introduced a law that provided for a gradual reduction down to 65 in five consecutive years. In year one, you could get it at 69; year two, those who turned 68; year three, those who turned 67; and so forth so that by year five it was down to 65.
That's where this definition of seniors comes from, from the legislative action taken by the Pearson Government. It wasn't that way before that time. In Newfoundland, prior to Confederation, the Old Age Pension became effective at the age of 70; it was $25 once every three months, but in order to get it somebody who was already receiving it had to die and you would fill that slot. Otherwise, you got nothing. Those are the conditions under which I lived and several other people around this table and for those of you who were born sooner, it is time we took at look at the age when the state did not provide any old age pension relief at all or other relief, such as homeowner incentive programs, things of that type.
Now when I was a younger person - I still think of myself as being quite young, I am 58, I will be 59 in two months, and I am still skating and still playing hockey and I don't think of myself as a senior although I suppose I could get into senior citizens' housing because they will take you at age 57 - but that is another story. There was a time when the state didn't provide any of these benefits at all. They have now come on full force. They are encouraging people, in my view, to retire far before they should be retiring. In this job, there is no compulsory retirement. You can run as long as the people will elect you and some of them have served into fairly advanced age. We have some members in the present government, I won't mention names but certainly some of the most senior members are also senior in their years and do well.
If we didn't have to retire at the age of 65 or 54, whatever age they are trying to get you out of the system now so somebody else can take your place, I think we would have a better world because people are more productive and motivated and they live longer and they do better when they are working rather than sitting at home, watching TV and collecting some paltry pension monthly. I am not in favour of widening this net to the point where those who are 58 or 52 or whatever age it is now that they are retiring from. I will tell you, in the teaching profession - that is what I was before I got into politics - all the guys and girls who I went to college with are now retired and they are wanting something to do and some of
them are running for public office. It is there for you if you want to try to get it. I think we make a mistake by casting everybody who is over 25 as a senior.
Now there are people, of course, who are no longer able to work and they should be adequately pensioned and supported but I don't believe in compulsory retirement, I don't believe in forcing people out before they feel they want to leave. I know when I was teaching school that the best teachers in the school were usually those in their 50's and early 60's. They were the most experienced. They had the best handle on what to do and the younger teachers would look to them for advice and for a model to follow. You take all those people out and cut it down to just the 40 year olds and you are dealing basically with a group of people who have only been out of college for maybe 15 years and they are not really mature products, shall we say.
Now that is all my opening preamble. That is what the other speakers got away with so I will do the same thing.
MR. PYE: The king of babble . . .
MR. MACEWAN: The king of babble he calls me. I thought it was the Tower of Babel where they spoke all the different languages and couldn't understand one another but it is babble in the NDP.
I don't know really what to ask you people. You are not the secretariat. The secretariat is the Honourable Jamie Muir, the Honourable Peter Christie, Angus MacIsaac and Jane Purves. That is the secretariat. These people are their staff who work for them. Well that is good. I commend them for their work and I commend them for their volume which I shall add to my library. It is nice and thick. It looks impressive and it contains a good catalogue of what may be there, what may not be there too because I will tell you, you can catalogue all the government programs that are available but, as you say, people don't know that they are there and if they do know that they are there, or don't, they take people like myself to try to get them these things.
I put in an application for housing assistance, my chimney is falling down, I can't drink the water from my well any longer, can you get me the grant? That is the kind of pressure that I am under day by day. Can you get me my Canada Pension. I was turned down for it. I can't work anymore. What can you do for me? Can you get me my workers' compensation. I lost my right arm and leg in an accident but they won't give me 5 cents. That is the kind of pressure that I am under from day to day. It is not people coming to me and saying, can you balance the budget. I have never had that happen once in my career that has now lasted 32 years as an MLA. Never once has a voter in my constituency asked me if I could balance the provincial budget but plenty every day ask me, can I do something to help them balance their budgets. That is what they are concerned about.
So, if you good folks can do more to persuade these four Cabinet Ministers to come out on the side of the people, instead of on the side of the bankers, especially when the budget comes out this spring, you will be doing very well and I wish you every success. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Paul.
MR. MACEWAN: That was short and sweet.
MR. PYE: I just don't know what happened between 1993 and 1998, Paul.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shhh. Jerry, be quiet.
MR. MACEWAN: Give me another two hours and I'll tell you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No, no. That is enough out of you two.
MR. MACEWAN: Had to get that clipping from Harry Flemming on the record, it is good.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much and thank you for your patience with dealing with some of this bunch.
I also have a question of my own. You talked a little bit about, what surprised me, we seem to be a leader in the industry of seniors' planning across the country? That is kind of nice to know.
MS. WHITE: With the structure that we have in the secretariat it means that there are the five ministers there and then if there is an issue that needs to be brought forward to Cabinet, there are five ministers who are familiar with the details and the issues. So that is a real plus. Then with the working relationship we have with the seniors' organizations. It is unique and Nova Scotia was the first province to establish an office on aging and Ontario followed second. This is going back to the 1980's. We have taken the lead on a number of issues. We are the only province that has an expo that really provides a forum where as many products and services and whatever is possible are under one roof for people to come and learn. It is all about education and it is about learning and communication and awareness. So yes, we can really hold our heads high that we have initiated some innovative kinds of projects that some other jurisdictions have either followed up on or wish they could.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I am going to ask a question on a more personal level. You talked a little bit about single-entry access. We are in a position, personally, where we are going to be taking my father-in-law home very shortly. He is in hospital right now and I wouldn't have thought about contacting single-entry access or even yourselves because
somehow in the back of my mind, although I have been listening to all this stuff and have all kinds of information about it, I had formed the opinion that this was meant to streamline admission specifically to long-term care and more directed to people who required assistance to pay for it. I hadn't really formed the notion in my head that this was meant to be as broad as you seem to be describing it and for everybody to use, whether you are looking at a long-term facility or some in-between catchment.
MS. WHITE: The Home Care Program was developed at a particular time and grew and functioned on its own. At the same time, of course, we have had long-term care facilities operating. So it means two separate assessments, you see. So someone might do well on home care for a while and then their health deteriorates and then it comes the time when you need to apply for a home for special care. Another whole new assessment had to be done. That is time consuming. It is confusing for people. So this streamlines it in that in a particular area there will be one number to call, an assessor, a nurse or a social worker will come out and do the assessment and determine with the person and with the family, the most appropriate care for that particular time. If it is home care, they would get those services but then they are in the system, they are followed up when they do need long-term care, the paperwork has already been done. So it is a continuum of care, some very basic services here but perhaps as the person ages or health deteriorates, then the heavier type of care is necessary.
I find a lot of the calls that we have gotten are about those issues. How do I get home care? I may have to place my mom in a home for special care, who do I contact? Prior to single-entry access, if a person could pay the amount of the care, it was their role, really and they were expected to just make that contact with whatever nursing home they wanted, then the admissions process would start there. This way, it is all being coordinated and it is really going to streamline the system. I know from our calls, as I say, that that has been confusing. People didn't really understand if they should call home care or if they should go to the nursing home. Prior to provincial assistance, it was all municipal assistance and in those cases they had to go to the municipality. So it was a real mixed-up - no wonder people were confused. It was complicated.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much and we will talk again in a minute. I really appreciate your coming in. It has been very informative and you have presented yourselves well. It is really nice to know that here, in Nova Scotia, we do a few things right. Thanks very much. (Applause)
I need the committee members for about five minutes, or two minutes, actually.
Members of the committee, the only thing that we need to do is sign off on the statement of submission for the annual report that is going to be submitted to the Legislature. It was circulated. I need you to sign off on that and our next meeting is tentatively scheduled for the middle or the end of February with MADD.
MR. WILSON: Madam Chairman, could you make a change to the committee members, please. I am the new member here replacing Michel Samson.
MR. PYE: Good to have you on board.
MR. WILSON: Oh, I am glad to be here.
MR. MACEWAN: I would like to bring up a procedural point while we are here, Madam Chairman, and that is that every member of this committee should be granted the right to speak. I know there has to be an order and one at a time but I think that everybody who is a member and attends a meeting should get a turn to speak before anybody gets a second question or a second turn.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Sure, Paul. As I stated . . .
MR. MACEWAN: I sat here for an hour and 10 minutes and didn't once get recognized.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: As I stated the very first meeting that I chaired, I chair things a little bit relaxed and every meeting that I have chaired to date - it hasn't been many - people had raised their hand and indicated they wished to ask a question, including you. This is the first time you didn't so I apologize.
MR. MACEWAN: I don't think members should have to kowtow or prostrate themselves to get the floor. There should be a common agreement that each Party and each member gets one turn at the cat, unless they don't want to.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: In future I will make sure that everyone has had an opportunity to ask their questions first before I go to the second round.
MR. PYE: Madam Chairman, I tend to agree with that but by the same token, I think every member here is mature enough in that if they want to speak they should notify the chair that they want the opportunity to speak before the presenters or the witnesses.
MR. MACEWAN: There are two different theories on it, Jerry. It is either . . .
MR. PYE: Yes, and your theory is the one that you are trying to promote, obviously.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. MacEwan, in future everybody will have an opportunity to speak once before the second round of questioning and if you want to do it differently, you can wait until you are chairman.
MR. PYE: And obviously the chairman is giving . . .
MR. MACEWAN: Well, when I was chairman of the Private and Local Bills Committee, I always invited the members, each of them, to speak. If John Chataway hadn't spoken yet, I would say, John, do you want to speak? You have the floor.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have your method and I have mine.
MR. PYE: And he promoted his.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Cecil.
MR. O'DONNELL: Madam Chairman, could it be possible, if we kind of shortened up the preamble before we asked questions and then we could probably get a second crack for our questions.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: John, did you have a comment?
MR. CHATAWAY: You have just mentioned, the next meeting is supposed to be with the Digby Chapter of MADD. Why the Digby Chapter, why not the Nova Scotian chapter?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: There had been a suggestion that they had developed a specific program that was of interest and when we sent the letter out, we asked if this was a province-wide program or was it something specific to the Digby Chapter. What we found out was that every chapter of MADD sort of does their own thing, as they choose, so this was the only chapter that was doing this specific outreach type of program.
MR. CHATAWAY: This is a pilot project . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MR. CHATAWAY: . . . otherwise, if that were adopted then it would go . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes, because they are the ones who are doing it, they are the ones who are coming. We had tried to find out if there was somebody who wouldn't have to travel so far but that is not the case.
MR. PYE: Madam Chairman, on that same thought, though, I am wondering if, in fact, it has been endorsed, this pilot project, both by the national body of MADD as well as the provincial independent chapters of MADD as well because I think that there needs to be some consensus here that this is something that is going to be endorsed by other chapters as well as the national body.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: That's a good question, Jerry. (Interruptions) No, we don't, Dave. This particular subject and group had been approved at a meeting, to be invited to come, if in fact they were the group that was the best capable to speak on this. I guess what you suggest is a very good question to ask them, to find out what they say, I suppose.
MR. PYE: I know that was one of the precautionary measures that this committee was going to take when, in fact, asking agencies and/or organizations as witnesses or presenters before this committee.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mora, do you have anything?
MS. STEVENS: What I did was I first contacted the Halifax office to find out a little bit about the organization per se, and they informed me that each chapter is separate and they do different programs and inform each other. They do have a national office, I think it's in London, Ontario. They run themselves, and then they report findings and they do programs, and they just report back to the national office. They are given some direction from the national office, but this is a program they've started and there is an RCMP adviser involved. They asked for this particular program. I think his name is Constable Chris Thibodeau. He's the one who is sort of heading it up for the RCMP on this advisory campaign. The national office would then look at this type of program and see how it worked in Digby, once they report.
That's as far as I know, that's what I've found out. That's why, since there is no provincial organization, I looked back and said there's a provincial organization. The other organizations know that this is being looked at, I let them know. They will get transcripts of it, so they'll know, just like the other seniors' organizations will get transcripts of this meeting today.
MR. PYE: Obviously each chapter is autonomous unto itself and it drafts its own terms of reference, does its own pilot projects and the like, and therefore has just a reporting mechanism to the national office.
MS. STEVENS: Yes. They are given direction from the national office. There is one being established, actually, this week in the New Glasgow area, they are starting a new office. There is a structure there, but they are allowed to sort of freely look at their population and what would flow through and what they need within their community, and establish programs like this.
MR. PYE: I just wanted clarity before they are approved to come forward.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Before we adjourn, is there any further discussion on the previous topic of Q&A and how we do that? Mr. MacEwan.
MR. MACEWAN: Are you talking about the questions of witnesses who appear before the committee?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: When we are going around doing the questioning.
MR. MACEWAN: I don't know, Madam Chairman, I don't want to be argumentative.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: No, I understand.
MR. MACEWAN: I've been a member of the House for 32 years, and I've been on every committee that there is, I am sure, at one time or another and I've never seen this system before. It was rather that the members who were at the meeting would have the right to speak, granted the chairman had to set up an order, but it was taken for granted, it wasn't something where you had to send in a written application in triplicate, witnessed by a notary public or something . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: As I said when I first started, this is my first, I'm new at chairing legislative committees. I've sat on a couple of different ones, either as a formal member or as a drop-in member, and I've seen different methods used. I wasn't aware that there was a format that I was required to follow.
MR. MACEWAN: Beauchesne doesn't cover it, it's just a matter of precedent, the way it's done.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: And since I don't have that knowledge, I took my own lead. Cecil.
MR. O'DONNELL: Maybe in the future we could just start at that end, come around, and maybe the next time come this way, and everybody would know.
MR. MACEWAN: Yes, something like that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: That's a thought.
MR. O'DONNELL: It's just something you can consider.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: My only comment to that is that having sat on committees myself sometimes I'm partway through the presentation and even the questions before something occurs to me that I'd like to say, and I've been passed by at that point because I
didn't have a question initially. That's why I've chosen, as a personal preference, to allow people to ask questions as things occur to them. If that's not a problem, I'd like to continue that, but I will ensure that everybody has a first crack before we go to a second crack. Fine? Okay.
MR. WILSON: Motion to adjourn.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Adjourned. See you in a few weeks.
[The committee adjourned at 11:05 a.m.]