Ageism one of the biggest problems facing N.S. seniors, says bureaucrat

The bureaucrat responsible for making sure programs and services for seniors are meeting their needs says ageism has become 'pervasive' in the province.

D'Entremont wants older workers to remain on the job as long as they desire

Bureaucrat Simon d'Entremont has told a committee at Province House that ageism remains a widespread problem for Nova Scotia seniors. (Jean Laroche/CBC )

The bureaucrat responsible for designing government policy and making sure programs and services for seniors are meeting their needs has told a provincial legislature committee ageism remains one of the biggest problems facing seniors in Nova Scotia.

Deputy Minister Simon d'Entremont told members of the public accounts committee Wednesday that "ageist attitudes and stereotypes in our society perpetuate the notion that getting older is a problem rather than a natural part of life.

"Ageism is so pervasive — the effects so powerful, that we come to accept it as fact," he added.

He said the notion that older workers need to make room for younger employees is equally pervasive.

D'Entremont told the committee the Department of Seniors, which he oversees, is trying to change that attitude and convince older Nova Scotians they should stay on the job as long as they wish.

"We've partnered with the [Nova Scotia] Centre on Aging at Mount Saint Vincent University and our colleague department at Labour and Advanced Education to develop a new policy, new programs and new directions to increase the workforce participation of older adults," he told reporters after the meeting.

Older workers boost economy

He attacked the notion that workers near or at retirement age who keep working are keeping young people out of the workforce, causing a drag on the economy.

He said the opposite is true.

"Older adults earn more wages and have more spending power," he said. "The total number of jobs in the economy is based on how much spending power you have, not how many positions have been created.

"So if you take older workers with higher salaries out of the workplace, you're actually taking spending power down and away and reducing the number of jobs in other parts of the economy."

Simon d'Entremont, the deputy minister of the Department of Seniors, says older employees tend to have more spending power and also bring in more tax revenue for the province. (Robert Short/CBC)

Having older workers in the workplace would also mean more tax revenue for the province, which could be used to beef up services seniors need, according to d'Entremont.

"If we increase the workforce participation of older adults, help them start new businesses, perhaps we can create the types of revenues that can help us take care of the balance of an aging population.

"People are looking to us to be innovators, so while it's unfortunate we can't give maintenance funding, we probably do need to keep enough money out there to do pilots and new things and so on, which we're doing."

'They're looking for a lot of support'

He repeatedly sidestepped questions from opposition politicians about whether the province needed more long-term care beds. 

"We get correspondence from seniors asking about their care in the future, and we don't get a lot of correspondence from seniors saying, 'build us more long-term care beds,'" he told the politicians.

"The predominant nature of letters we get from seniors are that they want to continue to stay in their home, in their communities, and they're looking for a lot of support for services to stay at home."

Dave Wilson, the former NDP health minister, left the meeting unsatisfied by that response. 

"Those 1,100 people on the wait-lists, and the many more who need long-term care, need to have advocates within government, and I would think that the Department of Seniors would be that advocate for them," he said to reporters.

PC committee member Tim Houston was also critical of the focus away from the need for more long-term care beds.

"If there's no plan for long-term care beds, which there doesn't seem to be, then there should be a backup plan."