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Seniors need a voice

Celebrating Aging by Terry Donovan

In the past two articles I talked about the growth of the senior segment of our population and the need to celebrate their contributions in our communities and to our economy. The growth in the senior population is the result of the wave of baby boomers turning 65. Beginning in 2011 and continuing through 2030 the senior population will continue to grow to be 25 per cent overall. When you factor in those age 55-plus (considered retirement age by many) the percentage is much higher. This large population of seniors needs an avenue to express its concerns about social programs, health care, economic welfare, and supports for aging with dignity.

The Pictou County Seniors Council is a volunteer organization whose objective is to promote the general welfare of seniors in Pictou County. It is the representative body for senior clubs and community groups. Among the goals of the council are to promote healthy active living in our aging population, to improve communications with the public (the main purpose of these articles) and to promote programs and services that enable seniors to age in place in their communities.

To be an effective voice on behalf of seniors in Pictou County, it is essential that the Seniors Council has representation from across the county and from different senior organizations. Recent organizational changes allow any seniors group (community, church organization, clubs, or association) to join the Council and to participate in discussions about programs that improve their lives. Pictou County Seniors Council has been an association of clubs, however, over the past year this has been expanded to include “community representatives” from across the county including Lismore, East River Valley, Scotsburn, River John, and West Branch with hopes of having Lyons Brook and Caribou River joining soon. Other communities with representation are welcome.

How can the council be an effective voice for positive change?

Besides the work done by the Council at the local level such as the new ‘Active Seniors’ program going on at the YMCA and the activities at the club level; the council is the umbrella body responsible for Pictou County Seniors Outreach (more on this in the next article) and is a member of the Pictou County Aging Well Coalition.

Provincially, the Council is a member of the Federation of Senior Citizens and Pensioners of Nova Scotia. The purpose of this Federation is to stimulate public interest regarding pensions, health care, and social security measures. The Federation represents 10 councils and 150 senior clubs across the province. It strives to present a new image of the active senior involved in his/her community. It advocates for improvements that enable seniors to remain in their homes as long as they are able, have adequate incomes, have user friendly transportation services, enjoy social and recreational programs, and have improved medical and drug services at reasonable costs.

The Federation is represented on the Senior Advisory Council of Nova Scotia. The Senior Advisory Council, made up of nine different senior groups, is independent of government and attempts to be fully informed and representative of the senior population of the province. While much goes on behind the scenes regarding consultations and information gathering, notable recent achievements include the significant input into reversing the government’s proposed changes to the provincial Pharmacare program saving seniors in the program the proposed increase of $10 million annually. More recently the Advisory Council has had significant input into the adoption of SHIFT – Action Plan for an Aging Population resulting in many new senior initiatives and an additional $13.6 million in spending over the next three years to support senior programs. Pictou County has two representatives on the Seniors Advisory Council: myself, representing the Federation, and Mary MacLellan, senior outreach co-ordinator, representing the provincial body – Community Links.

The Nova Scotia Department of Seniors is the provincial department designated to ensure the inclusion, well-being, and independence of seniors. They do this by facilitating the development of policies on aging and programs for seniors across government departments. Its mandate is to lead the implementation of the ‘Action Plan for an Aging Population’ and to serve as a single entry point to the provincial government about programs and services for seniors.

In addition to the provincial connections, the Council and the Federation are members of the National Pensioners Federation (NPF) with membership on the national executive. The NPF is an organization of 350 senior organizations across Canada with a collective membership approaching one million seniors. Its mission is to stimulate public interest in the welfare of aging Canadians.

It is clear through our associations provincially and nationally that the Pictou Seniors Council can be an effective voice for seniors through the appropriate channels. Things affecting today’s aging population are health care, affordable drug programs, the need to increase CPP benefits, lifestyle programs and supports, preventing isolation, housing, affordable transportation, improved postal service, caregivers and caregivers supports, and end of life support. A common voice on these issues is needed.

Nova Scotians between the ages of 55 and 75 make up the largest voting bloc in the province. Securing the votes of seniors is a priority for all the major parties. Seniors are recruited to help get out voters and to man polling stations. Clarity on the issues facing older citizens is needed to have a clear and effective voice for their needs. Having a united voice is even far more effective.

The Pictou County Seniors Council can be that voice for Pictou County seniors. If you wish more information or want to dialogue about building this voice, you can contact the Council at Seniors Outreach (902-752-8400) or the president at 902-382-2279.

“Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength” (Betty Friedan)

Terry Donovan

President, Pictou Seniors Council

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