Seniors forgotten, neglected during COVID-19 pandemic

According to our County Foundation Vital Signs report of 2018, essentially 30 per cent of our Prince Edward County population is over 65 years of age.

That compares with barely 13 per cent being 65 or older for both our Canadian and Ontario population counts. If our County seniors stopped volunteering the place would screech to a thumping halt. No County Kids Read, no Food To Share, no 99.3 County FM, no Women’s Institute, no UCP Food Bank, no Community Cares Thrift Shop, no Regent Theatre-it would be a very long list.

But what does this COVID-19 plague say so far about how we value and treat seniors?

It was only two years ago former Premier Bill Davis felt compelled to rebuke the Ontario legislature for handcuffing seniors in the public viewing gallery. You might think that would be a learning moment. Yet just last week a B.C. Member of Parliament tweeted that since most deaths were only in “care homes” we should get the economy rolling again;  and the federal government had to dispatch the army to Quebec to assist at those same failing nursing homes.

A shameful double-whammy reminder that long-term care of seniors has been grossly underfunded across this country and this virus is heightening the consequences of pernicious indifference, understaffing and neglect.

As this pandemic goes on, important arts, sports and culture financial supports have been appropriately put in place by Ottawa. Millions now fortunately, find themselves bolstered by national programs supporting payrolls, wages, seasonal, student and part-time jobs, and a formidable ($2000/month) Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Businesses have received commercial rent, credit, work-sharing, revenue loss, loan guarantee, WSIB payment deferrals, health tax exemptions, and a host of other valuable hands-up from federal and provincial governments.

But what supports have our fixed income seniors been offered as the COVID-19 economic depression rips away 30 per cent or more of their life savings?

What have we done as a society to assist seniors with inadequate or no pensions who have to draw on savings which are largely invested in cratering stock markets? Not much. A relatively negligible, one year reduction of 25 per cent in the mandatory minimum withdrawal of those life savings in Registered Retirement Income Funds (RRIFs). That’s it. And in my humble opinion, that’s not good enough.

Not surprisingly perhaps, but sad beyond measure, is recent news from the not-for-profit “Dying With Dignity” organization that Canada is seeing a pronounced uptick from seniors enquiring as to how to end their lives: be it the ER ventilator or financial penury, our 65+ elders may be resorting to death to preserve dignity.

Has this COVID-19 plague become a joking matter “Boomer Remover”? Enough already. Seniors have for too long been the only remaining segment in society that can be mocked, abused and ignored without much in the way of high-profile consequences.

Would that we could now be kinder, more aware, and even sometimes grateful to our parents and others who built this country and provided the economic wherewithal to now persist through crises like this pandemic.

So let’s fix this please.

Acknowledging COVID-19 has many seniors facing the spectre of running out of money before they run out of retirement, immediately increase the Canada Pension Program (CPP) benefits to match the $2000 CERB monthly payments received by other Canadians in need; and raise the maximum OAS monthly benefit from $613.53 to an even $1000. In my view, those two simple, sensible acts would go along way towards another genre of overdue reconciliation.

Bill Roberts