Seniors' advocates want minister to be more than a token

Seniors' advocates are welcoming the creation of the seniors portfolio in Justin Trudeau's cabinet, but want to see that the new minister has the power to get things done.

First-time MP Filomena Tassi appointed to portfolio

Filomena Tassi is sworn in as minister of seniors during a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Seniors' advocates are welcoming the creation of the seniors portfolio in Justin Trudeau's cabinet, but want to see that the new minister has the power to get things done.

Hamilton MP Filomena Tassi was named minister for seniors Wednesday and described her role as promoting the accomplishments of seniors and giving them the support to continue to flourish.

In the past, these responsibilities have been assigned to ministers with other portfolios or to ministers of state.

Sharon Carstairs, a former Manitoba senator and advocate for seniors, welcomed the announcement but is watching for results.

"It will mean something if she has a department, she has staff that can help her, she sits on cabinet committees which will be influential in changing social services generally," she said.

"Without that, it's not going to mean very much."

Former Manitoba senator Sharon Carstairs, an advocate on seniors and palliative care issues, said providing support to caregiving family members should be a priority for the new minister. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The minister will need to have access to funding from infrastructure, health and other portfolios to improve the lives of seniors, Carstairs said.

Tassi told reporters Wednesday she had not been briefed on whether she'd have a stand-alone department.

"It's hour two and I'm waiting to be briefed and meet with the department," Tassi said. "So that's to be determined."

Support care, protect pensions

Carstairs, who was chair of the Special Senate Committee on Aging, wants to a see a national strategy that will address funding for seniors to provinces based on concentration of aging populations and not just a per capita basis.

She is also advocating for relief for family members who act as caregivers for aging loved ones through day programs.

"They are suffering burnout. They have very little in the way of relief and that respite care is essential if they're going to continue with that heavy burden," she said.

Rick Baker, vice-chair of CARP Ottawa, said the association welcomes the creation of the new ministry as an opportunity for more co-operation on seniors' issues.

"Now the provinces can actually talk to the federal government as well, so there will be a lot more collaboration on all kinds of issues," Baker told Adrian Harewood, host of CBC News Ottawa at Six.

CARP has been advocating for the federal government to pass laws to protect people's rights to their pensions.

"It's really sad when you hear that people have worked all their lives and all of a sudden they've lost their pension," he said. 

"Policies need to be developed to protect those people that are in trouble of potentially losing their pensions."

Baker said the 300,000 people who make up CARP's membership will be watching the minister's progress.

"If we're going to be affected by some of the policy changes, we're going to get out there and we're going to vote for the party that's going to support us."

with files from CBC's Adrian Harewood