Alistair MacGregor column: Standing up for seniors

Across Canada, seniors are scared.

By Alistair MacGregor

Across Canada, seniors are scared. Our nation’s elders, who have spent their entire lives working, paying taxes, and building communities, are now facing their time of need. However, the message that I’m hearing from numerous constituents across the riding is that now, when the need for support is most critical, our nation’s seniors are falling through the cracks. So far, all that individual Canadian seniors have received is a one-time payment of $300 for those eligible for OAS, and an additional $200 for those who qualify for GIS. In most places here in the riding, $500 won’t even cover a month’s rent.

This lack of meaningful support is unacceptable. More than that, it is actively harmful, and it will be our nation’s elders who are hurt by what is effectively government negligence.

“A one-time deal is shameful. I was in tears, it is so disrespectful. Groceries have increased, the cost of medications have increased; seniors now need to go to the pharmacy three times as often to fill their prescriptions,” said Laurie, a 55-year-old constituent. “A lot of seniors have no investments. A lot don’t qualify for GIS. A lot were single parents, who spent years working two or three jobs, and who now need support. Three hundred dollars, a one-time deal, it isn’t enough. My food bank hamper is probably 60 per cent less due to COVID-19, and a lot of seniors rely on that to simply survive.”

My NDP colleagues and I are fighting hard for a number of tangible policies that would support this nation’s seniors. A universal basic income of $2,000 a month would create a safety net for both seniors and other vulnerable Canadians, and the existing OAS/GIS structure can effectively be utilized to distribute enhanced benefits to seniors needing additional support. However, a one-time payment of only $300 to individual seniors is not enough. This is especially true because large, multi-national corporations of tremendous value can access federal funding, including those that have used offshore tax havens to hide from paying their fair share in taxes.

The cost of food keeps going up, as do the expenses for much-needed prescriptions, which underlines the need for a comprehensive, public, universal, and national pharmacare plan. As one 79-year-old resident stated, “we’re all in the same boat, and $300 isn’t really that helpful given the cost of food. It doesn’t go very far, but it is better than nothing.”

COVID-19 has also laid bare the problems with Canada’s long-term care homes. More than 80 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada happened in long term care — one of the highest proportions of death in long term care in the world. The federal government has a role in solving this problem; we must provide proper funding and, while working with the provinces and territories, set national standards so all seniors across the country can age in dignity.

The people who built Canada into what it is today need our support. The federal government must lead the way in showing that our nation’s seniors are not an afterthought, but a priority; they deserve nothing less.

Alistair MacGregor is the Member of Parliament for Cowichan-Malahat-Langford.

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