Seniors missed opportunity

The room was packed with people with legitimate concerns about their own future welfare. They had come to meet the government minister in whose hands their welfare currently rests.

The room was packed with people with legitimate concerns about their own future welfare. They had come to meet the government minister in whose hands their welfare currently rests.

There wasn’t a parking spot available within a three-block radius of the Golden Circle where Seniors and Support Minister Mary Anne Jablonski was to address the opening session of the annual general meeting of the Central Alberta Council on Aging last week.

Seniors were lined up outside the doors waiting to get in, and quite a few sat on the floor to find out what Jablonski had to say about the funding of care services for seniors in the coming years.

The minister represents a government clearly in damage control mode over wide perceptions that its agenda is not in line with that of the people. And the news she had to bring to the meeting was not necessarily comforting.

It could have been a fairly lively meeting, as the politicos would say. But it wasn’t.

Alberta is gaining 1,000 seniors every month, she said, and there’s no more money in the pot to provide services.

Despite a rather glaring flaw of logic in that statement, not a peep from the crowd.

The government is doing everything it can to ensure there will be an appropriate range of care options for seniors into the next decades, at prices people can afford, said Jablonski.

Despite the hidden meaning that these services will probably be less than we have now and will assuredly cost more; despite the widely-acknowledged truth that services are already less than they should be, never mind cost-cutting, never mind a growing population, nobody raised their voice.

Good on Mary Anne Jablonski, and her skills as a communicator, that she handled so well what could have become “a fairly lively meeting.”

The questions from the floor were largely either off-topic (the salary of health CEO Stephen Duckett), or marginal (income cutoff levels for certain subsidies).

Jablonski said she would take seniors’ concerns to the cabinet table, and, well, if Jablonski says so, that’s good enough. Over her entire career as a Red Deer MLA, there’s no reason for anyone to doubt she’d do just that.

But you have to wonder now if the concerns of seniors are really all that legitimate.

If nobody at a public face-to-face meeting with the seniors minister could have conveyed any sense of urgency, any real worry about how they will get the care they expect in their final years, maybe we really don’t need more long-term care beds.

Maybe seniors really can afford whatever community options the government has planned for them.

Maybe it really is logical that we can add 1,000 seniors a month to the care system without increasing the money designated for their care, without cutting general services for everyone, without anyone falling through the cracks or being missed.

If you can’t say anything to the minister when she’s in the room, maybe you really have nothing to say.

Sam Denhaan, president of the council, has been an longtime advocate on seniors issues.

He has a long history of correspondence with all government officials whose mandates touch the lives senior citizens. He’s got the research and the numbers behind him. He wished Jablonski every success. Success at what? Beating down the premier and the private health care hawks in cabinet and the Treasury Board?

Last Tuesday might have been a good time to impress upon the minister that not only are seniors’ care options unsettled right now, so is the future of her government. It would have been good for this particular crowd to see Denhaan do this.

It didn’t happen.

Neither, despite the best assurances of our popular and honourable MLA and minister, will anything else, based on the track record of her government.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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