Victoria woman named Canada’s first advocate for seniors

Isobel Mackenzie has 20 years of experience listening to seniors talk about their concerns and now she’s in a position to address some of those issues.

B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake has appointed Mackenzie as Canada’s first seniors advocate. She comes to the position after heading up the non-profit Beacon Community Services, which provides help for 7,000 of Greater Victoria’s elderly.

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“It’s very thrilling because I’m going to be able to take on those issues that are near and dear to me … all those things I’ve been championing over 20 years — I’m going to be able to use that experience and take it to the provincial level,” Mackenzie said.

The appointment doesn’t have a time limit and is similar in nature to the hiring of deputy ministers.

Legislation mandating the job will allow Mackenzie to form an advisory council to help her sort out strategies and priorities.

Mackenzie said her first job will be to listen.

“I want to go out in the beginning and talk to the seniors’ groups, the ombudsperson, the Opposition, the unions, care providers, hear their perspective from the provincial level,” Mackenzie said. “I really do want to hear from them because one of the issues is going to be prioritizing — every issue can’t be tackled at once.”

Her job will be to help seniors sort out help that exists but that they don’t know about. While many seniors can navigate services handily, others are overwhelmed.

“As a society, we all want to see those seniors who can’t advocate for themselves to have an advocate,” Mackenzie said.

There are other offices, such as the public trustee, the ombudsperson and the coroner, that deal with individual cases. Mackenzie said she will deal with systemic difficulties.

By grouping complaints by category, Mackenzie said, she can begin to figure out ways of making things work better for seniors and those who are there to help them. She said she’s realistic about the complex issues many seniors encounter, including mental and physical health, limited incomes, housing and security.

Darryl Walker, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union, applauded Mackenzie’s appointment, calling it “a long-overdue step in addressing the systemic challenges in seniors’ care and services in B.C.”

New Democrat health critic Katrine Conroy said she supports creation of the position, but the post requires more teeth to allow the advocate to work more independently of government.

Lake said about 130 people were considered for the position. The budget for the Office of the Seniors Advocate will be about $2 million a year and Mackenzie will earn an annual salary between $170,000 and $190,000.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

— With The Canadian Press

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