Seniors’ organizations meet to plan October 1, 2015 rallies

On January 22, 2015 seniors’ organizations some national and some from Ontario met at the Ontario Federation of Labour offices in Toronto at a meeting called by the Congress of Union Retirees and its Executive Director, Pat Kerwin, to begin planning for cross Canada rallies on the International Day of Older Persons on October 1, 2015.

This date would fall in 2015 right in the middle of the next federal election campaign where the fixed election day is scheduled for Oct. 19. This would mean this year the UN International Day of Older persons would be an ideal occasion to put forward our major asks around seniors issues such as pensions, health and housing.

If you are interested in helping to organizing a coalition for a rally, meeting or march in your area please let us know and we can put you in touch with others in your area. 10350425_10152911143285660_1106077369069156161_n

Among the people and organizations present were:

  • Congress of Union Retirees (with their ED Pat Kerwin) who convened the meeting
  • National Pensioners Federation (Herb John President, he also represented Unifor retirees)
  • Susan Eng, Vice President, Advocacy, CARP
  • Doug MacPherson, SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees)
  • Elizabeth Macnab, Executive Director, Ontario Society of Seniors Citizens Organizations
  • John Anderson, Canadian Alliance of United Seniors (CAUS)
  • Unifor Retirees from Oshawa
  • Bill Harford, Municipal Retirees of Ontario Organization
  • John Cartwight, President, Toronto and York Region Labour Council
  • Janice Gairey, OFL
  • Barry Stevens, IBEW retirees


Canada Pension Plan payments are too low and too gender-biased

Canada Pension Plan payments are a key part of any retirement plan. But the actual payments made to millions of Canadian seniors are too low and the average payments are much lower for women. As figures from the latest actuarial report of the CPP (see table below) show, the average monthly payment, in December 2012 was $639 for men and a very low $410  for women. Both of these are below the $1065 per month CPP maximum for 2015. These figures show why we need a greatly expanded CPP and if we cannot get a national expansion then provincial plans as has been proposed by the Ontario government which would roughly double the CPP payments.

For the CPP see:

For the Ontario plan see

CPP Pensions Payable as at 31 December 2012
Benefit Type Number of Beneficiaries in pay Average Monthly Benefit
Males Females Males Females
(in thousands) ($) ($)
Retirement 2,087 2,174 639 410
– Aged less than 65 52 179 329 392
– Aged 65 and over 130 686 99 347
Disability 155 176 891 808


L’Isle-Verte fire prompts calls for mandatory sprinklers in seniors’ homes

L’Isle-Verte fire prompts calls for mandatory sprinklers in seniors’ homes

One year after tragic fire in L’Isle-Verte, experts say a third of seniors’ homes have no sprinklers

CBC News Posted: Jan 23, 2015 5:00 AM ET Last Updated: Jan 23, 2015 6:17 AM ET

A crane knocks down a wall after a fatal fire destroyed a seniors residence in L'Isle-Verte, Que., Thursday, January 23, 2014. Fire officials say sprinklers can easily save lives, but few Canadian homes are protected by them.

A crane knocks down a wall after a fatal fire destroyed a seniors residence in L’Isle-Verte, Que., Thursday, January 23, 2014. Fire officials say sprinklers can easily save lives, but few Canadian homes are protected by them. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Exactly one year after a major fire burned down a seniors’ residence in the town of L’Isle-Verte, Que. killing 32 people, those who work in seniors’ homes across the province say little has changed to make them safer.

“It’s a very sad tragedy. It can’t happen again,” said Yves Desjardins, the CEO of the Quebec Seniors Housing Association.

The association is asking the Quebec government to make sprinkler systems mandatory.

Desjardins said he feels more lives could have been saved last Jan. 23, 2014 if Résidence du Havre had been fully-equipped with sprinklers.residence du havre old versus new wings

The older part of the Résidence du Havre (red) was built in 1997 and has no sprinkler system. The new wing (blue) was added in 2002 and was equipped with sprinklers. Only a portion of the newer wing is still standing. (CBC)

​The three-storey seniors’ home reportedly had a partial sprinkler system. A company that did work on the home said sprinklers were installed in a new annex but not the portion built in 1997, which was the wing that was destroyed in the fire.

Desjardins says that about one-third of seniors’ homes in Quebec have no sprinkler system.

It is not required by law and they are very costly to install, he says, especially in an older building.

“It’s a key issue — the cost of the sprinkler system. It could cost between $4 and $8 per square foot so it’s very expensive.”

Desjardins says they should be mandatory – but the only way smaller seniors’ residences could afford to install sprinklers is if the government subsidizes them.

“They don’t have enough money because it’s very expensive to put sprinklers, so they will close and if we don’t help them, where the seniors will go?”

Maurice Rivet, a spokesman for the Quebec association of retired public employees, agrees but is not hopeful.

“Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic,” he said.

The province says it will wait for the recommendations of a coroner’s report into the tragedy before making any decisions.

Seniors deserve to live in a safe setting

Seniors deserve to live in a safe setting

Thanks to the inept response that followed, 32 seniors – who had moved to an institutional setting in order to be safe and cared for, let’s not forget – died horrific deaths.

A year later, we need to wonder aloud if we actually learned anything from yet another preventable tragedy. The orgy of inaction and excuse-making that has followed suggests the answer is a resounding “No.”

There has been an extensive police investigation, but no criminal charges have been laid. The Crown prosecutors’ office is still mulling things over, but history suggests no one will be going to jail.

The obligatory coroner’s inquest, headed by Cyrille Delage, wrapped up just before Christmas. He heard testimony from 60 witnesses over eight days and, while Mr. Delage has not yet produced a final report, some key facts emerged. (And, remember, a coroner can only make recommendations, he cannot point fingers of blame.)

Initially, the fire was blamed on 96-year-old Paul-Étienne Michaud, an occasional smoker. But crime scene investigators found that the fire started in the kitchen just below Mr. Michaud’s room and he was, in fact, the first victim.

There was one worker responsible for the overnight care of the 52 residents of the nursing home, even though most were over 85 and suffering from mobility and cognitive challenges. The actions of that employee, Bruno Bélanger, on the fateful night were head-scratchingly bizarre.

After the fire started, he ran by the rooms of at least a dozen residents without notifying them, saying he was in a rush to get to the room of his employer/girlfriend at the opposite end of the complex, because that was “protocol.”

Mr. Bélanger, however, had never participated in a single fire drill and said he didn’t even know how to operate a fire extinguisher, even though he was a fire extinguisher salesman for 15 years – a palpable irony.

The front door of the nursing home was locked and could not be opened from the inside. Several bodies were found there; most others were found on balconies, where residents prayed for help that did not come fast enough. The bodies were so badly burned that they had to be identified by the serial numbers on their artificial hips and false teeth.

It took 18 minutes for volunteer firefighters to arrive on the scene and the fire chief did not call in reinforcements until 19 minutes after he arrived on-site, and the closest professional firefighting crew, in Rivière-du-Loup was never called. Once again, the excuse was “protocol.” Turns out that most of the firefighters didn’t have proper training either; the municipality said it didn’t want to impose on volunteers. (The insurance company for the property is suing L’Isle-Verte for $2.3-milliion, arguing the response was inadequate.)

The most disturbing testimony of all, however, came from Lise Veilleux of the Régie du bâtiment, the provincial agency responsible for building standards.

A key contributing factor to the disaster was that there was no sprinkler system in the part of the building where everyone died. When asked if sprinklers were mandatory, Ms. Veilleux gave such a Byzantine and bureaucratic explanation, that the mild-mannered Mr. Delage exploded with anger : “Does anyone understand these [rules] other than you?”

The law should be simple and straightforward: Every institutional facility like a nursing home should have an automatic sprinkler system. Period.

Mr. Delage first made that recommendation in 1969, when he conducted an inquest into the Repos du Vieillard nursing home fire in Notre-Dame-du-Lac that killed 38 seniors.

Since then there have been too many similar tragedies with mass casualties, including the Chafe’s Nursing Home fire in Petty Harbour, Nfld., on Boxing Day 1976 that left 21 people dead, and the 1980 fire at the Extendicare home in Mississauga that claimed the lives of 25 seniors. And that is without mentioning the incidents that occur all too often that claim “only” a couple of lives.

How much more carnage do we need before taking decisive action? There are more than 400,000 Canadian seniors living in institutional settings, and they deserve to be in a safe setting. Yet, in Quebec, fewer than half of nursing homes have sprinkler systems.

As Mr. Delage is fond of saying : “The best way to fight fires is with prevention.”

But there have been far too many inquiries and far too little action on their recommendations.

Two new HSBC reports on retirement show many worried

HSBC has released both a global and a Canada report on retirement based on surveys of  16000 people in 15 countries including Canada.

Particularly of interest are the Canadian findings which show:

  •  Many working age people are not confident in their ability to
    maintain a comfortable retirement. The Canadian figures are 40% while the world average is 34%
  • 61% of those in pre-retirement are worried about having enough money for the day to day
  • 68% are worried about running out of their money in retirement
  • 44% of pre-retirees feel they are not adequately prepared financially for retirement while of those in retirement        These findings show once again the inadequacy of the pension system in Canada for many Canadians. Canada has one of the most complicated systems for retirement, OAS, GIS, CPP/QPP, employer pensions for a minority, RRSPs (again used mainly by those with  higher incomes and now tax free savings Accounts (again used by a minority). We need a pension system starting with increasing the CPP/QPP which guarantees all those in retirement the equivalent of a living wage income.

Why Canadian seniors healthcare needs a different tax policy

Tax policies out of tune
Bury is a retired physician living in Saskatoon.

Candace Skrapek of the Saskatoon Council on Aging (Seniors’ strategy solution to Sask. long-term care, Dec. 19) argues there must be much more to be done than putting out the fires in long-term nursing homes if our seniors are to have a healthy and positive aging process.

Prof. Paulette Hunter (Frontline staff needs supports, Dec. 19) points out we have not provided the range of health personnel beyond continuing-care assistants who are required to support residents with complex cognitive issues and other disabilities.

In the early 1970s, then-deputy minister of health Dr. Louis Skoll studied the care of the elderly in Europe and wrote a report, Adding Life to Years, in which he recommended many actions that would improve the level of care in Saskatchewan.

One result of his report was the building of community nursing homes in the province, leading to Saskatchewan having the highest per capita number of nursing homes in Canada. He noted, and we observed while on a Canadian Public Health Association tour in 1986, there were approximately three times more staff per resident in Scandinavian care homes than in Canada.

If we want improved care for seniors in this province, we need a much more intensive homecare service. The current pilot program Home First fits the bill and must be expanded to cover the whole province. Most of us want to remain at home and most of us would prefer to die at home.

Achieving this will be expensive, for it will require more personnel. However, in the long run it will be less costly than providing nursing-home care and will eliminate the long-stay patients who currently block acute-care beds.

But some of the needed personnel are not available. At a time of declining birthrates and increasing numbers of elderly, we discovered for every medical student who contemplates becoming a geriatrician, there are 10 or more looking to become obstetricians or pediatricians.

What is the magic that results in a much fuller and happier life for the elderly in Scandinavia than in Canada?

Canada and these countries have similar economic development and average income, but we have a tax system that makes the rich richer. We tax income earned by work at a higher level than we tax income obtained by gambling on the stock market. This results in Canada having a much wider income gap than Scandinavia.

Under this structure we are always struggling to fund social programs such as health and education. Until we correct our maldistribution of income, wealth and assets – a subject hardly mentioned by any of the political parties in the current run up to general election – it is unlikely Saskatchewan will be able to afford the resources necessary to create that age-friendly community wished for by the Saskatoon Council on Aging.