HALIFAX, THURSDAY, MARCH 29, 2018
SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE ON SUPPLY
Ms. Suzanne Lohnes-Croft.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. I call this meeting of the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply to order. We’re continuing with Communities, Culture and Heritage.
Ms. Leblanc, you have up to 30 minutes.
MS. SUSAN LEBLANC: Hello again, everyone. I would like to pick up on the discussion yesterday, the announcement that you were talking about of the new hires in the department to work on the issue of addressing systemic racism.
Firstly, I was wondering if the department has a definition of systemic racism that will guide the department in the work and if you could offer and share it with us.
HON. LEO GLAVINE: I thank all colleagues participating today in the continuation of CCH Estimates.
Systemic racism is a topic that I believe has been very much on the minds of legislators across the country. In fact, it has reached the world body of the United Nations - to take a whole decade to look at those of African descent. The global issue is one that we’re very, very familiar with here in our province. Systemic racism is that attitude, that physical marginalizing, the subtleties - or perhaps more blatantly - that affect employment, that affect opportunity.
Unfortunately, we still see occasions of graffiti or name calling. All of these still existing mean that there’s that undercurrent. That is the piece that, when we say systemic, is there, and it’s ingrained. It has now gone through multiple generations. We have communities and individuals that still live on the periphery of the major developments of Nova Scotian society. I believe that it’s simply based on the fact of their race, their culture, their identity, and they’re not able to participate fully in society.
That’s what we see, and sometimes that overt piece that we have seen on occasion really makes us all realize that something we thought wasn’t there is still very much a part of Nova Scotian society. It’s more of that quiet or hidden attitude that still remains that we need to overcome. This is why, when we talk about systemic racism, it has to be addressed in all aspects of our community life. One of the areas that still remains, perhaps one of the key ways in which we address systemic racism, is through our school system.
It’s not just the African Nova Scotians. Any of our marginalized populations, our Mi’kmaq, those who identify as part of very small community groups, people of colour, are sometimes affected in very real ways by that systemic racism.
I was very, very pleased to see the work that Kings County has now put in place for the past decade to deal with systemic racism and that whole picture of injustice around employment and finding ways in which they could advance different cultures and have occasions when they would have seminars, when they put together an entire piece of work to make Kings County a much more open, friendly place for employment, for work. I feel that, with our coordinator position, we will build on some of that great work and example. What they did was bring in people like Senator Bernard, elders from the Mi’kmaq community, and immigrants. In fact, they employed immigrants right in the work of Kings County. This is why I’m very - maybe “bullish” is not the right word. I feel this coordinator position, to give direction, put a plan in place, and oversee the execution of the plan, is going to be very valuable in dealing with systemic racism.
We all know that this is now part of the work that is being carried out as part of the Culture Action Plan. It’s going to take very significant work in those 50 small African Nova Scotian communities to lift those communities into the mainstream of Nova Scotia life in a much stronger way. I have been encouraging my colleagues to actually take the Culture Action Plan and read it. There are some copies in the backroom in the Legislature. I think we have a significant role, and we must use every opportunity to speak against that disposition, that attitude, and those practices that we will still encounter. I believe it must be work right across government, that it cannot be just the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, obviously highlighted by the work of ANSA.
In fact, the very work around the land claims - in some ways, that is symbolic and real to those people who were told, you have no more than squatters’ rights where you have lived for 200 years. To give them title to their land and to give them sense of belonging is absolutely breaking down those barriers that have existed in Nova Scotia’s society for far too long. It’s that entrenched where they live.
When I began teaching the African Nova Scotia course in high school, I was a pilot teacher. I remember the day when a student asked, where do all the people of African descent live in our province? Of course, I knew we were going to be studying Africville, the Prestons, Beechville, Lincolnville, and Sunnyville. I had the opportunity, as I mentioned to you yesterday, of doing some tutoring when I was at St. F.X. I knew some communities, but I said, let’s put together a map. When you take a look at a map, that’s when you realize the complete marginalization of the people of African descent in our province. It was no accident that most of the communities of predominantly African Nova Scotians were on the outskirts of larger existing Caucasian communities. Very often, near where the dump for those communities existed is where they got parcels and pieces of land that they had no ownership of, no title to.
There’s many different aspects of systemic racism. Essentially, it’s that ingrained dimension of how we treat our communities. Very often, they are those that make up a small percentage of our population. In this case, we really have made as a government - in fact, when I leave this place, and people ask me what I did as an MLA and what I did as a minister, we have taken it on. I would say part of that whole systemic racism never addressed the issue of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, never addressed this whole major issue in our province. I will leave, and I will be able to say proudly that, as a government, we took on a restorative model of justice for the Black community in our province. It will be one of the areas that I hope to tell my grandchildren about, that we began to change a tide in our province. Much, much work remains to be done, and it’s incumbent upon all of us.
I will leave that there for now. I just get very disheartened. I get unbelievably worked up when there are discriminatory practices. Wherever it may show itself during my lifetime I have certainly worked to counter it. I was not asked to teach the African Canadian course in my school. I quickly volunteered to do that because I think it is incumbent upon every citizen to do that check on what our real, heartfelt view of the world is in relation to those who are minorities, and a tradition of treatment in our province that should not be part of our future.
MS. LEBLANC: In your answer, I heard a lot of things. I heard comments about racism in community and racism in schools and then more system-related racism.
With respect, I would like to point out that the definition of systemic racism, where it is different from general racism or racial bigotry, is that it is about systemic policies which are economic, which are social, and which are political, that hold a certain group of people back or disadvantage groups of people. While I think that the work of Communities, Culture and Heritage should address systemic racism, and I want to talk about that a lot more in a second, perhaps when the work begins, there could be very clear definitions of what the work is. We do need to address systemic racism. Much of the racism that we see in communities is because of systemic racism, but it is actually racial bigotry. I think that it would be great to expand the work of the new people being hired who are going out into the communities, to be looking at racism and the systems that hold it in place.
We have been thinking a lot about this, and we have been hearing a lot about this, for many years. We have been hearing about it in the media lately. I want to ask, is your department - and will you be asking every department in the province and in the government also - reviewing its own internal policies to identify systemic barriers to marginalized communities within the government itself?
I just want to back that up by saying - I forget exactly what we were talking about yesterday, but you made a really strong point that, as MLAs, we can be examples of the policies and the values that we hold. I know - when we were talking about accessibility, our offices are accessible offices. We should be making sure, as MLAs and as an entire government, that we start in our own house and make sure that we are addressing all policies that could support systemic racism. I am wondering, are you planning to do a full review of your department and ask the other ministers to do reviews of their departments?
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much for a very valuable contribution and part of the discussions that must go on.
I did allude much more to those dimensions that happen in our community life as a result of it. But, yes, one of the strengths that I think has been developing and evolving in Communities, Culture and Heritage is, we realize that if we are going to build healthy, inclusive, vibrant communities, the work is not the work of one department. Now we have two or three wonderful examples of five or six departments, and in some cases more, that have worked together.
The first step for us in Communities, Culture and Heritage is to actually look within our own department and see what policies and programs we have that could be limiting access or limiting participation by any group in Nova Scotia society. We want to look at whatever change, adjustment, greater accommodation, greater support for the marginalized and minority groups in our province for sure.
Then, like we have done in community transportation, with accessibility, we brought in a number of departments. There are now several working groups of deputy ministers that come together on a particular file. They’re the ones who can reach into their departments. They’re the ones who can give the guidance around reviewing their program.
The second phase will be to work across government to make sure that systemic racism is attacked and identified whether it’s overt or subtle that may be there in policies or even a policy that simply puts limits on people’s opportunities and possibilities. We will work across government. It’s one area, in my view, where it cannot be three, four, five, or six departments. It must be across all government departments. That kind of leadership and ask, what the United Nations wants to see carried out in our province, and also what will come forward from the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry, I believe, is about the future.
As a member, you have identified what I think will be at the very top of the list, and that is identification and ways of dealing with systemic racism.
MS. LEBLANC: On this work, the business plan for the departments that you will be working with and partnering representatives of the communities that face systemic racism, that is obviously really important, and I applaud that. Can you provide us with a list of the community organizations that you’ll be working with or at least an initial list to start with and then keep updating us on who you’ll be consulting with and partnering with?
MR. GLAVINE: I believe in open dialogue and discussions in the department. There’s no reason for us not to meet even with MLAs who have a perspective on this work that will go forward. We will be open, first of all, to getting the position and creating a prospectus, if you wish, for the work that will need to be carried out, getting that framework in place. Then we will obviously have to work with leaders in community organizations that are already on the ground that are doing some of this work and perhaps find new ways of entering into our communities of African descent.
Certainly, to let the public know what work is being planned and how it will be carried out is an important part of this process. We have used that actually with the inquiry in the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children. We have been giving updates on the work and the progress being made. This is a very special project, a very needed one, and we need to keep in touch with the public on how that is going forward. It’s very, very early days. It will take some time, but to let people know what’s happening is significant.
MS. LEBLANC: One of the high-profile examples of systemic racism in our province right now is the unjust practice of street checks, where mostly African Nova Scotians, but other people of colour as well, are being stopped by police with no reason in a much higher ratio than others. Will the department and the Office of African Nova Scotian Affairs be working with the Department of Justice to address the racist impact of street checks?
MR. GLAVINE: That’s certainly a very specific question. As we move this work forward, I’m anticipating that there will be that kind of issue that will need to be addressed head on and certainly worked on with the Department of Justice or any of our departments. This is an area that has certainly been identified. When the analysis was done in this regard, to have 3 per cent or 4 per cent of our population with this many occurrences of police checks, it certainly asked us to take a look at it. What are the policies? What kind of instruction? Is it at the individual level? It is within the police department?
Working with Justice and collaborating with them will be a very basic part of the work we do. We haven’t identified all the areas that will be investigated, but many of those areas are ones that we will take on. ANSA in particular has a body of knowledge, a body of information. We have begun some community meetings around the Land Titles Clarification Act and land title settlements.
Taking on other issues that we need to will, I’m sure, be outlined by a coordinator and by the department and build on what ANSA sees as part of that work. I’m pleased that this person will work very closely with the deputy minister. There are great expectations from this position, this coordination across the province, and the work that will be done. I’m certainly looking for very practical, real, on-the-ground impacts of this position.
MS. LEBLANC: Before I begin, it seems we have been joined by an awesome group of school people here, maybe from Eastern Passage. Is that where they’re from, perhaps? Hi, everyone.
We’re talking about systemic racism. Another instance of systemic racism is African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaq overrepresentation in the prison system because they are disproportionately policed and receive jail time for things that other people don’t. Is there anything your department will be doing to work with the Department of Justice to address this, for example - I’ll just give you one small example - working on promoting the pardons of people who have records for cannabis-related charges that will be legal this year?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Two minutes.
MR. GLAVINE: Maybe this is a question that we’ll have to come back to.
I want to welcome the students behind us here, and I just want to point out to them that this is an opportunity for MLAs, especially in the Opposition, to ask government questions. I’m the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage and Minister of Seniors. I have a budget of about $88 million in Communities, Culture and Heritage, so it’s very important that the Opposition ask how that money was spent last year, how it will be spent in this coming year, and why there are increases or decreases in the amounts of a particular budget. That’s a little bit of what’s happening here.
If you are in Grade 7 or Grade 8, I must say that teaching Grades 7 and 8 was some of the best 13 years of my teaching time, so I know all about this age group.
In terms of dealing with the overrepresentation in our prison system, that’s an area that I would like to speak to. I know time for the NDP has pretty well expired, and I would like to come back and address that question in the next opportunity that you will have.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has elapsed for the NDP caucus.
We will turn it over to the PC caucus for one hour. Mr. Harrison.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: I want to turn over now to Seniors. There’s a country song . . .
MR. GLAVINE: Madam Chairman, the member wants to move now on to Seniors.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Oh, Seniors, so we will have a recess?
MR. GLAVINE: We haven’t finished the questions on CCH. Could you make a determination as to the direction we would need to go in?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I would have to discuss it with the House Leader. We’ll have to recess for a couple of minutes.
MR. GLAVINE: We’ll recess for a couple of minutes? If you could just note the time then.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes. (Interruption) Ms. LeBlanc.
MS. LEBLANC: I had expressed to my House Leader that I thought this past half-hour would be enough, but I could certainly talk longer. I don’t know if that throws a wrench in things. I would go longer if it was possible.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: May I ask the minister if his staff is ready for a switchover? I don’t see your Deputy of Seniors here.
MR. GLAVINE: The Deputy of Seniors will be here very shortly, and we could move on to Seniors if that’s the wish of the caucuses.
[12:48 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[12:51 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. We will now go to the Minister of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
MR. GLAVINE: I would like to thank all those who have been involved with questions during Estimates of CCH. I thank my staff for the great work in preparation for the four-plus hours of Communities, Culture and Heritage Estimates.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E3 stand?
Resolution E3 stands.
Resolution E26 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $1,708,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children Restorative Inquiry, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E26 carry?
The resolution is carried.
We will take a short recess to change ministries.
[12:53 p.m. The subcommittee recessed.]
[12:55 p.m. The subcommittee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. We will resume the Subcommittee of the Whole on Supply. We have switched to the Department of Seniors.
Resolution E38 - Resolved, that a sum not exceeding $2,709,000 be granted to the Lieutenant Governor to defray expenses in respect of the Department of Seniors, pursuant to the Estimate.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Minister, would you like to introduce your staff and make your opening remarks?
HON. LEO GLAVINE: To my left is Deputy Minister Simon d’Entremont. On my right is director of the department Faizal Nanji. I have worked with him now for over four years, so I’m pleased to have him here today. We have Johnathan Wilson, from Finance.
I’ll start in with some opening remarks. Older Nova Scotians are a diverse population and a truly valuable source of knowledge and experience for our province. Madam Chairman, 25 per cent of people between the ages of 65 and 69 are still in the workforce, and 25 per cent of that group are self-employed. Others are caregivers, community leaders, mentors, and volunteers. It is important that we continue to focus on the contributions older adults make in Nova Scotia. I’m pleased that government has taken a leadership role in understanding and making the most of our shifting demographics.
If I could diverge for a moment, I was an MLA when we brought in legislation that would no longer require mandatory retirement in the Public Service and in government. In a very short time, we have moved the marker, and the Department of Seniors is hoping to move it much further. I’m pleased that government has taken a leadership role in understanding and making the most of our shifting demographics.
Madam Chairman, one year ago we launched SHIFT, Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population. SHIFT is a government-wide initiative that focuses on the contribution older adults continue to make in this province. It’s our job at the Department of Seniors to keep SHIFT and older Nova Scotians front of mind as we develop policies and programs across government.
Our budget at the Department of Seniors reflects that role. It is small in the provincial scope, but mighty, as they say. The work staff at the department are doing extends far beyond our own walls. SHIFT has identified more than 50 actions across eight government departments. Madam Chairman, I’m pleased to report that we have made significant progress on SHIFT in the first year since its launch.
One of the most exciting actions out of SHIFT is Nova Scotia GovLab, the Department of Seniors’ social innovation lab. You will see this reflected in our budget materials for 2018-19, when the majority of the work will be done for this first round.
Last month, we did a call for fellows to participate in the lab, which seeks to address complex issues associated with aging populations. A total of 80 applications were received in this inaugural call from industry, academia, government, and the voluntary sector. From this group, we have identified 30 participants for the first round of the lab, ranging in age from 21 to 86, from all backgrounds and walks of life, from urban and rural parts of this province and far beyond. It’s an energetic and diverse group, to say the least. We are so excited to follow the ideas that come forward during the lab process, but the majority of the work under the SHIFT action plan takes place outside the Department of Seniors. You will see those initiatives reflected in the budgets of other departments.
Here’s a few examples: $2.4 million in additional funding to expand and support community transportation; $12.4 million to improve housing Nova Scotia’s provincial buildings, which many older adults call home; $3 million to offer 400 more rent supplements to low income Nova Scotians, the first year of a three-year commitment to expand the Rent Supplement Program by an additional $9 million annually; an increase in funding for the Seniors’ Pharmacare program; $5.5 million in additional spending this year through Health and Wellness to help more seniors stay in their homes longer, including expanding the Caregiver Benefit Program, bringing the total for home care services to $266 million; $3 million to double the poverty reduction credit to $500; $4 million for initiatives under the Blueprint to End Poverty, as part of a four-year, $20 million commitment; and investments in accessible health care good for older adults, like more doctors and collaborative care teams and more hip and knee surgeries, just to name a few.
In the last year, we implemented changes to the Senior Safety Grant to support multi-year funding agreements, and we are working to expand the program to more communities.
We are funding 47 projects through our Age-Friendly Communities Grant program in 2017-18. I look forward to sharing the details of those projects with you in the coming months and to another call for proposals to support age-friendly communities in 2018-19.
Earlier this month, we hosted the Silver Economy Summit, along with our partners at the Halifax Chamber of Commerce. This year’s summit focused on the role of technology for an aging population. We all want to be active and involved in our communities for as long as possible. Creative thinking and innovation are essential to improving the quality of life for older adults, not to mention the opportunities in the marketplace for products and services that serve an aging population. The Silver Economy Summit provides us with the opportunity to bring together businesses, entrepreneurs, academics, and individuals from across the province to make connections and help us take advantage of new opportunities.
I would also like to take the opportunity to mention a project that the Department of Seniors has funded in partnership with Acadia University and Third Sector Enhancement. The Redefining Retirement program is shining a light on contributions of older adults to our communities and the economy. Through a series of workshops, coaching sessions, and peer support, participants will explore and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams from volunteering or looking for work to starting a business or a social enterprise. The program is currently in the pilot phase in three communities: St. Margarets Bay, Windsor-West Hants, and Yarmouth County. I look forward to sharing more with my colleagues once the pilot portion is complete.
At the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, there are several actions that we will be working on in support of SHIFT. We will be setting a clear vision for the volunteer sector in Nova Scotia. This will help keep seniors engaged as well as provide services to seniors within the community by people who know the community best.
We know that transportation is important to making our communities age friendly. We will be developing a plan to support accessible and affordable transportation across the province.
These are a few examples of important initiatives that will help Nova Scotians age and live well. The Department of Seniors will continue to lead coordinated efforts to ensure that the issues, opportunities, and contributions of older Nova Scotians are considered in government decision making by bringing a seniors lens to policy and programs.
Madam Chairman, I would like to thank the staff of the department, who support these important programs every day. I hope at this time, in a little more of a public forum, to acknowledge the outstanding work of a small department, very dedicated and very knowledgeable in the work that they carry out on behalf of seniors in our province, and that will be conveyed to them.
With that, I am pleased to accept questions from my colleagues.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will turn it over to the PC caucus for up to one hour. Mr. Harrison.
MR. LARRY HARRISON: Thank you, minister, for those comments, and welcome to the staff. Thank you for being here.
There is a line in a country song that says I want to talk about me. I’m a senior, so I’m going to talk about me. I am fascinated by the number of things that the SHIFT program is about. The plan suggests a lot of priorities for this coming year. One is to work with partner departments and organizations to implement SHIFT. Can the minister tell us how this goal is accomplished in terms of accountability?
MR. GLAVINE: First of all, I want to say that the Department of Seniors has really stepped up and is evolving into, I think, a much more focused department, one that I believe will continue to grow. As we know, the demographic shift is now a reality. The largest cohort in our population is between 55 and 71 years of age. I think there are a few members in the House who are encompassed by that cohort as well. This was why we started to take a look and say, what could be a strategic piece of work that we could take on that would improve the quality of life for seniors in our province?
When I went to the Department of Health and Wellness and also the Department of Seniors, I would have to say that I found it very discouraging, discomforting, and not at all where my mindset was when I heard time after time about seniors being a burden on our province generally and our health care system in particular. I knew that we had to make a change. Maybe we said the word shift so much, that’s why we didn’t talk about a senior strategy, and we just called it SHIFT. I certainly found that more and more as I went out across the province to talk about the changes we would be bringing about in health care, and again, it was seniors that were put in the context of this huge expenditure in health care.
We wanted to change that thinking pretty dramatically, a paradigm shift that would actually see what seniors have to contribute to our society, and it is very, very real. When you look at the life experience, the career path, the expertise, the talents, and the motivation to stay involved, this is why we have taken on a concerted effort to put a SHIFT lens on much of the work now that we do in the department. Again, the SHIFT document is one that I would encourage all my colleagues to read. SHIFT has, very simply, three major pillars on which everything is encompassed. The 50 actions are intertwined around three primary pillars that we work to make sure are enhanced in all our work.
At the back of SHIFT, there is a report card. The report card is to do that accounting in year one, year two, and year three. There are regular meetings to review that. The deputy meets with other deputy ministers. We want to be very public about what we’re doing with SHIFT and have that report card available, most likely online or in a very simple one-pager, so that people will be able to see what is taking place. The three pillars that are outlined in the SHIFT document are aging in place, a physically active lifestyle, and staying engaged with community.
Those are the elements that I’m sure we’ll talk much more about as our discussions go on here. I look forward to bringing SHIFT in on many occasions here as we take questions from my colleagues.
MR. HARRISON: I’m beyond that cohort that you mentioned, by the way.
A group was into our caucus a number of weeks ago, a seniors group. They were talking about the contributions that seniors do make, and how people are working longer now within the province, seniors. They indicated that if it wasn’t for the seniors, the base upon which we get our revenue would be down a bit, simply because of experience, work ethic, and so on and so forth. It all kind of contributes to it.
Is that something the department really encourages, to have that kind of input by seniors?
MR. GLAVINE: Again, in the overall work of the Department of Seniors and, in particular, the direction that the SHIFT document provides us is to stay working part time or full time. Take one of those dreams that professionals we met at the Silver Economy Summit had. People who had worked as civil servants or as tradespeople always have this idea that at some point, I would like to try this out. We’re finding a whole new group of entrepreneurs and older business people who are springing forward with those ideas. Again, it’s very self-directed in terms of what they want to accomplish and the amount of time they want to put into it and, in some ways, perhaps not as driven by having to make a living from it, because at this stage, they can have that dedicated time to put into and foster something.
A very big part of the involvement, too, is to take that life experience and expertise into the volunteer world. I know you would be one who would be a pretty strong proponent of volunteering. On many different levels, volunteering is such a valuable expression of giving of self and engagement.
I think we are very fortunate in this province to have one of the highest percentages of volunteerism in the country if not the highest. I think it is the highest. I believe this is another way for seniors to stay healthy in mind, body, and soul, by doing some volunteer work.
We know that in some of our communities, volunteers are absolutely the lifeblood of the community. So much would not be accomplished if we had to pay for what volunteers do.
We’re now approaching Volunteer Week, when the province will recognize those volunteers. Any of those who have been at the major awards day, it’s very often to give recognition to a sampling of volunteers - not necessarily the volunteer of the year in every community. Many communities now just give a representative of the volunteers. They’re staying engaged and staying involved in terms of that whole piece around volunteering.
From a Canadian perspective, volunteers are said to do somewhere around $44 billion worth of work and involvement if they were paid for that work.
MR. HARRISON: Most of my communities are rural communities, of course. As you said, those communities just would not function well if it wasn’t for volunteers. Most of those volunteers are up there in years, some even in their 80s and 90s. They get tired and wonder why the next generation doesn’t pick it up as they picked it up in their time.
Is there a lot being done as far as the mentorship program is concerned so that seniors can mentor the generations that are coming up in that kind of mindset? Regardless of how much we improve in society, there’s always going to be that need for volunteer work, always going to be a place for that kind of commitment. Somehow, we need to get that back.
MR. GLAVINE: That’s an extremely important question and one that we perhaps need to drill down on a bit more in terms of how we execute that. We know that mentorship certainly takes place now. We see it in a number of organizations where older members work with younger members.
I know, for example, having been in a volunteer fire department for a period of time - when I joined, it was somebody my own age who kind of took me under their wing and went through things with me even down to how important it was to commit to training. In fact, you may even be saving your own life by making sure you get to all the training. Of course, the trainers were the older members in the department. I think in many aspects of our Nova Scotia society, we benefit and are better off when we have good mentorship.
In terms of the SHIFT work, we have outlined promoting mentorship opportunities for older adults. We’re currently partnering with Dalhousie University’s Continuing Education to pilot sessions in communities. One of the communities where we have a program at the moment is New Glasgow.
We know that that mentorship is of that next generation of volunteers. Within the question that the member has talked about, there is some growing concern about the next generation of volunteers. As older adults, elders, in our communities, if we take on that role of mentoring, I think it creates easier access for a young person to feel comfortable, whether it’s coaching, assisting with a community project, or whatever it may be. I think mentorship plays a very, very key role.
The volunteer sector pretty well operates on that goodwill, the feeling of community. People capture the spirit of their community to be involved and engaged. The other department that you were asking questions about, CCH, will actually be developing a voluntary sector plan because we do need to give some overarching directions to the voluntary sector.
When it comes to volunteering, we also know that there is a huge return for the person who does the volunteering. We look at community fundraisers and the people who prepare the meals, sell the tickets, do the cleanup, whatever goes on in a community. As MLAs, we probably get that feel for the community dynamic by the opportunities that we have to go out and go to functions, perhaps say a few words, and acknowledge people. I would hope that during Volunteer Week, every one of us would find a way - it doesn’t have to be special placards or certificates - to say thank you to volunteers. As we stated earlier, they are key to strong, healthy communities and to the vibrancy that does exist.
It’s great to see many communities and organizations recognize volunteers. I have gone to the luncheon where the province recognizes our volunteers. It has to be one of the most heartening experiences that I think any MLA could go to. If you haven’t gone, I would absolutely encourage you. Even if we are here in the House, beg your Leader to let you go for at least a little bit of the time. When those biographies are read, those tributes to the length and breadth of volunteerism, it is an amazing profile of these individuals.
There are two awards that are given out that I find unbelievably heartening, as a Nova Scotian. It’s the recognition of a family that has a tremendous engagement of volunteerism, and now to recognize our youth who volunteer. Sure, it took a little bit of extra planning and logistics to bring the 10 Grade 12 students from my hometown to the Legislature today, to kind of put the bow on a great piece of volunteering that they did. They went to the Dominican Republic and built a home for a needy family. Having spent some time in that country, believe me, many, many homes could be built to improve quality of life there.
I want to thank the member for raising it. We all know that perhaps a big recipient of it are the volunteers themselves, with the degree of satisfaction that they would have.
I believe seniors stay very engaged because, again, we all know that purpose and meaning are important to us. They motivate us. They cause us and allow us to put in the extra hour and go the extra mile. I thank you for raising that.
I guess we had some students for a short time here. I am very pleased to have them here in the Legislature this morning. I didn’t get a chance to explain what Estimates is all about, but maybe one of their teachers can do that.
MR. HARRISON: New volunteers.
MR. GLAVINE: That’s right.
MR. HARRISON: Are there specific partners or organizations put in place to help with that mentorship, as kind of a pilot project or whatever?
MR. GLAVINE: Just to capture that very quickly, the major effort, at the moment, is to see how we could kind of crystallize that mentoring and foster mentoring. We are working with Dalhousie University in terms of an education program. We have a pilot going on in New Glasgow right now. As we see the outcomes of that effort, we will be able to articulate, in a much more fulsome way, how that can be replicated across our communities.
I’ll just bring you to an area that perhaps you will question anyway. That is, of course, the Age-Friendly Communities Grants, which can be applied for to support volunteer work in our communities. That’s certainly a program that is making a difference.
MR. HARRISON: What is the budget for that program?
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the Age-Friendly Communities Grants, that is being funded to the tune of $372,000, with representation covering, pretty well, the province: 14 out of 18 counties with specific initiatives. Then there are some, of course, that will have a provincial scope, as well.
Currently, we have 47 applications for Age-Friendly Communities Grants. That supports the bigger concept of developing age-friendly communities. Just to give you a little bit of a snippet here of the kind of work and the variety of initiatives, there’s AFC planning and expansion in Queens and Cape Breton, aging in place initiatives at Northwood, a Nova Scotia Home Builders pilot, time banking in Richmond County, exercise programs in Antigonish County, social supports for low income older adults at the Metro Non-profit Housing Association, community transportation connected to social opportunities in Lunenburg County, services in rural communities in Hants County, food security in Annapolis County, connecting seniors with youth in Cumberland County, and older adult engagement in Shelburne County.
This is a program that we look at in every community. Every one of those initiatives ties into SHIFT. That is engagement and involvement. While I’m minister, the goal is to see all 18 counties getting Age-Friendly Communities Grants to support our aging demographic.
There’s a line that I like to use because I think it can be very real for seniors. I opened up speaking about what I experienced, and probably my colleague Mr. Wilson did as well, as Minister of Health and Wellness. There’s so often a reference to seniors as a burden on the health care system. We want to really change that dynamic. I believe, if given the opportunity - seniors and especially the boomers have wanted to impact every stage of the life cycle. Baby boomers have challenged and have shaped many aspects of life in our communities and in our North American society. Here in Nova Scotia, we need to foster that spirit, that attitude, that approach where seniors can be continuing to shape the life of our province. I believe those opportunities can deliver great dividends for us in the quality of life of our communities. It’s one that I think we as boomers need to be fostering at every opportunity.
We work proactively to get applications from areas that didn’t get grants in the past. We have not stood still in the Department of Seniors on this. We all know that there are many grants that organizations and people can apply for but are sometimes not aware of. Again, one of the areas that we are working on in the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage now is basically a directory of all the grants that are available. We are actually putting much of that grant system in the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage because, whether it’s seniors or whether it’s youth, it is community development. Having an opportunity to get the grants out to citizens and, in this case, to seniors is absolutely critical.
MR. HARRISON: I saw a book years ago that had all the grants in it that the government had, and I don’t think there’s a book now. I’m not sure. It’s not a book that was widespread. It’s just that an individual in the system had it, and I saw it. My goodness, the things that we didn’t know about, the grants that we had no idea were there. Is it at all possible for the department to make available to the MLAs what grants are available?
MR. GLAVINE: One of the things that I would certainly make people aware of, and I’ll have to ask whether there is an electronic version of this or not, is the seniors’ directory, the Positive Aging booklet. If you haven’t in the past, MLAs can have a box of them come to their office to distribute. You need to contact the Department of Seniors to make sure you get that.
The online version, for us, is encouraging seniors to use 211, which has become an exceptional directory for many citizens of course. In particular, now in the Department of Seniors, we’re no longer handling the kind of calls that were pretty traditional. Where can you find a foot care specialist? Is there a seniors’ club in my community or close by? For any and all of these areas now, a call to 211 is the answer.
I went over to visit 211. I know the deputy and Faizal have kept very close contact with 211. What I think we have all been amazed by is the learning that is part of the requirement for those who are doing the service at 211. I was really quite amazed at the very detailed knowledge of communities right across the province and what services exist in those communities. One of the ways that MLAs - if you put out a publication or an ad, reference 211 as a directory that will give seniors that just-in-time information that they will often require.
We’re also doing a promotion campaign throughout this winter to encourage seniors to use 211 and tell them a little bit about the strength of that particular service. I think it’s a great way for the department to have gone. That is creating that expertise at 211, as opposed to a very small Seniors Department trying to manage those calls while working on other programs that are important to the department. So, 211 has pretty well become the vehicle now for our seniors, and they’re keeping up to date on what additional services are available in their communities.
One of the benefits to a growing and diverse Nova Scotia is the number of languages in which we can call 211. Right now, when we can tap in to 211, what would be a national service, there are 24 languages available through the 211 service, and it’s a 24/7 service as well.
MR. HARRISON: When you mentioned the Positive Aging booklet, there are days I walk by, and I’ll just turn it around. Don’t see much positive those days, and there are days.
It has been my dream actually to have - the EAs struggle to find out where things are for constituents. Eventually, maybe after a few days and a dozen phone calls, we might zero in on something. Again, if we just knew what grants are available and what facilities were available for people, we could probably do a whole lot more than what we’re doing now. It’s mainly seniors - we’re trying to get something in place that’s going to work for them, whether it be housing, health, or whatever the case may be. I find it a real struggle at times for sure.
How much time do I have left?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have about 32 minutes.
MR. HARRISON: I don’t have to make the shift yet, okay.
MR. GLAVINE: I would make an interjection here. Very often, our department, in terms of the Age-Friendly Communities Grants, has a seniors group that is looking at something that is maybe not a traditional activity. In fact, our Seniors Department will even work and help seniors groups shape an application and support them. Those 47 applications that will get support this year, it’s very often a real change agent for that group, that organization. We’re very pleased with the diversity of grants that go out. I would encourage you to foster, with our department, any group that you think could benefit from an Age-Friendly Communities Grant.
MR. HARRISON: That’s a compliment I gave your department the last time we spoke, because the staff is really helpful in trying to formulate an application for a particular grant. I find that very helpful. Sometimes community groups, especially if they are seniors that are trying to put that in, don’t always have ideas of how that should go, how the papers should be filled out and so on. I was glad that your department has volunteered to help with that. That’s a positive.
MR. GLAVINE: That’s great, thank you.
MR. HARRISON: Partnering with organizations involved in the entrepreneurship education to promote that, including social as well, is a viable option for older adults. Who are the partners and organizations in that, for that kind of education?
MR. GLAVINE: Senior entrepreneurship?
MR. HARRISON: Yes.
MR. GLAVINE: One of the groups is working with the Acadia Centre for Business, and this is a three-year program. It has the title of Redefining Retirement. It’s to help participants find purpose and opportunity as an older adult. There’s funding of $30,000 per year to pilot in three communities: St. Margarets Bay, Windsor-West Hants, and Yarmouth County. This is a pilot opportunity, but we know that as this emerges, there will be many other communities that will want to be able to take somebody who has a great idea and help them cultivate and foster that idea. We all know that business success can be enhanced by getting mentorship and knowledge to enable them to have success. The Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development, CEED, is also developing senior entrepreneurship and training.
As I said earlier, there are people, and maybe the member is one of them, who have had a bit of an idea of something they may like to do in terms of a small business after a particular career. It is kind of basic Business 101, if you wish, that people need to know about. Just based on that community of 50 plus, there’s a five-year survival rate of 70 per cent, and it’s 28 per cent for everyone else. That tells us that accumulation of knowledge, that acumen, that people would bring to a business as an older person lends itself to success and a good opportunity.
As well, one of the realities that we need to be taking into account is that people are living longer and want a high degree of independence. A statistic that comes to mind is that people are living 20 years longer today than they did 100 years ago. Very often, people are dividing up that life spectrum, that lifespan and saying, I’m going to do this for so many years, and when I turn 60, 65, or whatever, I’m going to venture on that personal passion that they may have and want to embark upon. We’re seeing more and more of that.
Unfortunately, I have to do the speaking here, but my deputy and Faizal could really express what has happened in the last two years in Pictou and this year here in Halifax at the Nova Centre when we held the senior summit. I certainly got a little bit of an insight into the kind of ventures that people are embarking on. I think that’s something we’ll see soon, something published, opportunities for people all over this province.
Our province and Florida have the two oldest populations in North America. I believe we can be a little bit of an incubator for seniors’ projects, seniors’ entrepreneurism, seniors’ businesses, and people who start anywhere from 60 onward.
Coming into our GovLab, which I mentioned in my opening remarks, we have somebody as old as 86 who looks at life as still being full of possibilities. That’s what they’ll bring to that table, creativity and ingenuity to do something in that latter part of their life. We funded CEED last year with $15,000 to develop an education module that would help senior entrepreneurs, those about to embark on a business so that some of those entrenched practices could be at their fingertips right from the word go.
I know that one of the mythic areas that we’re working to explode is the fact that seniors take away jobs from young people. When the analysis is actually done, very often seniors have the idea, seniors start the business, and then seniors employ young people. We’re seeing that kind of growth and opportunity for young people as well, especially in businesses that do require that energy and a person who could carry out maybe some of the manual work.
It’s amazing that seniors keep themselves in good physical shape and a physical, active lifestyle which we’re certainly trying to promote through SHIFT as well. Seniors are not looking at the world and seeing barriers but are seeing more and more opportunity and bringing young people along.
There’s an interesting statistic that we often don’t kind of fashion or speak to. That is, let’s say you are planning retirement at 60, 65, or 70. If people actually said I’m going to work one more year longer, GDP would go up by 2.8 per cent. Very often, people retire, and they’re probably at the pinnacle of knowledge and expertise - what they can bring to a company in staying on to mentor.
Again, there’s a little bit of a reference here to the older members of the civil service that I really like.
One of the complaints that I have heard for many, many years as an MLA - I think it may be due to the fact that some of us have been around here for quite a long time, maybe too long. I know there are a couple of us here in the room who are in our 14th year as MLAs. Very often young people would ask me, and maybe some of them did because I was their teacher, how you get a government job. For a hundred years, or for however long, I would see postings that required three years of experience. Taking that away in the civil service has caused an influx of youth to jobs because now we are putting out the notice that you do not need X amount of experience. Many are coming in and are being mentored by older members. They are also bringing along new ideas and new energies, looking at a career path within the civil service.
One of the little gems we have in our province I haven’t spoken about today, and it is another one of those areas that if you have an opportunity to explore and get out to meet people, take it. It is the Centre on Aging at Mount Saint Vincent University. They have been there for 25 years. For 25 years, they have been looking at aging, whether it was a caregiver program or assisted technology in a home, which is more on the health side, of course. They are now studying an older workforce and what those benefits can be for government and for a business, and the impact on the individuals themselves in staying very engaged - a greater degree of well-being and a greater degree of life satisfaction - to be able to quantify that and to be able to articulate for individuals what that would mean. I think it’s a wonderful project.
What we decided as the Department of Seniors, was not to just say, that’s great - you’re a university, and part of your mandate is to do research and pass it on to the population. What we did at the Department of Seniors is actually sign an MOU where we would support them financially and get the benefits of research back so the Department of Seniors can actually put this across the province in terms of knowledge, in terms of practice, in terms of policy, and in terms of programs to benefit the senior population.
I think we have an opportunity to be looked at with some of the work that we are doing. Our department, under the leadership of the deputy minister, has had opportunities, and SHIFT has come out, to speak at conferences in Canada. We got an invitation to San Francisco to speak about what we are doing in our province. It is my view that this opportunity now is one that we should capture. As soon as you mention the aging demographic - other provinces will go through this. Some provinces are the beneficiaries of an immense amount of immigration, younger immigrants, which balances it out, but they are still going to have that whole postwar baby boom to deal with. Other jurisdictions have begun to look at us here in Nova Scotia, at what we are doing and what the ways are of keeping seniors healthy, engaged, and how our communities are responding to their needs.
We often have used the cliché that it takes a village to raise a child. I think it is going to take our villages, our communities, and a whole provincial thrust to take care of that number of seniors. We will get very close to 30 per cent of our population over the age of 65 all at one time. How do we do it? How do we do it well? I believe that’s both our challenge and our opportunity. We will have jurisdictions that will look at what we do here.
My hope is that the Department of Seniors and the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, through developing healthy communities, can have some lead practices going on in our communities that support seniors and help seniors stay in their communities and remain involved. I’ll bet you there is no MLA in this House who is not inspired perhaps weekly or certainly occasionally by seniors who are breaking the barriers of age in what they do, what they accomplish, how they volunteer, staying at work, or whatever it may be. I think there’s a great story yet to be written about how that baby boom cohort become leaders well into their senior years. Hopefully, some of us will be around to join a centenarian club, and we’ll be able to say how we shaped those decades as the baby boomers went through the life cycle.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Just to let you know, eight minutes.
MR. HARRISON: Eight minutes. I’m going to make a shift.
Housing Nova Scotia, that’s a big one. That’s a big one. There are a lot of senior homes in my area, and a lot of the buildings need work done to them. What is the system for assessing a particular seniors’ complex or whatever and getting the work done?
MR. GLAVINE: That is a very big area. In my opening remarks, I did reference and highlight the fact that we relate to many departments. We actually have a small budget. Anytime the work of the Seniors Department is explored, we realize the kind of needs that seniors have. We realize that housing is one of those big areas.
In the last budget, there was $12.4 million more to improve Housing Nova Scotia’s public housing buildings. We know that that will certainly include the seniors housing. Across the province, many of our communities, towns, and villages of any size have some seniors’ housing. That comes under the Department of Community Services. I think that that amount of money should make some of the timely improvements that they require. Many of them are showing their age.
More than that, additional inventory of seniors housing needs to be added to the current amount that we have. There’s $3 million to offer 400 more rent supplements to low-income Nova Scotians. In that, as we know, part of that big challenge that will be on us as a province and as a country, is how we find the best housing and the proper housing for seniors.
If you take a couple who are on OAS and the supplement, we are talking about an income of about $24,000 a year, roughly $12,000 each. Therefore, there are limitations on trying to maintain and keep your home or, if you have always had an apartment, have adequate accommodation. The rent supplements and additional seniors housing and some that will meet assisted living requirements, because if we’re going to keep seniors in their homes or rental units, we know that some assistance and assisted living has to be part of that housing mix.
As MLAs, we know that there is a great program to support assistance to upkeep of our individual homes. It’s a $25 million program, and many seniors benefit from that. I have dealt with seniors who needed a new septic system, needed to drill a well. What about when that furnace goes out in the winter, and it’s 38 years old and gone? That’s where these seniors’ housing and emergency housing requirements are being met.
It is absolutely my belief that we can’t talk about keeping seniors in their homes unless we are going to support the very dwellings they live in with some upkeep and with assistance. This program here is absolutely vital because there are seniors - this is frankly speaking - who went to our nursing homes because their actual home was no longer suitable for living in. Yes, they were elderly, but it was literally their houses that took them and put them on the list.
I believe strongly in this program. Creating a priority of meeting the needs of seniors to stay in their homes is incumbent upon us as a government to meet those challenges as much as possible.
MR. HARRISON: Is this program different from going through Community Services?
MR. GLAVINE: That’s a great question. In the SHIFT document, there will be $26 million for seniors’ housing. I am not sure over what period of time that will be for, but now there is a concerted effort to make sure that an appropriate and adequate number of seniors’ units will be addressed.
MR. HARRISON: These are the things that I wish we had information on in our office right up front so that we wouldn’t have to go scrambling to find out where to go for this kind of thing.
Do I have enough time to tell a story?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: One minute.
MR. HARRISON: Oh, goodness. I’m not going to get the story out in one minute. Okay.
I’ve been dealing with a family now for, I would say, over two years. They’re seniors, and they live way out in the woods. They were given a house and a piece of land by an older gentleman. They’ve been there for 20-some years. The house is now falling apart - the roof, the windows. If you even mention going somewhere else, they hit the roof: we’ve lived here all this time, we’re gonna die here, I’m not moving. We cannot get a deed to that property in their name, so we’re stymied. We can’t go to Housing because you need to have a deed in order to make the application. We’re just at a loss of what to do for this couple.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has elapsed for the Progressive Conservatives. We’ll hand it over to the NDP. Mr. Wilson.
HON. DAVID WILSON: Minister, feel free to answer the member’s question.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much. I appreciate that. I’ll just quickly respond.
I would ask, Madam Chairman, if after answering the question, I could have a couple minutes’ break. That would be appreciated.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Okay.
MR. GLAVINE: Those are those wonderful things that sometimes come out in Estimates and come out in conversations among MLAs. In this case, it’s not so much finding ways to reduce red tape but assisting in every way to enable that couple to be able to stay in their home. No matter how humble, it’s home. If you still have that individual case, I would like to meet with you and get some details and see if there is some kind of legal service that could be available to them. We could make that known and facilitate if possible.
MR. HARRISON: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We’ll take a short recess.
[2:06 p.m. The committee recessed.]
[2:15 p.m. The committee reconvened.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. We will resume. Mr. Wilson.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I just want to say welcome to the minister. I look forward to engaging on some questions and issues around seniors here in the province. I think what I’ll do, just to get it out of the way, is go right to - I always like to look at the line items in the budget. I’ll go right to that, using the budget, Pages 21.2 and 21.3, just to get some updates and some information on some of the figures on the budget line items. Then we’ll get into some of the policies and initiatives that are going to happen over the next year.
If we look at the budget for Seniors’ Initiatives, we see about a $400,000 increase. I know we may duplicate some of the line of questioning that was already put to the minister, but I wonder if you could just give us an indication of what the increase in $400,000 for Seniors’ Initiatives would be.
MR. GLAVINE: I welcome my colleague Mr. Wilson, who has been asking me questions for quite some time now.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I think you’ve asked me some questions also over the years.
MR. GLAVINE: That’s right. We have had this back-and-forth over the years.
I wasn’t sure which area we were speaking to, but the new money in 2018-19 is an increase to the Social Innovation Lab of $100,000, to the Seniors’ Safety expansion of $50,000, and taking on funding of Community Links, $264,000. That comprises that $408,000 budget increase. You may have some further questions on each of those.
MR. DAVID WILSON: That would be great. If we could just get into the seniors lab - I wonder if the minister could just give us a quick rundown on exactly what the funds would be used for. I don’t know if you could provide a breakdown of before the $400,000. If you can, that would be great. If not, I wonder if you could give us a brief breakdown of that $100,000 for the lab.
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the Social Innovation Lab, this is an area coming out of SHIFT, out of the need to look at and explore innovative and creative ideas that could support seniors in a number of aspects of their living. This is now being set up. The first request has already gone out.
The concept was built around an idea which has actually been emerging on a very small scale in the Department of Seniors. With the early possibilities that we’re seeing come before us, we decided to go the full distance on this. The actual increase will mean that staffing, the pilots, the administration - this will be altogether a significant investment. It’s really designed to shape some of our seniors policy for the future. With the advance that went out, we had about 80 applications in this first ask. We created positions called fellows to lead these discussions and the sermon of ideas and innovative thinking that will come forward. I think it was 37 that were selected in this first round.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Also, you mentioned the $50,000 for safety. Is that a new initiative, new program? Or is that adding to a current one?
MR. GLAVINE: I’m sure the member is knowledgeable of the Seniors Safety Program. Its ask across the province has been expanding. I would give a lot of credit to the Department of Seniors for actually going to parts of the province that did not have a program to support seniors in terms of the work being done. I know that in my community and in Kings County, the lady who does the Seniors Safety Program carries out very ambitious work year over year working with the RCMP. In fact, just recently, I recognized her work, which she has been doing now for a number of years.
Many seniors don’t even have a basic shredder in their homes. They worry about shredding sensitive documents, so our senior safety officer, for about 10 years now, has been running a shredding program in conjunction with the RCMP. I just highlight that as one of those areas.
With the advance of $50,000, we have added Richmond, Victoria, and Colchester to the list now of counties that have a senior safety officer. The two without are Inverness and Guysborough, and we’re hoping to add those next year and have this valued program across the province.
One of the other areas that I know the member probably dealt with during his time in government is programs that are given funding for one year. There’s always that wonderment especially among those who are executing the program: should I stay with it? We only have funding for one year. Now we have gone to three-year contracts because we have found some very exceptional people. I know government would appreciate those who deliver our programs and that high quality and dedication. A three-year opportunity, by way of a contract, now gives them that planning that I think will even strengthen their work.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I would agree. I think one of the biggest challenges for programs and organizations is sustainable funding, even if it’s three years. Often, a lot of the programs are year-to-year, and it can be challenging for those organizations.
The two areas that won’t have a senior safety officer - I think you call it that . . .
MR. GLAVINE: Senior safety officer, yes.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Inverness and Guysborough - you mentioned they will be addressed next year. Is it that you couldn’t find somebody for those areas, or enough funding wasn’t available this year? Or was it something different?
MR. GLAVINE: In fact, when I became Minister of Seniors, I wanted to get a little bit of an overview of their work. I met with senior safety officers in Digby and Yarmouth. What I liked about their work is, I saw it being tied in to support for seniors to stay in their home. We all know that seniors are very, very susceptible - probably maybe all of us are - to fraud, to those scams that come along. Part of the work of the senior safety officer is to explore those calls that seniors will receive and respond to them.
We have been gaining a lot of learnings from the senior safety officers in developing that mandate, that prospectus for their work. It took a bit of time, and yes, we didn’t budget for it this year, but we want to have the right person who would be doing this kind of work.
One of the communities that I went to is the Yarmouth-Shelburne area. They were making house calls to seniors living alone and going out to see them any time there was a different car coming up their driveway or anything that they would observe in their community or at their homes that they were wondersome about. They are involved with education, and I know they put on seminars in the communities.
If we as MLAs haven’t tapped into our senior safety officers, it’s another one of those wonderful services that is available. They pick up on individual issues, as well as giving great information about any worries that they may have about their personal banking or their daily affairs. The senior safety officers look into those for them. The goal is to have this in the budget next year and have it province-wide.
We have looked upon a number of our programs in the Department of Seniors as - also, when the community is ready for it, we can talk to a town council or the county councillors. Part of it is the readiness of a community to take on these programs. It’s just now that Guysborough is expressing an interest. We’ll take that interest and make sure that each program receives the money that will allow them to move the program forward; $30,000 was added last year for professional development to bring them together.
There is a great base now that is emerging whereby we’ll almost have that booklet, if you wish, for the new senior safety officers who will come along this year and come on next year. We have great experience now so that they can quickly get into their work and have success at the work that the program wants to deliver.
One of the things that the deputy minister embarked on when he came into the department was to take a look at what programs are working and that are valuable. Seniors’ safety was one, and very clearly, the direction was that there are always a number of different grants to support seniors, but please make sure you keep the senior safety officer program. It’s highly valued and valuable, and we want to see it province-wide.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I know there is a lot of information in that seniors’ guide I have in my office, which I provide to churches, senior organizations, and other facilities in my riding. Are senior safety officers’ contacts in that guide? If not, could you provide them or make sure the committee or the MLAs have those contacts throughout the province?
Often, we do get calls from family members. We know a lot of the contacts for our own area but not for around the province. I wonder if the minister could answer that.
MR. GLAVINE: It is available in the seniors’ guide, the Positive Aging Directory. As well, 211 becomes the directory for seniors to get that contact. As we promote not just 211 but all seniors services, it’s one of those things that our senior safety officers identify to seniors, through our publications or other ways in which we’re getting information out to the public. I think this is another great opportunity. The guide, as we all know, has a wealth of information around recreation opportunities, housing services, and home care. The senior safety officers are identified.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I would agree. You mentioned shredding, and I know the RCMP have done some initiatives in the community I represent a number of times. We try to encourage those we know in the community who would benefit from it especially around identity theft and the scams that are going on. It’s very easy for them to do that. I was amazed.
My father-in-law, who passed away a number of years ago, was very smart and worked hard over his life. He fell easily for a credit card scam where he gave his credit card number out. As soon as he hung the phone up, he knew, and he called me. I went, that doesn’t sound right. Of course, they ripped him off for several thousand dollars. It’s easy, and it’s not just very vulnerable people. It’s the way they can manipulate and make it sound all right. They were trying to encourage him to amalgamate some of his loans or something like that.
I know elder abuse remains a concern for many, not only physical. One that I deal with quite a bit over the years is financial elder abuse of seniors, family members and friends taking advantage of seniors. I often discuss this with my wife. She works at the credit union. She sees it a lot first-hand. Do the senior safety officers play a role in that? Are they able to assist family members or seniors who fall victim of senior abuse, especially in the financial area of their daily lives?
MR. GLAVINE: Again, their work is much more directed towards being proactive - obviously, helping to investigate, bringing it to the RCMP or community policing to investigate. The senior safety officer will put on workshops to help people identify, be knowledgeable, and just be leery of that kind of call, even down to providing some individual counselling. That is the work of dealing with elder abuse.
Two-one-one takes our senior abuse phone line. We provide education to 211 staff as well so that they are that immediate line of contact. We really are working to embed 211 with anything that our seniors have to inquire about, that they have wonderment or doubt about, if they want something investigated, want the best person or service close to where they live. We know that that’s one of the services available.
We have also developed senior abuse guidance material on the website. It’s called Understanding Senior Abuse. I think the member here has identified that there are many different forms of senior abuse that can take place. Sometimes, the very sad reality is that it is within the family that the senior abuse is taking place. Again, as our population or demographic is going through that major aging, I would encourage our MLAs to make a point, almost each time you put out a publication, to include a reminder or some new tip for seniors, a piece of information or knowledge that will make them much more aware. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that is not going to go away. The better our seniors are educated, alerted, then I feel very strongly that it can be part of our ongoing jobs and supporting our seniors.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I think all members would agree that the senior safety officers are important. I think we would all agree that it’s a wise investment, and I would hope that all areas of the province would have access to that.
Saying that, I do want to go back to some line items in the budget, the same line item actually, the Seniors’ Initiatives. When I looked at it, if my math is right - the estimate for 2017-18 was $1.747 million, and the forecast was $1.674 million, so an underspend of about $73,000.
You have a small department, and I would say that every dollar counts in your department. I would also say that you probably should have a larger budget to address the seniors’ issues in our province. I wonder if you can give any details on why roughly $73,000 was underspent in the seniors’ initiatives last year? Was there something that couldn’t get off the ground, a program, a service? I’m just wondering if you could give us some details about that underspend of about $73,000.
MR. GLAVINE: In fact, the very area that we have been talking about is the Senior Safety Program, and the program in Cape Breton dropped out of the Senior Safety Program. We’re hoping that the individual just moved on, and we didn’t have somebody to replace them. That is a major part of that variance. Also, in the very early days of seeing how we would set up the Innovation Lab, there was some thousands of dollars that didn’t get spent because there was a delay in the innovation lab start-up.
MR. DAVID WILSON: We’re looking at $1.6 million spent last year. I don’t know if you have it on hand, but I’m wondering if you could table the documents outlining exactly where it all went. I know we talk about it, and we know about different initiatives, but it’s very effective for me. Part of the reason I often ask for the tabling of the outline of how the money was spent in the previous years is that next year, if you’re still the Minister of Seniors, I’ll be asking the same questions and trying to hold you and your government to account to make sure that, if you announce a program, if you announce initiatives, you follow through on them.
I understand why in budgets, there is underspending at times. This is a way for me and our caucus to make sure that we fully understand it. I’m wondering if that’s something that the minister could table for us, how the money was spent last year.
MR. GLAVINE: Estimates are about accountability, about drilling down on details of how the money is advanced and spent through the department. One of the things that I know the member would be very familiar with is that seniors spending is tied into a number of other departments. Whether it’s the Seniors’ Pharmacare program, or whether it’s Housing, these are all big expenditures that support our seniors. We can get you the 2017-18 breakdown of the budget.
This year, just to give a very quick overview, the seniors safety initiative is 21 per cent of the budget at $569,000. Policy and planning is $305,000, 11 per cent. The Group of IX is a $17,000 item. The Social Innovation Lab is $496,000, 18 per cent of the budget. The Office of the Deputy Minister is $233,000, 9 per cent. General administration is $330,000, 12 per cent. The Age-Friendly Communities program is $759,000 at 28 per cent of the budget.
In there is a pretty good alignment of the percentage of dollars in the budget that would be going out for actual programming and assistance to seniors versus the administration and coordination of the departments. One of the other factors that will show in the 2017-18 budget year is some staff variances that are reflected in the FTE variance.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I did write some of those down, but I would appreciate maybe a detailed clean copy, if you can, by the end of Estimates. I’ll give you until next Friday. How’s that?
MR. GLAVINE: Perfect.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I will continue on with line items. On Page 21.2, we go down to departmental expenses. We see Salary and Employee Benefits, and I know you have mentioned that the estimate of full-time employees was nine, and you went to 7.2, so there was a bit of an underspend, but this year you go back. There will be an increase from forecast to estimate and estimate to estimate.
I am just wondering, is that just contract requirements for that increase? From forecast estimates, I think it will be about $245,000. I also noted here that it’s almost two full-time staff added. I’m just wondering, can you give a little bit of detail on that increase of this year’s Budget Estimate for Salary and Employee Benefits?
MR. GLAVINE: Just to go back to an earlier question, there is tracking over the years, over a decade, of the amount of money in the Department of Seniors. Since it has become a dedicated department, not an Office of Seniors - they moved around for a few years in a couple of different locations. I believe we now have a very fine staff there. We have increased the budget for seniors starting in 2016 up to the present. It is now at the highest level that the department has been funded.
The increase in particular that you are referencing includes most of the funding for the Innovation Lab. We also had a couple of staff vacancies for a while last year. If we take those salaries and new positions for the lab, that would account for the dollar value that you have asked about.
MR. DAVID WILSON: A couple of lines down to Grants and Contributions, looking at the estimate last year to the forecast, we see increased spending of about $211,000. I’m just wondering if you could give us the detail for that increase between estimate and forecast of last year’s budget.
MR. GLAVINE: The variance that’s there was the fact that there were some savings in the department. We put out more grants than originally had been planned. That’s where those monies were directed. We can drill down further if you want the detail around where those grants actually were distributed.
MR. DAVID WILSON: We don’t need to go into details now. If that’s part of what you provide for the breakdown in the last year, I’m okay with that. Part of how I evaluate these budgets often is looking in between the lines here and trying to reflect next year’s budget. I would hope both of us will be here again, maybe in different roles. Who knows? I would appreciate that. It would go a long way. If you could provide that at a later date, that’s fine.
I’m going to get into the SHIFT action plan in a minute, but I know in your exchanges with my colleague in the previous hour, you talked about seniors in the workforce and initiatives that are moving towards supporting them. I do see a difference in the workforce around the province. We’re starting to recognize more senior residents are continuing to work longer. It’s something that I have seen a lot over the years when I travel to the U.S. especially. There’s a whole slew of reasons why seniors in the U.S. continue to work longer in their lives. Most of it revolves around Medicare down there and having a job so that they can get health care. You just have to go to Disney World and be amazed by the age of many who work in Disney just because of the benefit packages there for health, dental, and others.
Would the minister agree that the reality is that there are many seniors who continue to work because they need to, to make ends meet? I know a lot of your initiatives and a lot of what you have talked about is seniors who want to be innovative, want to start a business. I don’t dispute that, but there are many seniors who have to continue to work to make ends meet. Would the minister agree with that, and would he have any comments? Is it a trend, or is it something that I’m just kind of paying more attention to because I’m getting older? I’m getting older, and I realize there’s someone a lot older than me still working. I wonder if the minister could comment on that.
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much for that opening to speak about the workforce. Some refer to it as the graying of the workforce. At one time, we saw elderly people who were Walmart greeters or who did some seasonal work or selling tickets and so forth. Today, as the member mentioned, we’re seeing people who want to remain working and active, people who have a lot to contribute. There are some working out of necessity because people are living longer, don’t have a strong pension, and require some additional income to support themselves, to live in their home. In particular, women who were never the primary earners in their home - a husband passes, and some of these women have gone back to do some part-time work. We’re seeing people who are recognizing that, with the demands and costs of living in their home and wanting to have a reasonable quality of life, they need some additional income more than OAS and the supplement. We are finding that now, especially between 50 and 65.
Last year, we increased the basic personal exemption in taxes. That helped the low wage earner, the unskilled worker. We have the seniors tax rebate and the home heating rebate. These are all assists, but in more and more cases, people do need some work. In the Annapolis Valley, we’re finding seniors now who will go and participate in the harvest and get in a couple of months of work. That as well is especially important if they have a home improvement project on the go. It gives them that little boost of so many thousands of dollars to enable them to stay in their home, maintain a car, and have a reasonable quality of life.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Interestingly, this came up just recently. A senior who continues to work past the age of 65 asked me about benefits and workers’ compensation. I believe the policy now is, if you’re over the age of 65, and you’re injured at work - if they’re working full time, and they pay into WCB benefits - they’ll only cover benefits for two years.
Does your department have any role? Have you been advocated for by the Group of IX, or any other groups? With this shift in our demographics that we’re seeing - we have an aging population, we have an aging workforce. We’re shifting policies and services, but WCB has that limited window if you’re hurt on the job after 65. Has there been any discussion of looking at changing that policy to reflect what’s truly happening out there? Our population is working older. They could be working until 75 if they wanted to, but if they’re injured at 66, they only have benefits for two years. That puts them at a disadvantage, especially if they’re working because they need to continue to work. Even if it’s not a direct financial need, we should be treating them fairly. Do you have a comment on that policy of a two-year window for anybody over 65 who may be injured at work?
MR. GLAVINE: In terms of the SHIFT document and the goals, we certainly set in place a number of areas to have employers support older workers in the workplace. That’s part of what we have been doing, whether it’s demonstrating how age-friendly, inclusive, intergenerational workplaces can value older workers, or educating employers about age- friendly workplaces and emerging human resource practices. A lot of these things are in SHIFT. They’re becoming, both in the public and private sectors, more and more how they’re going about doing their business.
Carrying on a benefit like WCB, which we know is very important, especially in times when we have a family to look after, is a critical support. The changing nature - we’re seeing not just between 65 and 70, now 65 and 75 is becoming a very important part of that age spectrum where people are doing full- or part-time work. That is now running right across the 10-year period of 65 to 75, about 20 to 25 per cent of that age group.
We have begun a dialogue. That’s the only place that we’re at, at the moment, in conversation with WCB. That’s being asked for - that 67-year-old who is still physically able, mentally able, doing the job, but gets an injury. It has come to the Department of Seniors, probably to other government departments as well, to engage in conversation to see where that may go. It’s a valuable topic that has been raised.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate that, and I would hope that that dialogue is something that happens sooner rather than later. It would be a significant change in WCB policy, but the data is there. If we know 20 to 25 per cent of our workers are continuing to work between 65 and 75, I think it’s time to update those polices. I know the challenge. Listen, I’ve been fighting for WCB changes for many years now, because the individuals we’re talking about, if we wait five or 10 years, many seniors will lose out.
I hope that’s a commitment from your department and yourself to move those discussions along and remind your colleagues, the Premier, and those who sit around the Treasury Board table that we need to look at this policy shift. It might be a good question in Question Period over the next couple weeks, so just be prepared. I guess it wouldn’t go directly to you, but maybe I will engage in that question using the comments you had. I appreciate that.
An hour goes by quick. We have about 15, 20 minutes?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: You have 15 minutes.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Earlier with my colleague you talked about SHIFT. Another area that has always been top of mind in the community that I represent is housing and housing opportunities, especially for seniors.
When I was first elected in 2003, seniors in the community that I represent, if they got to the position of needing a long-term care placement, they had to leave the community. Sackville kind of exploded in the early 1970s when government realized we needed to support Nova Scotians in buying their first home, building their first home. The community has grown over the last 40 or 50 years. I’m very glad to say that there is a long-term care facility now in our community. Secondary to that, before long-term care, there weren’t many options for seniors in our community to stay.
We do have, I believe, three subsidized seniors’ housing units, which capture a certain segment of the population. Of course, there’s still a long wait-list for that. You pay a certain percentage of your income. There is a large band of seniors who worked their whole lives and, in retirement, sometimes don’t have the means to pay the amount of money that rent is costing now.
There was an initiative a number of years ago. Two senior apartments were built. One was added on to one of the current facilities, but a brand-new apartment was built in the subdivision of Millwood. It was a seniors’ apartment - you had to be a senior to live there. It wasn’t just 30 per cent of your income. It was closer to market value, but there are still savings. Rent is about $650 or $700. It’s very popular. Now there’s a huge wait-list for that. I see the benefit of that. I know in the area you represent, there have been initiatives over the years, especially in Greenwood and other areas, to try to help seniors downgrade from their homes into smaller units.
You mentioned the $26 million for seniors’ housing under SHIFT. I assume that would come from Community Services. I am just wondering if you could break it down. Have there been detailed commitments of that $26 million? I know it’s not in your wheelhouse, but I would think you would be engaged in it. Is there a breakdown? Will we see more potential seniors’ apartments around the province or initiatives that you have seen in your area of the province? I just want a little bit of a comment on seniors’ housing. I know we are kind of stretching outside the boundary, but I think you and your department are very engaged. Your deputy minister, I think he oversaw that area, at one point, for some time. I’m just wondering if you had a comment on that.
MR. GLAVINE: That’s certainly a major area of concern, a major area of need. I think it raises an issue that we have addressed in SHIFT with $26 million for seniors’ housing.
Before I go to that, I just wanted to react a little bit to the previous question. One of the areas that we’ve been welded to, of course, is that age of 65 for many programs, probably too many of our programs for way too long. I believe our generation of baby boomers is defining that. All of a sudden you turn 65, and retirement looms, or whatever. We are changing that. That whole paradigm shift is on. The member has asked about the area of WCB, and discussions there will, hopefully, be part of that future, for sure.
In terms of the $26 million, housing can give the breakdown of where it went in 2017-18. There was help for more low-income Nova Scotians to make repairs and support construction of affordable housing for seniors. Part of this, if you remember, and it may have been there when you were in government, is the social infrastructure fund from the feds, is part of the cost sharing. Additional rent supplements - I know we have parcelled off 400 more with $3 million in the budget for this year. Quality of social housing - there is increased funding to create and upgrade shelter and transitional housing spaces and a review of the statement of provincial interest on housing to determine if it adequately directs municipal planning and zoning to support a range of options in terms of independent and long care.
The member’s ears lifted a little bit the other day when we heard that Halifax is looking at the granny suite after all these years. That’s another supportive way in which I believe our seniors can have a higher quality of life where they live close to a son or daughter and get that kind of care.
Housing for seniors is absolutely front and centre, and the $26 million will make a difference. This plan, SHIFT, also has other injections over the next three or four years, if you take a look at the SHIFT document.
MR. DAVID WILSON: That leads well into an area now where I have a couple of questions with the remaining time. The SHIFT action plan indicated it is $13 million over three years. I am just wondering how much of that $13 million has been spent to date. There was an initiative last year, if I’m not wrong. Was money spent last year, or is it $13 million on a go-forward basis?
MR. GLAVINE: In the first year, about $3 million of that was spent, has gone forward. This will be going on in out years as well. We were a little bit late with community transportation, and now there’s $2.6 million that will go through community transportation.
Recently, $700,000 has been announced: $500,000 for Cape Breton and $200,000 in Bridgewater - more pilots and more assistance to defined transportation systems that want to expand into rural and small communities to enable seniors who have no transportation to have access to their community, one of the great pieces of work that five or six departments were engaged in. Municipal Affairs, Health and Wellness, Seniors, and Communities, Culture and Heritage have all been working on the community transportation work. Our deputy minister and a member from CCH went around the province and spoke with a significant number of stakeholders to find out what the needs were. First and foremost, CBRM was ready. They were wanting to expand but didn’t have the money. Bridgewater wanted to do a pilot. This supports the ongoing operational cost and marketing as well so that seniors in particular and low-income Nova Scotians know that there is transportation available to them.
I believe the more we do with community transportation is a game-changer for our seniors. We’re now seeing, on a country-wide basis in the U.K., a ministry for loneliness which tells us that (Interruption) Yes, in the U.K. It’s because people can’t connect to their community, can’t connect to social opportunities and service opportunities. This is a long-term commitment to make sure that seniors are not isolated and that they have access. We’re prepared to do a variety of pilots - not just your typical bus. Now that there will be one school advisory council, perhaps use of school buses could become part of community transportation - shuttles or small vehicles.
Losing the ability to drive is one of the biggest reasons that people lose their independence. Having that senior feeling independent and connected to their community, their friends, and social opportunities is something that we were very strong on. It came right out of the SHIFT document that there needed to be stronger transportation for seniors.
We have some great examples across the province. A person who we all highly regarded, Clarendon Robichaud, who developed Transport de Clare 20 years ago, really met the needs along the Acadian shore, a strip of development of population with connecting communities. Over the years, that transportation company met the need of seniors.
Now we’re ready to take some best practices, do more pilots, and extend it. We’re going to see other opportunities. I’m not sure if the hills of Cape Breton are ready for driverless vehicles, but who knows? It could be part of the exploration in the future to deal and support our seniors. I thank the member for raising that important point.
MR. DAVID WILSON: I would agree with the comment about losing the ability to drive. It’s definitely devastating to seniors when they lose that opportunity to keep their licence. It’s really concerning to many of them, especially as they get older, and they have an increase in health challenges. It has been one of the criticisms I have had towards your government, around the amalgamation of the Health Authority, which I know you’re well versed in as the minister. When you get especially into rural areas and this transformation of the Health Authority, I think there’s more opportunity now that residents are required and can move to other regions of the province. That’s fine for those who have vehicles and who have family, but for those who don’t, it’s a huge challenge to meet their health needs.
Is that in the mix other than just the community transportation for seniors as they get older and as their health needs increase? Would you foresee some kind of program in Nova Scotia that would help seniors make it to those appointments? If ortho is being consolidated to Hants for example, and they live further down in Greenwood, would you foresee a program in the province that could potentially help get those seniors to those medical appointments down the road?
MR. GLAVINE: Yes, the member raises what I would regard as an excellent point. If we’re going to keep seniors healthy, they also have to get to their primary care provider appointments or diagnostic tests. Somebody living in a more remote area of any county is a distance away.
One of the companies that I think has a very good model - even by its very name - is in Kings County, called Point to Point. It’s actually going to go out to Sheffield Mills and out to Pereaux. It is picking someone up for the trip into Valley Regional and also connecting them to the shuttle that’s going off to Halifax for dialysis or any other major appointments that they have. We have those good models and those best practices that are there. The member is absolutely correct - taking that best practice now with this investment in community transportation is absolutely the way of the future.
One of the stumbling blocks as we looked at this was that . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Oder. Time has elapsed.
We will go from the NDP caucus to the PC caucus. Ms. Adams.
MS. BARBARA ADAMS: This is my favourite part of the budget process, talking about seniors and the coordination across all of the departments. I would like to start off by asking the minister, have you had any feedback yet from the Group of IX?
MR. GLAVINE: From the Group of IX - our deputy minister at the Department of Seniors is an integral part of their meetings. What I would say more than anything is that their investigation of needy senior issues or what they want to raise as their major issue at a given point in time - we believe absolutely in the strength of that group. We support them with $17,000 of funding to help them carry out their work. They are representative of major professional bodies. Also, the Community Links program has a representative.
I found, when I became Minister of Seniors, that this was one of the voices that I knew was important to the department’s work, to my work, and to continuing to frame what the needs were. In fact, one of my disappointments is that the boardroom where they met was practically next door to my office when I was Minister of Health and Wellness, and I made most of their meetings. I have made a few recently. We have others planned for the future this Spring, but we are also hoping that perhaps Seniors and CCH will co-locate, and I will have much more ready access to their meetings.
They have proven to be a great resource and one that we value. Again, because they represent so many significant numbers - retired teachers, retired doctors, retired federal and provincial civil servants, and CARP, for example, is a big voice there - they are kind of that window on the community.
I see the Group of IX has evolved into somewhat of a partnership. All together, they represent 100,000 seniors in our province, and they develop an annual plan with priorities. What I really like as well is that they meet with a number of ministers each year to find out what is happening in our departments in relation to them, but more importantly, to give us feedback. Here is the number one issue, Minister of Community Services, Minister of Municipal Affairs, Minister of Health and Wellness, or Minister of Seniors, in particular - here is the number one issue that we want you to be addressing and backgrounding and looking at what policy or program is going to help address this particular issue. The Group of IX is a highly-regarded group, and I value those conversations that I have had with them.
MS. ADAMS: I have had the privilege of serving as the health chair on CARP Nova Scotia for a number of years, and I also served on Community Links - not on the board but in the falls prevention program for probably nine years. I think I’m aging myself now.
What I am wondering is, have they given you written feedback or verbal feedback on this year’s budget yet? I know they are probably digesting it, like the rest of us, but I am just wondering if they have had a chance already to give you any kind of feedback.
MR. GLAVINE: You can be sure that they are not short of opinions and perspectives on the budget. Each year, following the budget, they do have a give and take session for observations and commentary. That hasn’t take place on this year’s budget, but you can be assured that it will take place. The next meeting will become an opportunity for that to happen. I will then have that follow-up with the deputy minister to see what is top of mind for them.
MS. ADAMS: You mentioned to me that they had, in the past, given you their priorities. Do you know what the top three might be from the past couple years?
MR. GLAVINE: I am actually familiar with a couple of those because they make a point to meet almost monthly with the deputy minister. I sometimes get in for part of their meetings. Number one is patient-centred health care. Number two is to monitor the recommendations of SHIFT. SHIFT will have a report card, and the Group IX will be monitoring and watching that report card.
Financial and pension security and retirement is one of their issues and rightfully so. We have a large aging demographic, but we also have people who are poor as seniors. They live on the OAS and the supplement or a very, very small private pension. Pension security and longevity - many people perhaps didn’t plan that we would be extending life as we have.
Facilitating the participation of seniors in Nova Scotia’s economy is one that our department engages in. We have had two outstanding targeted senior Silver Economy Summits to get ideas on how seniors are staying in the workforce for one thing but, more importantly, taking their entrepreneurial business ideas and bring them into fruition.
The fifth area is support for caregivers, and I know that they’ll be very pleased with the expansion of the caregiver program. I would say right off they have Caregivers Nova Scotia to come to their meetings and background them on what developments are emerging with caregivers. I’m not sure if this was a practice of the past, but since becoming Minister of Seniors, I meet with the chairman and get face to face with their priorities and what solutions they see to the priorities that they have brought forward. I want to know if in different departments, some of their priorities are already being talked about or in program development. It’s a great two-way street that we have with the Group of IX in terms of their priorities.
MS. ADAMS: I, too, think the world of all of them, and I think they have tremendous information. When I was on CARP, we did a survey to ask them what their primary health concerns were. There were three things that stood out. The others weren’t even close to being on the radar for everyone. They are no surprise, I’m sure. They are specialist wait times - especially orthopaedic specialists - then access to the surgery once you have seen the specialist, and then access to a family doctor if you’re one of those without one.
I know that getting access to more surgeries is important, and I know that we’re trying to increase the number of orthopaedic surgeries that are going to be done in this province. Of course, I’m from Dartmouth, so I know what’s going on at the Dartmouth General Hospital.
One of the things we talked about during the health care questions over there is that we look at surgery sometimes as what’s going to fix things, but that is only step one. When people are in the hospital, and they’re having finally their surgery, they have probably spent a couple of months, if not several years, going downhill. There were things that we could have done while they were going downhill that we didn’t do.
This morning, I was on CBC Radio on a show called the Current, and the topic was seniors and falls. My phone has been flooded with phone calls ever since. I said I did 39 falls prevention talks before I became an MLA in the previous year. I started every talk off by saying, I watched you all walk in the room, and I know which of you is going to have a fall this year. Then they would all pay very close attention to what was coming after that. Of course, the radio announcer said, give me a few examples, and I did. I explained that the speed with which somebody walks is a predictor of their fall rate, the length of step that they take, how wide the base of their feet are, and how slowly they get up from a chair. Just be forewarned - if you stand up in front of me, I’m going to be watching you. Suzanne has heard this talk before, so I’ll bet you she’s been practising her exercises.
Health professionals like physiotherapists and occupational therapists see falls and frailty coming months and years ahead of time. When I see somebody who has had a fall, and you have just picked them up and dusted them off and said, let’s just forget about it, I know how soon the next one is coming. There are so many things we could have done while they were waiting for those surgeries or while they were waiting for those specialist appointments that we are not doing.
The woman who was asking me if I wanted to do the talk this morning asked, is this why you ran for politics? I thought about it, and I thought, I know we have to move towards keeping people in their homes - I understand that - but we aren’t ready. The people who are expected to take care of seniors are family who are either not there or not trained or don’t have the equipment, and they certainly don’t have the knowledge.
When we look at priorities, we are reactive. You have the fall, you break the hip, and now we are going to put services in the home. I did mention on the air that a CCA who goes into the home to help somebody often does too good a job. They are there to try to make the senior’s life easier. What they do is, they take over, and now the senior is sitting doing absolutely nothing. Then the physios come in, and we try to get them to let them do some of the regular tasks - let them put away the dishes and make them plastic if they need to, let them fold the laundry, let them do anything that gets them up and out of the chair. But we don’t do it until after they have had the fall.
We have a falls clinic that actually has a rule that you can’t get into the clinic until you have already had two falls. That’s the equivalent, to me, of saying you can’t go to the dentist until you can prove you have a cavity. We don’t do that for most things. We do eye checkups from the time kids are little.
Health professionals are so often called in after something has gone wrong. We don’t have standardized frailty screening. There are nine levels of frailty, created by Dr. Rockwood from here, who is a specialist in Alzheimer’s. It predicts who is going to fall.
For the Alzheimer’s Society, another occupational therapist and I created a program that is online and free. It says, if you are at frailty level four, here is the equipment you need in the home. Here is the advice we give you as a caregiver. Here’s the way to transfer somebody, if you have an issue. People are creating those kinds of resources through little grants, and the Alzheimer’s Society used one of the grants that you gave them. But we’re not using it first, we’re using it last.
The question is, has the department sensed from the Group IX and from other agencies a push towards trying to be looking at seniors? I call them motor vehicle inspections. The way we look at vision - we don’t wait until you go blind to look at your eyes. We don’t wait for your teeth to fall out before you check your teeth. But we wait for somebody to have a fall before we assess their mobility.
I’ll add just one thing while it is on my mind. Right now, we have a wonderful program where if you fall in your home in this province, you call 911, they will come to your home, they will pick you up, they will leave you, and they will not charge you for that visit. It’s the best thing that ever happened in this province as far as seniors went. Then nothing happens. The doctor is not notified. The kids aren’t told. There is no referral to have someone go out to the home to see if they maybe tripped over something. The impact of falls, the cost to the health care system in terms of people admitted to hospital is astronomical. A fall puts more seniors in the hospital than any other illness, yet they have that fall and then dead silence.
After all of that, I am going to ask the minister if there is an opportunity here to start looking at a simple program - once a year or once very two years - where every senior gets their balance checked with their doctor or a clinical nurse practitioner, or every senior is given a half-hour visit with a physio. I do fall clinics. In 30 minutes, I can tell them what their fall rate is. I can give them exercises and head them out the door. I’m just going to stop talking and let the minister take it from there.
MR. GLAVINE: This is almost more of a dialogue perhaps than a question. I certainly regard the expertise my colleague has in that particular area.
I would say I certainly hope to do more in the Department of Seniors and the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage around health promotion and disease prevention than I probably could do as Minister of Health and Wellness. As the Minister of Health and Wellness, you’re the lead of an orchestra of 24,000 people to deliver health care. That is so encompassing. My former colleague used to describe going to the Minister of Health and Wellness’s office each day as standing under Niagara Falls, with so many things constantly coming at you.
This province - along with Florida, as the deputy minister keeps reminding me - has the oldest population in North America. There’s another reality about our population. Almost two years ago, we did a population health study, a population profile. It is online. In almost all categories, we are the wrong number one in the country. We are number one in all those deleterious diseases, chronic conditions: 8 per cent of Cape Breton and Western Nova Scotia have five or more chronic diseases. As a whole, we are an unhealthy population, which is part of the falls area.
Turning this around to a healthy population is the major balancing act that we have to do with the aging demographic and an unhealthy population. I would recommend that all of us as MLAs take a look at that study that was done. There are comparatives to the national picture. That’s why we have a pretty accurate picture of where we stand in so many different areas.
I attribute it to a population that has not seen a strong active lifestyle as one of the mitigations against that decline in agility, the decline in balance, the decline in mental processing. Those are certainly factors. It’s now becoming apparent as well to the federal government and Health Canada that we have to engage in an even stronger program than the old ParticipACTION program. Very shortly, we’ll be rolling out both a national and provincial initiative called Let’s Get Moving.
You’re absolutely right - we are not as preventive and proactive as we need to be. It’s right that the trained eye, the person with training, can identify falls. We have a frail population, in my view, way too soon. That does lend itself to costly orthopaedic work in our province. In fact, part of the reason for having to expand was not only with orthopaedic hips and knees that wear out but also the number of falls due to osteoporosis and a frail population.
One of the things that Nova Scotians told us, in terms of developing the SHIFT document, was that we had to develop healthier lifestyles right across the lifespan but in particular for seniors. If seniors are going to age well and capture some elements of what is often referred to as the golden years, they have to become much more active. I believe some of that SHIFT document, as it becomes more embedded in our population - the up and coming generation of not just doctors but all health professionals is going to become more educated on prevention and proactivity towards a healthier life.
I’m a senior - I don’t mind saying that. When I walked into my new doctor’s office, her first message to me was, I am going to work with you on preventive medicine. Look, I nearly dropped. It’s not part of their training, not part of their thinking. It was to deal with disease. This doctor said, you will be getting this test, this test, and this test, which give me a baseline to prevent three or four of the most common ailments, diseases, associated with the very act of getting old.
What a different perspective and frame of mind. Every time I spoke with doctors, I put out that challenge. What tip did you give the patient who saw you today about becoming healthier? In most cases, we were asking the wrong person. We needed to be talking to a dietitian. We needed to be talking to a nurse practitioner who was engaged in a plan for better-quality aging. Now we have life coaches who also embrace better physical well-being.
You’re talking about a big area that has many tentacles, many dimensions. I believe it’s important to address falls, no question. Much bigger and more important - I did get myself into trouble in my first two weeks as Health and Wellness Minister because I said every Nova Scotian, no matter their socio-economic position, can do at least small things to be healthier, and that is a truth. That is a universal truth in my view. We absolutely don’t need a gym pass. This is why I’m a promoter and a believer of what we have stated in SHIFT, that it is incumbent upon all Nova Scotians to be participants, partners with our doctor or health provider, in staying as healthy as long as we can.
God bless those CCAs, LPNs, and RNs who go into homes and can be that first set of eyes to take a look at unsafe practices in the home, obstacles in the home that can lead to falls, and also that analysis of the gait of the senior to change perhaps some of the practices. A great deal of work has gone on at the Centre on Aging to actually promote and have steps to assist seniors in reducing the risk of living at home. I have always said, as much as I promote aging in place and staying at home as long as possible - I never said it without talking about how we have to do it safely. We have to do it without risk.
That’s why we have moved the budget for home care from $300 million to $366 million. We are on the cusp of being able to look after seniors with a better outcome to be able to stay in their homes. It’s going to require more professional training of our CCAs, LPNs, and RNs to make sure that they’re focused in the right place in terms of especially our frail seniors. That’s a little bit for SHIFT, the Department of Seniors, some of Health and Wellness, and some of Communities, Culture and Heritage.
We have moved to a very, very interesting place, from my perspective, over the last five years. Most of our reports now are the work of multiple departments. This is one of those areas that is not the domain of one department or just the government of the day. It has to be way more far-reaching and embrace a whole array of partners to develop healthy communities. That’s great symmetry.
We removed the Department of Seniors out of the Department of Health and Wellness. I hope it never returns there because I believe that healthy communities for seniors are absolutely the way that we have to go. We have started some very interesting, innovative work with our seniors. There’s a great deal more to go.
MS. ADAMS: I couldn’t agree more. I think I said it last time, and I’m going to say it again. Your budget isn’t big enough.
MR. GLAVINE: That’s right. That’s right, yes. I would add to that, if you don’t mind, just very quickly that this is the one thing that, when you look at Pharmacare, Housing, and Community Services, there’s a whole lot more for seniors that’s not with the Seniors Department.
We want the Seniors Department to specialize and target programs that we can say are absolutely making a difference. We now have not just communities but - through the Seniors Safety Programs, which you’re familiar with - age-friendly communities. They’re embracing and looking at what are practices for the whole county that we can do better.
In some ways, as the deputy minister would say, we’re influence peddlers. If we can influence better outcomes across all levels of government and different departments, then we can say we’re doing some of our major work. That’s what we want to see through the SHIFT document over the next five years. There’s a report card to keep us in check as we’re doing this particular work.
MS. ADAMS: I probably will be asking this of the Minister of Community Services as well, but it’s often me or my staff who make recommendations for home renovations for seniors when the doors aren’t wide enough to get a walker through into the bathroom. When we’re talking about home adaptations like ramps, one ramp can be $12,000 to go in depending on how high your steps are. I know right now that the cut-off for those programs - you have to earn very little income in order to be able to benefit from those programs. Our senior population is going to double over the next couple of decades. Would it not make sense to increase the number of people who are eligible for those grants? If we can keep you in your home for one more year, that grant would pay for itself if we kept you out of a long-term care facility, or if you didn’t need a CCA to help you get in and out of the doors.
I’m specifically thinking about the home renovation grants for those with disabilities. Most of the people who I know who need them don’t qualify for them because the cut-off for income is so low. The irony is that we need people to keep working, but if somebody has to leave work to look after a loved one in order to qualify for those grants, we’re sort of shooting ourselves in the foot.
I’m just wondering if your department is working with the Department of Community Services to try to look at raising those grant levels so that more people can stay home. A bathroom renovation is $10,000, and a ramp is somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000.
MR. GLAVINE: You raise a wonderfully important point. Those home assists, whether it’s low tech like a ramp or some other high tech that we can bring into a home for seniors, are certainly very, very important.
Over the last four years, since becoming government, we have increased, by a total of $20 million to $25 million, support for assists, repairs, and ramps into a home. We’re using the federal low-income threshold at the moment, but there are a lot of eyes on our province, as a leader in the aging demographic. I believe as minister that we’re going to have to look at that so that we assist others who fall outside of that threshold at the moment. We’re giving that direct help. There’s generally one person in that local Community Services office who is almost like a specialist and has the knowledge of what’s required to put a ramp in, what the specs are when a carpenter or a company comes to do this.
Even when we make a comparison with well-off - until the last few years - Alberta, I know their minister was extremely proud the day that she announced there was a loan for a ramp. We’re way ahead of the game. We just need to make sure that we keep in step with the demographic that is aging. Not everybody has a pension, or a pension plan. We need to make sure that those lower-income people do get the help that they need.
We’re going to have to become much more aware. This is part of moving from an Office of Seniors to a dedicated department, having a deputy minister and a senior lead in that department. The work of Faizal and the whole department is critically important.
The statistic we have is that $16,117 is that low-income threshold. It did help about 7,600 Nova Scotian households with improving safety in the home. We’re on the right track. We know what is being done. We’re helping quite a number of thousands of seniors. To keep seniors in their home, there’s a lot of dedicated effort that will be required. We will see more in wheelchairs, and this is why we have Business ACCESS-Ability, to make sure that anybody in a wheelchair, our seniors in particular, will be able to access a wide range of services, community businesses, and all our community halls. That will allow for that to happen.
The target of 2030 to be a totally accessible province may seem long-range, but those 12 years will move by very quickly. We set a target not just to be fully accessible but to be a leader in the country. I know that we’ll continue to have a Speaker who will put this before us and programs of our government and future governments to provide greater access for all Nova Scotians both in their home and in their communities to have great access.
MS. ADAMS: I can appreciate that you need a long-range target to become fully accessible. I just did the math, and I’ll be 68 in 2030. It’s going to be right around the right time that I’m going to need it, so I appreciate that.
I will say again, though, that those renovations aren’t just for ramps, widening doorways, bathrooms, and things like that. There are all sorts of other expenses that go along with increasing frailty. We created a handout for each level of frailty, and I did the math in terms of dollar amount. If you’re at Frailty Level 1, 2, and 3, there’s no expense. You get around to Level 4 or 5, and it’s somewhere between $500 and $1,000. You get down to Frailty Levels 7, 8, and 9, and we’re in the tens of thousands. That doesn’t even include the CCA, LPN, private home care, physiotherapist, or occupational therapist. It doesn’t include any of that. One of the biggest frustrations for me is those who are on social assistance who can’t even afford a cane, which is $20 to $25.
When I was in Ontario three decades ago, they had the Assistive Devices Program, and people got free equipment. I’m just wondering if we have ever looked at having at least walkers and canes. A cane is $20 to $25. A two-wheel walker is about $120, and a four-wheel walker is about $280. If people had those devices at the right time, we could reduce health care costs dramatically.
People don’t know they need them because they’re not getting tested. It’s like how you don’t know you need glasses until you go to an eye doctor. You have to keep going back every couple of years to get re-examined and maybe get new glasses. We know that people move from a cane to a four-wheeled walker to a two-wheeled walker to a wheelchair. Even if we determined that they need it, some of them can’t afford it.
I know the Red Cross loans it out, but once you’re a senior, you don’t go from needing a walker down to needing nothing. I’m just wondering if there are any thoughts of having an assistive devices budget where people could be given the equipment early on in their frailty rather than waiting until they have a fracture and drop down several pegs into Frailty Levels 7, 8, and 9.
MR. GLAVINE: You mentioned Red Cross. For many Nova Scotians, that is an outstanding program. While I was the Health and Wellness Minister, I had the opportunity to look at the service they provide. Again, it’s one of excellence.
We’re just moving into that higher percentage of Nova Scotians who will have some kind of an assistive technology need. I know it will be one of those areas that we’ll certainly have to examine as to what more we can do in relation to what is being done by the wonderful organization that the Red Cross is. I thank the member for raising that and creating an awareness. That’s exactly why I gave strong kudos and accolades to the Group of IX today. They have often raised that when they hear from citizens and some of their retirees. As we know, disability goes right across the age span. Right now, as we focus on more and more seniors, it could become one of those areas that we’ll have to look into.
MS. ADAMS: Probably the last topic is getting information out to seniors. The most successful way is to go to a seniors’ group. If you hold a public lecture and invite them to come, they don’t go because they don’t drive at night. If it’s crappy weather, they’re not going anywhere. I have discovered I can offer the same lecture publicly, and four people show up, but if I go to a seniors’ group, there will be a captive audience of 60 there. We know that that’s the way to do it.
I have been bugging the Community Links group for years asking, why don’t we have a health channel, especially a seniors’ health channel, since 90 per cent of health care costs go to the oldest 10 per cent of us? The Arthritis Society took it upon themselves and got a grant to do an aging well program on Eastlink Podium TV. They had 10 different specialists come in to talk about various issues and health for seniors.
It was only on Eastlink, though. That was the only problem. If you didn’t have Eastlink, you were out of luck. They were wonderful, and the people who got to see them could watch them over and over again, because once you have it on your program, you can watch it any time you want.
I don’t understand why we have 12 shows on how to make cupcakes and decorate them and everything else, but we don’t have a health channel. I mentioned it to CARP. I mention it everywhere. The Arthritis Society were the first ones to take up the challenge (Interruption) I have been on Doc Talk with Dr. Gillis, so I’m not going to say anything there.
Every health professional is an educator. Every time we do a talk, I don’t know why we’re not taping everything. Some of us do the same thing 100 times. Every time I give a falls prevention talk, I get asked to do two more. The Arthritis Society asked me what I wanted to talk about. I said, I want to talk about this so we can tape it. Then of course, Eastlink has the rights to it, so we couldn’t put it on TV.
What I am promoting and asking for your consideration is - seniors get their information from TV and radio. Again, I was on the radio this morning, and I get calls from all over the province. They watch TV. Why do we not have a health channel? At 10 o’clock every morning, it’s diabetes; at 11 o’clock, it’s Alzheimer’s; and at 12 o’clock it’s something else. You have 28,000 health experts out there all talking. We get paid to talk - that’s where I learned to talk. Why don’t we have a health channel? I know they play it in the Health Authority on the TVs that are there. There is a channel. Why is it not a public channel? Seniors are not going to leave their home or leave their seniors’ group to go get the information. Attendance at public lectures is not the way to go.
I’m just wondering if the minister would consider having a provincial health channel, if not a national one, to help bring the information that is so readily available, through all the experts that we already have working for the Nova Scotia Health Authority. Now that we’re amalgamated, we have that opportunity. I’ll leave that with you.
MR. GLAVINE: First of all, how much time is left?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: About seven minutes.
MR. GLAVINE: Is that total for the day?
MS. ADAMS: No, that’s just me.
MR. GLAVINE: I was just wondering. That’s fine.
Thank you for raising that issue. We know that seniors are becoming more and more connected to the digital world. Baby boomers in particular will be well adapted to getting information in that manner. It’s a great topic for discussion across government departments to look at ways of bringing medical safety, seniors’ living tips, the risk factors in living at home alone, and so forth - these are all areas that require thoughtful consideration that require good, solid information. We know there are best practices. There is tremendous research in many of the areas that you have spoken about here today. It’s one of those areas to investigate. You made a good point about how seniors get their information - radio and TV.
When we actually did the SHIFT document, they went into the basements of churches, to really get into the community niches to get good reaction and consult with seniors, looking at ways of getting better information, timely information. Seniors want a weave of health through many aspects of the kind of information that they would be receiving. I thank the member for raising that point as we come to a conclusion of your questioning.
MS. ADAMS: The last thing that I’ll talk about is, we have fitness facilities for young people. A couple of things have happened in metro.
They opened up the Nova Scotia Rehabilitation Centre gym to allow people to go in and exercise there. I don’t know if everyone is aware of that, but you can pay a membership and go in there in the evening, and there are volunteers there. It has wheelchair-accessible equipment. There are parallel bars there. You can use the physiotherapy gym, which is massive for people who want to go into an environment that’s not suitable for most seniors. You can’t go into GoodLife and fit in there. Northwood also opened up a seniors’ exercise room, and it’s incredibly successful. It’s also subsidized - I think it’s only $25 a month. I don’t know if there’s anything else like that outside of metro.
If there isn’t, to my mind - all of the low-income housing that has seniors buildings, I do free lectures in there. I asked if they had any exercise equipment in all of those low-income seniors buildings in metro, and I was told they didn’t because of liability issues. The Berkeley and the Parkland have exercise rooms with seniors there. They have somehow figured out the liability issue. I mentioned it to the Minister of Community Services, and she said, that’s good idea - I should steal it. I said, by all means, take it.
What I’m hoping we move towards is giving seniors a place to go to exercise that’s indoors. Once it gets cold - they can’t do uneven surfaces and hills and ramps and things. There’s an opportunity to promote increased access to a fitness facility for seniors. We have Nubody’s everywhere. My son is 28, and he’s in great shape. My mother, who is 88, lives right next door to a GoodLife, and she’s not going to be caught dead in there.
If there was a facility that she could go to that was more age appropriate, I could go there with her. We don’t have that right now except for those two places. (Interruption)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. The member for Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage has the floor.
MS. ADAMS: I’m sure there are other locations, perhaps the Canada Games Centre, that might also offer some of those programs. Even in Eastern Passage, we have outdoor equipment for seniors. I know they have them around, but once it gets cold nobody is going there, and I don’t want them walking on slippery grass to get there.
I’m just wondering if we are moving in that direction. My aunt is going to Zumba with her three daughters, but my mother will not go because she says she won’t fit into the tights. I’m just wondering if we are moving in that direction of greater indoor recreation for seniors. I would rather prevent the illness before it happens.
MR. GLAVINE: That is one of the goals of the SHIFT approach for seniors. We really want to make sure, at the municipal level, that there are as many opportunities as communities will allow.
I know two or three communities in the Valley are fortunate to have aquacize. That is tremendous for seniors. It is low impact, and it is one that they absolutely gravitate towards. We need to use all the facilities available. For example, they are using the Youth Centre in Waterville, where there is an indoor pool, Acadia University, and 14 Wing Greenwood. These are places in the Valley that they use.
In the rural areas, maybe we are a little bit more creative and so forth. We have seniors’ clubs that would go to a Legion. We have seniors who meet for low-impact exercise in a church basement or in an activity centre. We are using a great deal. The Age-Friendly Communities Grants, if we chronicle down through those, you will see that they are actually given to seniors’ groups because sometimes it really is advanced by having an instructor who can take them to that workout safely.
We are promoting many more sports as lifelong activities. I believe that is something that we never quite envisioned years ago. One of the ones that I have enjoyed taking a look at is slow-movement soccer. There is a soccer program for seniors now, where you just take a couple of steps. It’s not running; it’s walking.
I have been aware of the 55+ Games, but I participated myself in the 55+ Games this year on the South Shore. I was amazed at the number of people who saw this as another opportunity, a goal that they could work towards, something that they would participate in year after year.
I think we are on the cusp of some good things, but you are right. Investment in facilities has to be part of that advancement in giving people what is now the buzzword: movement. It is not so much about what you are doing, but by goodness, I’ll tell you from my own experience - if it is something that you enjoy, the chances of staying with it are that much greater than what a gym pass could ever offer.
Getting seniors out for that walk, as we develop the trails in this province - I forget the number of kilometres, but we are getting connectivity to more and more of the Trans-Canada Trail throughout our province. I think those are going to be areas that our seniors will grow into. They can get on the bike, they can get on cross-country skis, or they can get out for a walk on a section of the trail.
We have some classic trails in our province. The Aspotogan, for example, has exceptional scenery. The more we develop all of our facilities and have our seniors doing some activity, we will be better off health-wise and will be building healthier communities.
MS. ADAMS: Thank you very much. I appreciate this conversation. I’m going to duck out to the washroom, but I’m going to concede my time because I’m having a senior moment. I’m going to pass my time over to the member for Sackville-Cobequid.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson for the NDP caucus.
HON. DAVID WILSON: I appreciate the engagement my colleague has on this issue.
I have a couple of questions. I know we don’t have a lot of time, but I am more than happy to let my colleagues use some of the time if they have a couple of questions.
Just finishing off in the last hour, when I was asking questions, we were talking about SHIFT and the $26 million for seniors’ housing and acknowledged that that budget comes through the Department of Community Services. I just want to ask the minister - I know it has been an area where we as a Party have criticized the government on their approach to housing issues when pertaining to long-term care. The minister can go on at length about the benefits of keeping people in their homes longer and supporting home care and increasing that budget. I agree 100 per cent with that, but there are a number of Nova Scotians who do eventually need long-term care placement.
I know about the change in the criteria and that there was a reduction in the number of people on the list. I completely understand that, but there are well over 1,000 people still waiting. In the engagement of this department with the Group of IX and other seniors’ groups, have you heard from them that there is a need to possibly look at changing the approach that the government has taken the last four or five years around not creating long-term care beds and looking at potential? I think the door was finally opened a little bit with recent comments from the Minister of Health and Wellness and the Premier, but I know the initiatives and the priority have been home care.
Have you been hearing that from those seniors groups that would, I think, agree with the approach of investing in home care? But I think you do have to recognize that there are some who need to be in long-term care, and they are in our hospitals now. There are several hundred of them right now and then, of course, the 1,000 on the list who are waiting for placements.
I’m just wondering if that door might be open. Are you going to help open that door a little more, as the minister for the Department of Seniors, knowing that there is a need? I don’t think anyone in the Legislature would say that we are not going to need long-term care beds. I just wonder if you have a call on that, and then I will hand it over to my colleagues.
MR. GLAVINE: I know this is aligned and integrated with the Minister of Seniors. Being a former Health and Wellness Minister and as an MLA, we know that there still remain about 1,000 on the list. I know that, right now, we are second or third in the country on a per capita basis. We have the aging demographic, which we are the leader in the country on.
When we took a look at the needs of seniors as they required greater amounts of care, we knew that we could never build enough nursing homes based on how people were arriving in nursing homes. I visited about 75 of our nursing homes across the province. Pretty well every administrator said, we could help you out with that 2,563 that you first announced as the number waiting for nursing home beds. We could help you out if we didn’t have people in the home who probably could have delayed their entry into the home, but for whatever the reason - they’re pushed by family, by doctor, or whoever. But I had most of the administrators say that once there, of course, the commitment to them to provide care was there.
I think that is a reality that we had to come to grips with and say that we need people in nursing homes who need that higher level of care on a continuing basis. We had to respond and address to what every survey said - help us stay in our home as long as possible.
We were meeting the desire, and we were also addressing the higher needs that we will always have. We will end up with a demographic where about 30 per cent of our population will be that traditional senior, if you wish - over 65 - at one time. As they age, and longevity being longer - all of those factors and components, we will have to look at a few of the hot spots in the province where there may very well be a need for more nursing home beds. The commitment is to provide a high quality of home care and balance that with the roughly 7,500 beds that we currently have and look to see whether there are a few areas that do need a higher level of support.
I think we also recognize as a government that we have some homes that do need refurbishment. We will start to see, even as early as when the continuing care refresh comes out, that we will probably be addressing nursing homes, home care, and keeping couples together in a home. All of these areas, I believe, need some definitive statements. I would say to the member, you certainly will see something in the Continuing Care Strategy, which is not too far away.
MR. DAVID WILSON: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We will now turn it over to the Liberal caucus. Ms. DiCostanzo.
MS. RAFAH DICOSTANZO: I want to start by apologizing because I know that I am not supposed to speak, but I got excited because I have been involved a lot with the Canada Games Centre and the wonderful programs that the Department of Health and Wellness and the Canada Games Centre are doing for seniors. There are walks. There are so many things. I just want to compliment both the Departments of Health and Wellness and Seniors for a lot of the programs, especially in continuing care.
They are trying to be proactive in preventative health. It is really the mentality that is evolving. I see that, and we have been wishing for that for years. I truly see that in the last three or four years, working in health and hospitals, all the programs that are available.
The only issue is, we need people to hear about them and we need to involve them. As MLAs, we can help with that. As we knock on the doors, we can tell them. In my riding, I think I have the highest number of seniors just because I have 100 apartment buildings. It has become a place seniors are coming to. If we have the facilities for active living, it is wonderful.
When you started about transportation, I was really excited. My mother and my family live in Oakfield. At age 75, she started to lose her sight because of macular degeneration, and it really took her freedom. That was the biggest thing.
There is a program - I wish I knew the whole details, but my sister helps her - similar to what you have described, a taxi. She has to call a couple of days before and say, I need to go to church from this time to this time. She is allowed to cancel up to a certain time, and she pays $3. That kind of a service has given her such freedom. It was lovely. Once she lost the car, she had that taxi service for seniors. I’m not sure what the program is called, but I’m assuming it is similar to what you’re trying to do. I think it would be a wonderful thing, a really wonderful thing.
Could you explain your program and how it works? Is it the private sector that’s driving it, or are you still working that out?
MR. GLAVINE: Thank you very much for that observation and the information around the phenomenal facility of the Canada Games Centre. It’s interesting that that was built for youth and the Canada Games. That was primarily what it was constructed for, but it’s a legacy project that’s now helping all of our population. What is interesting is that many of our facilities were primarily directed for youth physical activity.
As I said earlier in one of my statements, the baby boom generation have worked to shape every part of the lifespan they have gone though. In fact, SHIFT uses a line to ensure that older adults are seen as a priority population for physical activity and regular exercise. That’s a reshaping and a rethinking, as opposed to seniors doing everything at a much lower level. Maybe activity was not promoted in the past. Making our facilities open and having engagement of our seniors with targeted and directed programs, I think, is a great advance.
In terms of transportation to get seniors to those locations, we’re going to see expansion with several million dollars right off for community transpiration. There will be fixed routes, obviously, to get started. There will be marketing of where they are.
Rural communities in particular really need the flexibility of designing routes that will pick up adults at particular times because there’s different events going on in their communities. We’re hearing of Uber, so therefore more individualized, more flexible opportunities are going to be there. Dial-a-Ride is a program that is available. I know that we have some best practices that do exist around the province, and we’ll continue to build on those.
What I do like is the fact that the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, primarily a co-partner with the Department of Seniors, is to roll out that community transportation. We’re going to see more routes available and smaller not-for- profit companies that will get involved in that all-important piece to assist our seniors.
Age-friendly communities are really the advance planning for the community’s future. We’re all starting to talk about communities that now have X percentage of their population - I don’t like that they use the 65-and-over stat. In the Valley for example, there are five communities now where 25 per cent of their population are classified as seniors. We’re going to see more and more planning that will accommodate that senior population.
We’re providing grants to communities and to organizations to assist with the development of age-friendly communities, along with transportation. We’re starting to see that true shift towards appropriate programs and supports to communities to make sure our seniors get to the wonderful facility that you have just mentioned, and there are many others of course, across the province.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Jessome.
MR. BEN JESSOME: Thank you for keeping up the effort here in Estimates for day two. There has been some good discussion. I would like to say how lucky we are to be in a democracy, where we have the opportunity to do something like this. As members, we have a little more engaged role than the general public, but collectively, it’s important to highlight that we do live in a democracy and have an opportunity to ask these types of questions.
Before I ask a question, I did want to put on the record that there’s a gentleman from my home community of Hammonds Plains-Lucasville, a Haliburton Hills resident, and some of you may be familiar with John Hamblin. He’s a gentleman who extends himself to support the silver economy and help seniors who need some assistance in modernizing their abilities technologically, or perhaps they’re transitioning their careers or what have you. I just wanted to put it on the record that he’s a gentleman who does spend a demonstrable amount of time committed - I see the minister nodding over there. I think he and his colleagues at the table here may be familiar with Mr. Hamblin’s work. I just wanted to make mention of that in advance of asking my questions.
I’m actually going to shift gears a little. I don’t believe that we touched on this. I just wanted to ask in advance of my question, how much longer do we have?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: There’s less than three minutes, so the minister needs one minute.
MR. JESSOME: Okay, maybe I’ll ask my questions offline and allow the minister to make some closing remarks (Interruption)
In the interest of your devotion to promoting healthy living throughout the province and encouraging people to play a proactive role in maintaining their own health - for many that comes in the form of sport. I would just like to ask you, what has your involvement been as the Minister of Seniors, or what has your attachment been to the 55+ Games? It may be as a member as well. If it has, what has your experience been with the 55+ Games?
MR. GLAVINE: Our department recognizes the value of the 55+ Games, and we have supported them with financial support from the Department of Seniors.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: One minute.
MR. GLAVINE: I want to thank everybody for engagement. I see being Minister of Seniors as the quintessential non-partisan area. We as a community need to make sure we support our seniors.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Shall Resolution E38 stand?
Resolution E38 stands.
This pretty well wraps up our meeting today. Did you want to thank your staff?
MR. GLAVINE: That’s the most important part of this last few seconds . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Order. Time has lapsed.
The committee is adjourned.
[The subcommittee adjourned at 4:30 p.m.]