Why Not Call for a National Longevity Strategy.

You could say that we in Canada are now, either speaking up more loudly, or finally catching up with the rest of the world around discussing the effect of aging demographics on our social policies and structures. Many countries have led before us with a more fully developed national conversation and subsequent revisions to their social policies that address the obvious changes required to health care, pension reform and workforce development.

While there has been enough, other prickly world news to occupy our mind share over this past few years, in the last several months, quietly but steadily there have been more calls from various groups, government bodies and concerned individuals, that Canada must develop a National Seniors Strategy.

Senate_reportAs a prime example, in June 2017, Senate Canada published a report by their Standing Committee on National Finance on Canada’s Aging Population – titled Getting Ready: For a new generation of active seniors. This tidy 24-page report sets a platform for an intelligent and inclusive discussion that could be facilitated anywhere across the country, an invitation to all age groups I might stress, rather than one narrowly designed for a seniors only audience.

Certainly, there is well-articulated content in this document, but rather than recite the statistics and recommendations here, I suggest you read it for yourself. However there are a few comments worth noting that will help frame how we should open our minds before we get into any dialogue that would potentially lead us down a path of opinionated responses based on “what was” thinking, but rather lead us to constructive possibility thinking, the “what now, how now?”

In the “reflect thoughtfully first” category, let me pluck out some significant lines from the Senate Canada report:

  • Repercussions of population aging are as much social at they are economic in nature
  • Population aging is not a uniform phenomenon
  • There are groups…more vulnerable within the larger group we call seniors. When we treat this population as homogeneous, we tend to neglect the sometimes more precarious situation of certain groups…

It is an understatement to say that Canada is geographically a huge country, more culturally diverse, with regional social and economic differences and now we can add to that layering – demographic differences.

There are several, simple info-graphics in the report that help spell out the uneven nature of aging across Canada, and as Laurent Martel states in the report, “when considering demographics, the national trend often hides regional differences… important to consider when assessing the public policy implications of such demographics… such regional differences are also currently increasing.”

All this makes for an interesting ride, if we are to take a National Seniors Strategy on a road show dialogue around the country.  Not to be a pessimist, I’m having a hard time imagining who would facilitate such an event without it becoming another series of heated town-hall arguments, and poorly advertised grass-roots public consultations that only lead to another dry series of studies and reports. This can’t be just another insider forum of politicians, academics and policy makers.

Motion 106 & Demand a Plan

At the same time as the Senate Canada effort, in May 2017, in the House of Commons, MP Marc Serré’s private members’ Motion 106, was passed, asking to create a study to develop a National Seniors Strategy. Is he talking with the Senate right now? The Canadian Medical Association is backing all this too, as evidenced by their participation in the Senate report and the Demand a Plan movement on their website.

No one entity owns this turf on this subject. There is the National Seniors Strategy group, promoting this with its own framework, has been around since 2013; and the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson – which held a conference in November 2016 – has supported this initiative.

Others entities such as another decade-old Canadian government creation, the National Seniors Council, and CARP have chimed in with their various takes on this for years. However, maybe it is time, while we consider our regional complexities, we should remember the input from those now in their 40’s and 50’s who we will inherit the outcomes of any national strategy decisions. Their “out there” future likely will require more frequent recalibrations than we’ve had before.

Yet on we go, still framing the future within yesterday’s terms of reference and points of view. Without changing the language that highly changeable future realities will demand of new generations, we may lose the engagement of people who don’t see themselves in a demographic box called seniors any time soon, even though they realize they will have to have some strategy.

The Senate Canada report says, get ready “for a new generation of active seniors”. If that further suggests that senior-hood, is not a uniform phenomenon, and life expectancy is stretching from what we’ve known – then maybe what we could really call for is a National Longevity Strategy.

My hunch is that this might catch more ideas from people well under that mythic 65, who are sometimes uncomfortably aware that they will be living, learning and working longer – and differently, which will prompt them to think harder about appropriate policy changes in any national strategy that will benefit them up the road.

 

Mark Venning