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Seniors’ Series: A Seniors’ Advocate for Ontario?

Bill 196: https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-42/session-1/bill-196

When the Ontario legislature returns this month, one matter for it to consider will be the creation of a provincial Seniors’ Advocate. Bill 196, a private member’s bill that was introduced in July by MPP Laura Mae Lindo, would enact a Seniors’ Advocate Act in Ontario. The bill, which would establish an independent officer called the Seniors’ Advocate, takes influence from existing legislation in British Columbia.[1]

As reported by CBC News,[2] Lindo has explained that the purpose of the Seniors’ Advocate would be to identify and report on systemic issues affecting seniors, and to “as a consequence… push the government to actually make the changes that are needed.” The bill is inspired at least in part by the COVID-19 pandemic,[3] which has sharply highlighted many vulnerabilities faced by seniors, especially those in long-term care homes. Lindo has stated that seniors and their families have felt, “alone in their advocacy” during the pandemic, and believes that many would welcome the aid of an independent officer.

The specific provisions of the proposed Seniors’ Advocate Act include the following:

  • Section 2 would establish “a Seniors’ Advocate who is an independent officer of the [Legislative] Assembly.”
    • The Seniors’ Advocate would be mandated to monitor the provision of seniors’ services, analyze the impacts of the government’s policies on seniors, analyze issues of importance to seniors generally, and “advocate in the interests of seniors and their family members who act as caregivers.”
    • The Seniors’ Advocate would also be permitted to identify and analyze systemic issues facing seniors, promote awareness of these issues, collaborate with others to improve the delivery of services to seniors, advice the government and service providers “respecting changes to improve the welfare of seniors,” and refer individual complaint to more appropriate bodies to address them.
  • Section 3 would require the Seniors’ Advocate to advise the government and certain other persons on systemic issues affecting seniors, to make certain reports to the public and the government, and to prepare an annual report to the Legislative Assembly that would be available to the public.
  • Section 4 would permit the Seniors’ Advocate to establish an Advisory Council that would advise on “the performance of the functions of the Seniors’ Advocate”.
  • Section 5 would grant the Seniors’ Advocate a limited power to compel the production of certain information from “a person or body that funds or delivers seniors’ services,” including the Crown.
  • Sections 7 and 8 would establish that the Seniors’ Advocate is to be appointed by the Legislative Assembly or a panel of some of its members, is to serve up to two terms of five years each, and is to continue in office until a successor or temporary Seniors’ Advocate is appointed.

Lindo is an opposition MPP, and the government has so far not committed its support to Bill 196. A spokesperson told CBC News in July that the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility “look[s] forward to [Lindo’s] interest in our ongoing and upcoming initiatives”[4] to help Ontario’s seniors.

BC established its Seniors’ Advocate in 2014. This office provides information and reports on seniors’ issues on its website,[5]  and is extensively involved in research and advocacy in this area. The BC Seniors’ Advocate has taken an active role in addressing the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and has recently launched a survey on the effects that visitor restrictions have had on residents of assisted living facilities.[6]

Isolation and vulnerability are frequent and well-known problems facing seniors throughout Canada, and the pandemic has exacerbated these problems by restricting many seniors’ access to their usual support systems, as well as threatening their physical health. These circumstances create worrying conditions for such issues as neglect and elder abuse to arise; issues that WEL has addressed extensively in its recent book on elder law. The government’s approach to seniors’ issues, whether or not it includes the existence of a Seniors’ Advocate, will be important to watch in the months ahead.

[1] Seniors’ Advocate Act, SBC 2013, c 15

[2] CBC News Kitchener-Waterloo, “Kitchener MPP Laura Mae Lindo introduces bill to create seniors’ advocate,” July 9, 2020

[3] Robert Williams, “Kitchener Centre MPP pushing for seniors’ advocate in Ontario,” Waterloo Region Record, July 7, 2020

[4] CBC News Kitchener-Waterloo, supra note 2

[5] https://www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca/

[6] CBC News British Columbia, “Survey launched to gauge hardship on seniors in care homes during pandemic,” August 26, 2020

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