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Seniors’ Series: What the Throne Speech Said about Seniors

Full Text of the September 23, 2020 Speech from the Throne, via the National Post: https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/liberal-governments-2020-throne-speech-full-text

The recent Speech from the Throne focused primarily on the COVID-19 pandemic, acknowledged its effects on various parts of Canadian society, and briefly described some of the government’s plans to address those effects going forward.

This series has focused extensively on the pandemic’s effects on seniors, particularly in the long-term care system. Previous entries have noted:

  • that a large majority of Canada’s COVID-19 deaths have taken place in long-term care;
  • that although long-term care receives public funding, many of the homes are privately owned and operated;
  • that polling earlier this year indicated strong public support for increased federal standards for long-term care homes, if not outright nationalization of the system; and
  • that the extent to which a regulated long-term care system currently exists at all in Ontario is, in some ways, in dispute.

Acknowledging that seniors “are isolated, frightened, and most at risk,” the federal government has now pledged to pass reforms targeted at long-term care. While the details are currently vague, the government says that it will work on “Criminal Code amendments to explicitly penalize those who neglect seniors under their care, putting them in danger”. Such amendments could be aimed at operators of long-term care homes who do not provide adequate staffing, equipment, or procedures to meet their residents’ needs.

The government has also pledged to develop “new, national standards for long-term care” in collaboration with the provinces and territories, and to “take additional action to help people stay in their homes longer”. These statements appear to respond directly to some of the concerns that have been noted above, and to the broader risk of social isolation that many seniors face in long-term care.

Other promises for seniors include commitments to “increasing Old Age Security once a senior turns 75, and boosting the Canada Pension Plan survivor’s benefit,” and to “look at further targeted measures for personal support workers”.

Other promises that are not specifically directed at seniors, but might be of interest to many seniors nonetheless, include promises:

  • to create a new Canadian Disability Benefit and better evaluate eligibility for government disability programs and benefits;
  • to expand Canadians’ access to doctors and other healthcare providers, “including in rural and remote areas,” and including “virtual health care”;
  • to “accelerate steps to achieve” a universal pharmacare program;
  • to accelerate the development of high-speed internet throughout Canada, which may be beneficial to seniors who are unable to safely visit with others in person; and
  • to “make the largest investment in Canadian history” in training and educating Canadian workers to work in sectors that are new to them.

A Speech from the Throne is a broad statement of the government’s priorities. It is neither a definitive prediction of future government action, nor a deep explanation of upcoming policy decisions. We can, however, expect to see more details on a number of these stated commitments in the coming weeks and months. Whatever the specifics, reforms of some sort on seniors’ issues are likely on their way.

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