MLAs have voted for the development of a “whole-of-government approach to enhance and coordinate programs and services” for the NWT’s Elders.
Cabinet abstained from a vote on last week’s motion, which carried with all 11 regular MLAs in favour and none opposed. The territorial government now has 120 days to respond.
Helping Elders to age in place with dignity is already one of the government’s stated priorities for its four-year term.
Julie Green, the Yellowknife Centre MLA, said the last formal document addressing the needs of NWT seniors or Elders had been published in 2014 and “much has changed in that time.”
Green said that document, entitled Our Elders, Our Communities, was specific to the Department of Health and Social Services and did not address concerns related to housing, transportation, or social inclusion.
She wants the NWT to develop an equivalent of integrated case management for Elders.
Integrated case management, successfully piloted in Yellowknife over the past five years, provides vulnerable people with a “navigator” who makes it easier for them to get help from multiple government departments at once.
Green outlined a range of concerns a seniors and Elders’ strategy could address, such as:
- areas not covered by homecare, such as home maintenance, yard work, housekeeping, and grocery shopping;
- a lack of transportation for Elders outside Yellowknife, making it harder for people to age in place;
- a shortage of seniors’ housing and long waiting lists; and
- means of combatting Elder abuse.
“What I am asking for here … is a concerted effort to create a strategy that addresses this huge segment of our population, huge and growing, and that we live up to the commitments of allowing our Elders to age in place by creating this coordinated approach to their needs,” Green concluded in the legislature on Thursday.
Strategy ‘may not be achievable’
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, seconding the motion, said the creation of such a strategy would afford Elders “dignity.”
Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly said responsibility for seniors “cuts across several departments … but we don’t really have a whole-of-government approach, and I think that’s what is really required here.”
He continued: “Cabinet often abstains from these kinds of motions because it provides direction to them and maybe creates a bit of a perception of some kind of conflict of interest, or something, but I expect that most of our colleagues on the other side of the House actually support this.
“I know their hearts are in the right place and they support this initiative, as well.”
However, Shane Thompson – the minister responsible for seniors – cautioned that his government may not have the capacity to take on development of a strategy as called for by the regular MLAs.
“Developing an NWT seniors’ strategy may not be achievable at this time, particularly in light of the current and developing Covid pandemic response,” Thompson said ahead of the vote.
“However, we are committed to supporting our seniors by advancing the mandate priorities. We will continue to work across government and community sectors to address the core issues that impact the ability of seniors and Elders to remain living in supportive communities, free from abuse, regardless of whether a specific seniors’ strategy is developed.”
Thompson said the government’s mandate included action items on housing, finance, health supports, community infrastructure, and safety designed to improve the lives of Elders.
“Cabinet is committed to supporting NWT seniors and we will continue to advance our mandate priorities related to that, but we will be abstaining from this vote,” he said.
Green, responding, said: “I’m not sure what Covid has to do with this.”
She suggested Thompson had already told the NWT Seniors’ Society, prior to the pandemic, that development of a seniors’ strategy was off the table.
“I feel this is a really important strategy to support. That’s the reason that I have brought this motion forward,” she said.
“I recognize that the government is not going to support this, but I look forward to the support of my regular member colleagues for our seniors, to ensure that we’ve fulfilled our promise to them to make their lives easier in their old age.”
A response from cabinet is now due by mid-October, which will be when the legislature next sits. Friday was its last day until October 15.