Today's seniors facing complex problems

I was honoured when my leader, Andrea Horwath, asked me to take on the role of Critic for Seniors Affairs on behalf of Ontario’s New Democrats. When I made the decision to enter into politics, I wanted to ensure that I could focus my efforts on vulnerable members of our community. In this new role, I was grateful to meet that challenge head on.

June 2016 marks the 32nd anniversary of Seniors Month in Ontario.  It’s a time to celebrate and recognize the important role seniors play in our communities. It is also a good reminder that we have a shared responsibility to ensure that seniors in our communities and families enjoy safe, active and healthy lives.

Yet many seniors in Ontario are falling behind, roughly half of Canadians between the ages of 55 to 64, without a workplace pension plan, have less than $3,000 saved for retirement. With skyrocketing housing and utility costs, increases in prescription drugs costs, too many seniors are forced into hard choices they shouldn’t have to make.

In my experience, of talking and helping seniors every day in my community office, I have found seniors in Ontario are also facing more complex problems than ever before. From the lack of affordable housing, to inadequate home care supports and the separation of married couples when one requires a higher level of care, seniors in Ontario and Canada are struggling to maintain their independence. The slightest rise in hydro, gas, food and other necessities, which affects all of us, affects seniors proportionally harder. It can mean a missed meal, a missed hydro bill or missed medication. All of which are unacceptable circumstances for our seniors to face.

The lack of daily affordability for many seniors has led to the rise of the working class senior. Many Canadians over the age of 65 are finding themselves in situations where they have no choice but to work — and the number of people in this group is growing. Canadians without pension or income security are working years after the age of retirement extending into their seventies, eighties and beyond.

I believe that it is our shared duty to make sure Ontario seniors are living with dignity and in their own homes for as long as possible. We need to ensure that they have access to the supports they have paid into their entire lives, and those supports are available to them when they need them. Let our approach be measured with wisdom, kindness and gratitude for the lifetime of contributions they have made.

This Seniors Month, I ask everyone to take the time to reflect on the seniors in your family and community. Reach out and let them know how important and valued they are. Celebrate their determination, pride and dignity by fighting to protect those who have already fought for you.