British Columbia

Seniors' groups call for B.C. ministry devoted to people in their later years

A group of non-profit organizations that work with seniors in B.C. are calling for the creation of a Seniors Ministry when the next government takes office.

Idea for a Seniors Ministry is supported by a group of non-profit organizations that work with seniors

Services for seniors in B.C. are now distributed by a number of ministries. The CEO of Seniors Services Society of B.C. wants the government to organize those under a single ministry, focused on the province's older population. (CBC)

A group of non-profit organizations that work with seniors in B.C. are calling for the creation of a provincial Seniors Ministry when the next government takes office.

Alison Silgardo, CEO of Seniors Services Society of B.C., has been discussing the idea with dozens of stakeholders for more than a year, but now with the province in the throes of an election, she is raising the issue hoping the candidates will take it up.

"Right now government spends a lot of money on seniors because they're the largest demographic, and it could be spent in a more structured way and have a more cost-effective solution," she said.

The idea has support from a handful of other non-profits, like New Chelsea Society, Vancouver Native Housing Society and West End Seniors Network.

Services for seniors are currently managed by a number of different ministries, with the Ministry of Health being the most significant. B.C. Housing, the Transportation Ministry and others also provide services.

"There are loads of gaps between what is currently in place and what seniors need," said Silgardo.

She said so far in the election campaign, politicians have focused a little bit on the challenges with long-term care facilities, which have been especially hard hit by COVID-19.

But according to Silgardo, the majority of seniors don't want to live in long-term care, meaning that issue doesn't resonate with them.

The goal of Silgardo's proposal is to develop an integrated system of services in B.C., with wraparound support to help seniors thrive.

She said the new ministry could be "iterative," or a work-in-progress to begin, perhaps making it a ministry within the budget of the Health Ministry — as long as it had a minister at the cabinet table and the increased accountability that comes with a distinct portfolio.

Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Ontario all have departments for seniors, though most are grouped with other files. Nova Scotia is the exception, where a dedicated Department of Seniors has a $2.7 million annual budget.