BRITISH COLUMBIA â€” The recent appointment of B.C.’s new seniors advocate is welcome news to the ears of Ramona Kaptyn, chair of the South Surrey-White Rock chapter of the seniors advocacy group, CARP.
Isobel Mackenzie was named to the position last week by the province, making B.C. the first province in Canada to have a seniors advocate.
"That’s wonderful, it’s really, really good, especially in B.C. where we are," she said, referring to the number of seniors locally. "We’re seeing more people in their 60s and 70s that are still working or have had to go back to work because our pensions that we had planned for, the interest rates have been terrible.
"Those who have been wise enough to save unfortunately do not have as much as they thought they had."
According to the province, Mackenzie’s role will be to "monitor seniors’ services, promote awareness and work collaboratively with seniors, families, policymakers, service providers and others to identify solutions to systemic issues and make recommendations to government on ways to improve care for our aging population."
Kaptyn said she sees this as the government finally acknowledging more needs to be done for the province’s aging population.
"This is very important to have this person on board now because it’s not just for retired people but everybody as they age," she said. "There are many, many issues that are very important to Canadians as they get older and governments are trying to change things and at CARP we’re advocating that everything is handled fairly."
"I get calls all the time and a lot of them are from children of aging parents who are having trouble with the system. They’re often at their wits end and not knowing what to do. We’re lucky we have organizations such as CARP, Come Share and SOURCES, but the more help the better."
Finally, Kaptyn said she hopes the new advocate isn’t just government lip service.
"We sure hope it’s not something to placate and pacify, we hope that it’s really going to be someone who’s really out there rooting for us with their opinion and doing something really meaningful," she said.
Surrey Coun. Barbara Steele, chair of the city’s seniors advisory and accessibility committee, said there are plenty of issues for the new advocate to address.
Steele said seniors today face many issues – here in Surrey and beyond – and hopes the advocate will fight to address them. Transit is a big concern for seniors living in Surrey, she said, referring to the bus system as well as HandyDART.
Steele mentioned other major issues affecting seniors across the province include elder abuse and dealing with rising living costs on a fixed income.
With a growing seniors population in Surrey, she is encouraged by the government’s creation of the advocate.
"I have high hopes, I really do. And I think the office is much needed," Steele said. "I hope it’s not restricted to Victoria. I hope it spreads wide and far and I hope that she’s able to work with a lot of people that work so hard in the industry trying to help people, trying to get things straight. I hope there’s a willingness to involve that kind of broad spectrum."
While the news is welcomed by some, the Opposition says the position is not truly independent.
In a release, New Democrat seniors critic Katrine Conroy said "this advocate is not empowered to look at individual issues facing seniors. These individual issues often signal systemic problems, which is why we called for an advocate that would be empowered to look at problems on both a systemic and individual level."
-with files by Amy Reid