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An interview with Filomena Tassi, Federal Minister of Seniors

In the latest issue of Trillium magazine (Summer 2019, Vol 20, No.1), QCC Executive Director Lesley Brown spoke with both the federal and provincial minsters responsible for seniors to find out what their key objectives that their ministries are working on to address issues for seniors in Canada.  Building dedicated programs that are relevant to seniors is an important area of focus for QCC.

Tell us about the New Horizon’s Grant program and how that will contribute to improving the lives of seniors.

The New Horizons for Seniors Grant program supports projects up to $25,000 designed by and for seniors who make a difference in the lives of others and their communities. I really believe that we need to unlock the gifts and talents of our seniors so that our society can benefit from their incredible knowledge, skills, wisdom and experiences.

This program also provides funds to help organizations provide seniors a more secure and dignified retirement by helping them stay independent. It funds necessary improvements to seniors’ facilities, or the purchase of replacement equipment and furnishings, to enable seniors to continue to participate actively in our communities to the benefit of younger generations, new Canadians and many others. New Horizons for Seniors is about generational continuity and cultural continuity – enabling seniors to continue playing a big role in the Canadian communities they have worked so hard to build.

What are you hearing about the issues from seniors across Canada?

Our seniors have been very active in telling me what they think. The top issues that I have heard back were: income security, affordable housing, isolation, elder abuse and fraud, access to health care. Other things that I have heard are: caregiver support and the importance of accessible, efficient transportation and pharmacare.

What are the key objectives that your Ministry is working on to address issues for seniors in Canada?

Seniors across the country tell me that income security is a major concern. We’ve responded to what we have heard by lowering the age of eligibility for OAS and GIS from 67 to 65, keeping 100,000 seniors from falling into poverty. We increased the top-up to GIS for the most vulnerable single seniors who can now get up almost $1000 more per year. To make sure that seniors are getting all the benefits that they are entitled to, we instituted automatic enrollment for the GIS – this has impacted the lives of 210,000 seniors in Canada.

Affordable housing is another issue that is important to Canadian seniors. The National Housing Strategy constitutes an investment of $40 billion over 10 years for affordable housing across Canada, seniors are a particular point of focus for this strategy.

Health care is on everyone’s minds, seniors included. We have invested $6 billion in home care and palliative care and Budget 2019 has allocated $50 million for the implementation of our National Dementia Strategy, which we will be launching shortly. Budget 2019 has also created the Canada Drug Agency, which is setting to work on creating a national formulary which will help reduce the price of prescription drugs. I am eagerly awaiting Dr. Eric Hoskins’ report on Pharmacare, which will become public soon as well.

Finally, making sure that seniors are engaged in their communities and not subject to abuse is critically important. This is why we increased funding to the New Horizons for Seniors Program by $100 million over 5 years.

Our government is working hard to ensure that seniors have income security, affordable housing, good health care and that they are participating in their communities the way they tell us they want to. We have achieved much and there is still more to do. I am excited to keep working with and for Canadian seniors help them enjoy the retirements that they earned with a lifetime of hard work.

Can you tell us about the senior’s Strategy?

Canada’s life expectancy has doubled over the last century. That means that the number of seniors has grown significantly, as well as the length of time that people live in retirement. This is a new situation for us to understand and come to terms with. We do need to plan to maximize the quality of life and engagement of our growing senior population. We need to make sure that they are an integral part of our economy, society and culture. I am hearing from many of the seniors groups that I talk to that a national strategy would help make sure that Canada’s seniors are independent and engaged citizens; that they lead healthy and active lives; that person-centered, quality care is available as close to home as possible and that caregivers – friends and family – are supported. The idea of a national seniors strategy is currently being studied by the National Seniors Council and I am eagerly awaiting their recommendations. We want Canada to be the best place in the world to be a senior.

What is most important to you in achieving in your mandate within the senior’s portfolio?

I think that most important of all is to make sure that our seniors enjoy the secure and dignified retirement that they have earned through their lifetime of hard work and contributions to every sector of our economy, culture, politics and nation. I have witnessed countless seniors who are very vibrant, dynamic people who chose to work well into their retirement years and continue to be pillars of their families and communities, providing mentorship, advice and support to younger generations as well as to their senior peers. That is what I want for Canada’s seniors – that each person have a happy, connected life and secure life where they are as engaged in the life of their community’s as they want to be!

What types of mechanisms are you using to capture the voice of seniors?

I have criss-crossed the country, visiting about 200 communities, since I was given the honour of being Canada’s Minister of Seniors. I have attended town hall meetings, given public speeches, attended small gatherings in community centers and places of worship. I also meet periodically with organizations that represent seniors, such as the Quarter Century Club and the Canadian Association of Retired People and many others, including the health organizations and community living organizations who sometimes house and care for our seniors. As well, I receive many ideas through digital channels from Canada’s seniors, their families and friends – our seniors are very digitally savvy. In fact, I have been told that one of the faster growing demographics in use of social media is seniors. I am listening to seniors and bringing their voice to government decision-making.