B.C. introduced a stripped-down version of its promised seniors watchdog Wednesday, but the new seniors’ advocate office won’t investigate individual complaints made by seniors.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced the new Seniors’ Advocate Act in the legislature, and said it would be a “statutory office” with a budget set by her ministry.
“[It] will certainly have a lot of independence,” MacDiarmid said.
The advocate could also hire a board of advisers and consultants, and decide what topics to study, she said.
The office would focus on monitoring seniors’ services, promoting awareness, identifying solutions to systemic problems and making recommendations to government to improve seniors welfare, she said.
But putting an advocate within a ministry means they are “at the whim of the minister” and not truly independent, said NDP critic Katrine Conroy.
“I think it needs to be responsible to the legislative assembly,” she said, such as other watchdogs like the auditor general or child and youth advocate.
Conroy also said the office appears to be paid for through savings in Pharmacare and within the ministry, and that’s not an acceptable or stable source of funding.
“It seems a little ridiculous to me,” she said.
Former health minister Mike de Jong announced plans to create the office last spring, suggesting it also could have a consumer protection role.
He had cited the case of Ricky Spooner, a 100-year-old Sidney veteran who struggled for months in 2011 to get back an $8,000 deposit from a private care home in Victoria after his wife died before they moved in.
Eventually, after an order from Consumer Protection B.C., he got some of the money back.
But the new seniors’ advocate would not help with individual cases or act as a consumer advocate.
“We’re not anticipating that individual concerns will be taken up by the advocate, but if an individual comes forward with something in principle that the advocate believes they need to study, they will,” said MacDiarmid.
There were extensive consultations and, MacDiarmid said, she didn’t think anyone anticipated the advocate would work with seniors one-on-one, noting the province expects the population of seniors to grow to 1.3 million over the next 20 years.
“However, the advocate will, with the permission of an individual, be able to refer them to an appropriate organization.”
Seniors groups say they are optimistic the office would still have a positive outcome on seniors issues.
“I’m pleased they have moved ahead and gone forward with the seniors’ advocate,” said Daniel Fontaine, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association.
Silver Threads, which provides programs and services for seniors in Greater Victoria, is interested in hearing how the office will work with other groups but isn’t sure what the advocate will do and how it will actually address concerns, said executive director Edie Copland.