New Brunswick

Senior care changes not a broken promise, Liberals argue

Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government is falling back on technicalities to argue that Gallant hasn't broken a promise on how seniors pay for nursing home care.

Election platform made no mention of nursing home fee formula, says Donald Arseneault

Premier Brian Gallant's Liberal government is falling back on technicalities to argue that Gallant hasn't broken a promise on how seniors pay for nursing home care.

Cabinet minister Donald Arseneault says the Liberal's election platform did not make any promises about not touching seniors' assets in determining how much they pay for nursing home car. (CBC)
Gallant was on the defensive for a second straight day Wednesday as the Progressive Conservative Opposition demanded he explain a promise he apparently made last June.

As opposition leader, Gallant spoke at the annual meeting of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights.

According to minutes of the meeting, Gallant "stated that if his party formed government … [it] would not touch assets."

Last month's budget announced that the government will look at seniors' bank accounts and investments when calculating how much they should pay for nursing home care.

Show me in the Liberal platform during last year's election where we broke our promise to seniors. You can't find that.- Donald Arseneault, cabinet minister

It will also remove a cap of $113 per day for seniors it says can afford to pay more.

But cabinet minister Donald Arseneault says if Gallant promised not to do that last June, it doesn't amount to a broken promise because his commitment wasn't in the official written election platform the Liberals released during last year's campaign.

"If you can find me anywhere in that platform where we broke that commitment, please show it to me," Arseneault told reporters.

"Show me in the Liberal platform during last year's election where we broke our promise to seniors. You can't find that."

Criticized Tories for same tactic

That's exactly the same argument the Liberals criticized the Progressive Conservatives for using when they explained delays in setting up a catastrophic drug program.

In the 2010 election, then-PC leader David Alward told reporters he'd have a program set up "within the year."

But when Liberals reminded the PC government of that promise in 2013, then-health minister Ted Flemming said Alward's comments didn't count as a promise because it had not appeared in the PC campaign platform document.

Flemming even brought a copy of the document to a scrum with reporters. "I'm looking at something that, in my world, doesn't say anything about one year," he said.

The 2014 Liberal platform document promised to make it easier for seniors to live longer in their homes and to pass legislation so that seniors would have clear expectations about nursing home and special care home standards.

'Very disappointed'

During two media events on Wednesday, Gallant wouldn't respond to questions from CBC News about what he said at the seniors' meeting last year.

PC MLA Sherry Wilson told reporters she also attended the coalition's annual meeting and remembers Gallant's speech.

"I know I heard — as everyone else heard, there were over a hundred people in the room that day — that he would not touch seniors assets," she said.

Cecile Cassista, the executive director of the coalition, also remembers Gallant making the promise.

She says Cathy Rogers, now the minister of Social Development in charge of seniors' care, was also at the meeting.

"I'm very disappointed they're not addressing this issue," said Cassista. "For [Gallant] to not stand up for us now — I'm questioning what else he's going to stand up on and then take away."

Still no detailed figures

Rogers continues to defend the change, which doesn't have any detailed figures attached to it yet.

The budget says the government will remove the cap of $113 per day on what seniors pay for nursing home care, but only for those who can afford it. Rogers says it's estimated that will affect only 13 per cent of seniors.

But it's not clear yet what criteria the government will use to measure whether someone can afford it, nor how the government will assess liquid assets, such as bank accounts and retirement funds.

Rogers says those details will be worked out during consultations in the coming months.

The minister says with an aging population, maintaining universal programs — benefits for everyone, regardless of need — will become a more difficult proposition for governments.

"We're not straying far [from universality]," Rogers said. "We're asking seniors to pay a little bit more if they can afford it.

"In the next 10 years, the number of seniors over 75 [years old] will go up 61 per cent, so the demands for this population will increase. And we can't wait 10 years to prepare for this. We have to think about this now … We have to make decisions for sustainability."


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