Admitting that a seniors’ advocate is needed is admitting that the current system is failing seniors, but given the necessity of the role, it should be an independent office, not another layer of bureaucracy within a government ministry.
On Wednesday, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced the Seniors’ Advocate Act, which would create an office to monitor services, promote awareness, identify solutions to systemic problems and make recommendations to government regarding seniors’ welfare.
We already have a minister of state for seniors who falls under the auspices of the health ministry. Unless that position is merely ceremonial, the junior cabinet minister could be promoting awareness and looking for solutions to seniors’ problems. There seems to be considerable potential for redundancy.
MacDiarmid says the advocate will “certainly have a lot of independence,” but that’s not the same thing as saying the office will be independent. The phrase implies that the extent of the advocate’s independence will be determined by the ministry, meaning that independence could be curbed by cabinet whim.
The phrase “you can go swimming, but don’t go near the water” springs to mind.
Some of the problems seniors face could arise from shortcomings in government programs. Tethered to a ministry, the seniors’ advocate would be inhibited in his or her ability to criticize the boss.
We can understand why the B.C. Liberals would be reluctant to set up another independent watchdog — these creatures have a way of turning around and biting governments in the nether regions, hence the short leash.
We believe MacDiarmid is sincere in promising independence for the advocate, but it would be better if that independence were built into the legislation right from the start.
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