Good morning, Chair Vecchio and all committee members. I thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you on this important topic. I apologize that I couldn't be there with you in person.
I am Dr. Lia Tsotsos, Director of the Centre for Elder Research based out of Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario. We have been in operation as an applied, on-campus research institute for over 15 years. Our mandate is to conduct research that enhances the lives of older adults and their families. We began addressing our current demographic shift years ago, and are pleased to see the growth of interest, support and funding that is being devoted to exploring the challenges and opportunities presented by an aging population.
Our approach to research has always been an inclusive one. Our founding director, Pat Spadafora, coined the phrase “reciprocal benefits research”, whereby those engaging in research are more than just subjects and often have the opportunity to engage as active participants or even as co-researchers, helping to inform the direction of the research and its conclusions. For example, we spent many years offering and studying tutoring programs for older adults, with much of that work being supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, or NSERC. The older adults who engaged in the projects were studied, yes, but in the process they also received free computer training and helped with the development of standardized training materials. This reciprocity, the “with us, not for us” approach, is one that we continue to support wherever possible, including in the context of examining challenges faced by older women.
In this context, for example, we recommend that there be efforts made to directly engage with the older women deemed at risk for poverty or vulnerability in order to understand the pathways that led to their being in this situation. Instead of focusing solely on the current state of affairs, one must also explore the historical and systemic conditions that led to their current challenges in order to develop sustainable solutions. Sometimes the factors that lead to poverty and vulnerability, particularly in women, are lifelong and not related to age alone.
For example, from our work with those technology tutoring programs, we observed that some cohorts of older women were never responsible for the management of home finances and were not always very technologically literate. When they became widowed, suddenly that job fell entirely to them and required a significant learning process. This problem is compounded by changes that make some government services primarily accessible only online. In this example, the historical conditions that resulted in dependency for some women, combined with a shift in government processes, leads to an increased risk for vulnerability. These situations may be further exacerbated by the variety of unpaid caregiving duties—for children or for aging parents, for example—that disproportionately fall to women, further reducing their potential engagement in the workforce and increasing their lifelong financial vulnerability.
In our work exploring risk factors for social isolation and loneliness in older immigrants, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, or SSHRC, we have seen similar examples. Some older immigrant women come to the country with the expectation that they will provide a level of care for young grandchildren. As such, they primarily remain within the home, may not learn how to drive, and may be residing in suburban areas with limited municipal transportation options. Combine this with limited English skills and no independent source of income, and these women, once the grandchildren are grown up, may find themselves lacking purpose, social capital and the resources to address these issues. This again increases the risk of poverty, isolation and vulnerability.
Having said this, we would also advise against stereotyping or generalizing women of a certain age or situation. Occasionally, the discourse in this space automatically assumes that women are at greater risk or are more inherently vulnerable than men. This represents a form of gender-specific ageism. Previous work completed at the centre suggests that ageism is the most tolerated “ism” when compared with racism and sexism.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, or CIHR, have an action plan devoted to gender and sex-based analysis in research. We certainly support this approach as part of a diversity framework within the research community. Sex and gender-based analysis can inform considerations of how other determinants, such as ethnicity, health, socio-economic status and age, interact with sex or gender to contribute to such outcomes as risk factors for poverty and vulnerability. When we fund research that explicitly reflects and considers the diversity of the population, we will all be able to work with higher-quality, more robust datasets.
More broadly, the development of population-level, open-access datasets is also critically important.
The Canadian longitudinal study on aging is doing tremendous work to examine aging across the country by following 50,000 individuals for 20 years. As part of this project, there's a process in place for researchers like the ones at the centre to access those data. This is encouraging, as it supports further research and the development of interdisciplinary teams that could study the complex pathways of aging and how they differ across the country.
As I conclude, allow me to reiterate some of the general recommendations we have for work in this space. First, many of the factors that contribute to poverty and/or vulnerability in older women have origins in earlier life, so they should be considered as part of a more holistic look at these issues.
Second, despite such evidence, we should not make assumptions about the status of older women by default, as this may culminate in ageist thinking and behaviour.
Finally, research that fully considers gender and/or sex as part of its data collection and analysis can help us better understand how these factors interact with others to shape the experiences of all older adults in the country.
The last thought I will share is a personal one. My grandmother came to Canada in 1950. She was an active member of her cultural community and her English was good, but she never worked outside the home and never learned to drive. When she was widowed suddenly at 74, she found herself in a situation that was far beyond her capacity to deal with. Had it not been for the fact that our family was close, both geographically and emotionally, it would have been far too easy for her to have completely been consumed by that experience, being physically, emotionally and technologically isolated and vulnerable.
I work in the field of aging professionally and know the scale of the challenges we're facing, but personal experiences like these really drive home the importance of the questions we're asking and the necessity of answering them well.
I thank the committee, once again, for allowing me to contribute to this exercise and look forward to the outcomes and recommendations that emerge from this set of consultations.
Thank you very much, and thank you for the invitation.
Seniors Action Quebec is an advocacy organization advocating on behalf of English-speaking seniors in Quebec. There are just over a million English speakers in Quebec, so about 13% of the Quebec population. Of that million, just under 160,000 are 65-plus, so it's a sizeable number of people who are English-speaking and 65-plus. If you lower the age criteria to 55, then there are about 260,000, or roughly 25% of the English-speaking population in Quebec that is 55 and over. Of the 160,000 English speakers who are 65-plus, 52% are women and 48% are men. In part, this reflects the fact that, on average, women live longer than men.
The information I'm presenting to you now came from a project that Seniors Action Quebec conducted from 2016 to 2018, funded by ESDC, that was focused on reaching socially isolated seniors and English-speaking seniors in Quebec. A researcher helped us look at some of the data about English-speaking seniors, and this has helped us isolate some information that we think helps highlight the situation of women who are English-speaking seniors.
Of the 160,000 who are 65-plus, we learned that about 30% are living alone. We were looking for indicators of social isolation, and living alone is not an automatic indicator, but it's one of them. What was interesting about the roughly 46,000 seniors living alone was that 37% of all 65-plus women lived alone, whereas 20% of the men did. Therefore, more senior English-speaking women are living alone than men. I don't know exactly why that is, but as I mentioned, living alone is one potential indicator of social isolation. More senior women are living alone than men.
Secondly, we were pretty shocked, actually, to see the size of the senior English-speaking population that was living on $20,000 a year or less, and even more surprised to see that almost twice as many women were living on or under $20,000 than men. Probably, part of that was related to their past non-participation in the workforce and less access to pensions. It was a pretty surprising finding.
Lastly, you are probably familiar with the LICO indicator, which is an indicator of “straitened circumstances”—that's what the literature calls it—but a much more restrained annual income. There are 18% of women 65-plus who are living under LICO. In general, senior English-speaking women are not doing as well financially as their male counterparts.
The last slide summarizes the focus that we had on indicators of social isolation. It's not divided by gender, but repeats the information I presented. When you consider those indicators combined with any medical conditions, mobility limitations, lower implication in social and community life, and a weak or absent social safety net, those things will certainly contribute to social isolation. Women are more likely to have some of the indicators that, in combination with these other things, will amplify isolation.
I'm going to ask the executive director of Seniors Action Quebec, Vanessa Herrick, to continue to contribute some information about English-speaking seniors in Quebec.
Thank you so much for having me.
I'm going to provide a little bit more of the story around some of those numbers and what the particular challenges are that English-speaking senior women in Quebec face. They are unique. I'm not going to say they are unique specifically to Quebec, but this is a language-based minority in a province that is quite particular so the circumstances are a little bit unique.
These are some of the challenges that these people face. For example, the threat of isolation is true for all seniors across Canada; however, English-speaking women in Quebec face a particular situation. Many of them did not benefit from education under Bill 101, where French education was given them. Those who were not in the workforce didn't have the benefit of learning French amongst their peers. Therefore, the levels of bilingualism among senior women is extremely low. For example, in women 55 to 64, it's 60%, but in women 75-plus, it's only 36.2%.
This language barrier does isolate them. It doesn't allow them to communicate with communities above and beyond their own. We're also dealing with a geographic situation in Quebec that is extremely large. There are English communities beyond Montreal. They are not large but they are out there, and they do have seniors amongst them.
This lessens a woman's ability to access health care and social services if they are not in an area where these services are provided in English. I don't have time to go into the specifics of how and when these services are provided in English in Quebec, but it's very regulated. If you're not in an area where they're provided in English, they aren't provided in English, whether you speak French or not.
The other second challenge that's really important that women face in Quebec is the youth exodus, the fact that many young people do leave Quebec in search of other career opportunities. Lia spoke a little bit about how important family was to her grandmother when she was feeling isolated. Many of these seniors in Quebec do not have that benefit.
Because I know we're running out of time I'm just going to tell a small story that happened to me at work, probably in my second week on the job. I got a phone call from a woman who was in Montreal to see her mother. Her mother was in the hospital. Her mother was over 75. This women had been living in B.C. with her family for a few years. Her mother ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. When she flew in to visit her mom, the question came up: Why with CLSC home care health care workers did you end up in hospital with pneumonia, something that could have been treated quite easily?
What came to light after some discussions was that her mother did speak some French. However, her mother was shy to admit that she wasn't comfortable communicating her health issues in French to her health care worker. She ended up in a very serious situation because she wasn't comfortable. This woman phoned the CLSC to try to put in place a bilingual home health care worker for her mom when she was released from hospital. She was told it was impossible, that they weren't required to provide a bilingual home health care worker, which wasn't true.
She had been in Quebec longer than she needed to be. Her employer was putting pressure on her to go home. Her family was upset. She did not know where to go. She had phoned ombudspeople, so she contacted us to see what her options were. We were able to help her. However, this woman was in a very serious situation and so was her mother. Had she been released from hospital without proper care, she would be at high risk. She was extremely elderly and already in frail health.
These are just some of the examples of the particular issues that senior women face when they are in a language minority and other minority situations.
I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to present.
It's an excellent question. The particular region where your riding is located does have such diversity.
One of the things that emerged very clearly from our research was the need for cultural sensitivity training for many staff providing services to older adults, among others. A level of cultural awareness and cultural sensitivity training was needed to recognize situations—even like the one that Vanessa used as an example—where people may have a different level of comfort with those language barriers. There is also the need to provide a lot of those services in other languages or in more accessible formats.
That came up a great deal in our research. One of our biggest challenges was trying to collect data from individuals who either weren't comfortable in the English language or weren't comfortable, culturally, talking about loneliness or isolation. In one of the languages, which may have been Mandarin, there was no direct translation for the word “lonely”. It was referred to in a roundabout way, but there wasn't an actual word. There wasn't a way to talk about this concept, particularly not for the research team who didn't speak the language. Even for our translators and interpreters, there was that barrier. Conceptually, that topic was not one they would commonly want to discuss.
Some of the key recommendations emerge about how to recognize where those barriers might be in place, and how to put in a variety of solutions to help address them. These could include translating materials, different kinds of accessibility, interpreters and those kinds of things.
As I mentioned at the beginning, one raison d'être of Seniors Action Quebec is to advocate on behalf of the English-speaking seniors. What that translates into is discovering what some of the differences are about English-speaking seniors as compared with the majority-language seniors in Quebec. There are differences. Some of them are related to language, but they are not all related to language.
In terms of some of the demographic factors, English-speaking seniors compared with French-speaking seniors have typically fewer natural caregivers around them. There's actually a ratio to measure this. I can't tell you how it's calculated but I've seen the ratio. For every francophone senior, there are roughly three point something natural caregivers in their environment, and for English-speaking seniors, it's two point something. That's just as an illustration of a difference that's not really language related.
Well, maybe at the end of it, it is, because people move away in part because of language, but they move away for other reasons too.
To come back to your question, one of the things we have realized we need to do is to make the provincial government aware of what is different about English-speaking seniors. Yes, there can be issues about will, but I don't think it's all about will. It's also about information and understanding differences in the population.
The way to work on that is, as Dr. Tsotsos said, you have to be around the table. Therefore, that has become part of our modus operandi: to make direct contact with the relevant ministries in Quebec such as transportation, such as revenue, ministries that the English-speaking population has not particularly known to be engaged with. However, if we want the government to understand what's different about English-speaking seniors, we're going to have find ways to tell it.
Now, I'm not—
Certainly. The way we've often described it is as reciprocal benefits research, where both parties receive benefits from participating in a research project.
A lot of times, particularly in the context of work with older adults, we run the risk of elderspeak, which is a tone or an approach that can sometimes be perceived as very patronizing. You might see it sometimes in health care settings. You'll hear, “That's okay, dear,” or “Here are your pills, sweetie.” It's that type of language and that tone.
The idea is to avoid discussing the issues as if those older adults are not fully engaged, concerned participants in that same challenge and in their own solutions.
When we say “with us, not for us”, it's not researchers saying, “Here is how we're going to help you old people. There, there, we'll take care of you.” It's much more about engaging with them because they're the ones who best understand their situation and the challenges they're facing. If they can be participants in the creation of their own solutions or their own strategies, those will likely be far more sustainable and far more impactful, and maybe more tailored.
As we're talking about in the example of the English-speaking older women in Quebec, those solutions and strategies might be much more relevant if we engage directly with them to understand what they are facing, and then we might be better able to allocate the right types of resources to the right services.
That may take more than seven minutes. If I get cut off, I quite understand.
In our own work with older immigrants who are at risk of loneliness and isolation, the vast majority of them were living with family, which may include grandchildren and/or adult children. I think one of the other parts of making sure that information is accessible and available to people is also considering the role for adult children, children and adult grandchildren as part of a global family approach.
I know, for example, to refer back to my own personal example, a lot of times when people think of caregivers for someone with dementia, they think of the children of that individual and not technically the grandchildren, yet I found that, in my case, I was often just as engaged as my mother was in caring for her father.
It's recognizing that family support means a lot of different things to a lot of different people and once again not making the assumption that this particular role or this particular individual within a family unit or structure is the one to engage with. We're not going to target only the adult female children, even though they may typically provide the greatest level of care. It's recognizing the diversity of ways people can provide support through technology, through finances and through brokering of other services.
If I arrange for lawn care, that's me providing a level of support for an older adult in my life. It's trying to figure out all the different pathways and how we can make all things more accessible to more people. As you say, they don't necessarily need to be government programs. It's just an awareness that anyone can hire a lawn service for an older adult in their life. It doesn't necessarily have to be the power of attorney or their key financial decision-maker.
I don't know if that gets at your question in a minute and a half.
Thank you all for taking the time to come in to present to us.
I am a practising physician, but on the other end of the spectrum. I have pediatric patients, but they frequently show up with their grandparents, so I hear about their issues as well.
All of you have mentioned health concerns, particularly you, Vanessa. You told a story, and I will say that I have heard those stories as well. I think many seniors really are at risk because of their lack of ability to communicate. We, as physicians, have a tendency to speak in a different language that seniors don't speak. Quite frankly, I don't think many Canadians speak it.
I believe there should be some degree of accountability for health care, whether it be through the federal government through the Canada Health Act, or through the provincial governments, which, because of that act, have taken on a responsibility for providing health care. They state that others should not be allowed to do that, but that doesn't provide for patients. It has become very bureaucratic.
Could you give me a sense of what you think that accountability to patients really is for seniors? What accountability should the Government of Canada and the governments in the provinces have to seniors? They've taken on the responsibility for care, so how should they be accountable for providing patients good care when they've taken on that responsibility?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
My thanks to the witnesses for their presentations.
I am the member for Vimy, in Laval, where a quarter of the population are seniors. In another life, I was a nurse. So I know how things are for our seniors, especially in a riding like mine where there are many cultural communities. I would like to mention that Ville de Laval has been providing free public transit to seniors since 2014. Laval also has the new Agape's English-speaking Seniors' Wellness Centre, which opened last year. I had the pleasure of visiting it. Those involved are doing an incredible job in the English-speaking community, whether in terms of culture, health care, conferences, and so on. It is an incredible centre focused on the English-speaking community; there are many communities in Vimy.
I know that health care services fall under provincial jurisdiction, but I would like to know what our government could do in addition to the new horizons for seniors program, which has already been mentioned by several of my colleagues. It is actually an incredible program that provides many grants, especially in my riding, downtown Laval. We can certainly improve our engagement with seniors, especially women.
What can we do at the federal level, even though the matter is in provincial jurisdiction?
I'll start with you, Ms. Tsotsos.
I don't know whether you're aware, but the program is renewed every year. This is not a program that ends after one year. It is therefore possible to use it again.
I have another question. Seniors from cultural communities, aged 50 or 60, who often come here to care for their grandchildren, are much more vulnerable than English-speaking Canadian seniors. They don't speak either French or English most of the time. Clearly, I am not here to say that we must find programs for each community, it is almost impossible. However, what more can we do?
Let me ask Ms. Herrick to answer that question.
What is happening in Quebec? I know that Quebec has many more programs, such as meals on wheels for people who live alone, which also exists in Laval, as well as public transit, which I mentioned earlier, but what more can we do?
I think it's an important point, and I think what we see in Laval and Montreal is a real effort to reach out to non-English and non-French speakers because we do have a large community and they don't only live in Montreal and Laval.
I will echo a little of what was said before. A lot of the community organizations that do the work, that hire the translators—there are some excellent examples in Montreal—operate on project funding from the government. That is you apply and you get this amount of money for this much time.
They spend a great deal of time worrying about funding, and worrying about trying to ensure that their services are going to be continued rather than finding new and creative ways to support the community. Again I'm not an economist. I'm not sure the best way this can be done, but perhaps identify strong community leaders and ensure that their funding is sustained and that they can work with smaller players and different communities.
Maybe not create an entirely new organization for every immigrant population, but maybe have somebody working within this larger group who does represent the Chinese population, the Lebanese population, who is able to do a little more of that work in the field. Then they could reach out farther. I can speak only for Quebec because this is our area of expertise, but there are community groups around the province and they're quite tightly knit through different organizations.
That's an excellent existing network. Let's use that network and allow them to reach out farther and try to find the people who are not being served.
I have come here today to impress upon this committee the need to find a way to put in place some kind of financial security for stay-at-home moms.
If a woman chooses to stay at home and raise her children, she usually has to become totally reliant on the money her spouse gives her. If the marriage is solid and his employment is stable, they usually can manage. But if their marriage or common law relationship falls apart, she may be left having to find a job to look after her children.
As we know, getting child support and going through a divorce is a process that may be very stressful, challenging and costly, and may not happen all. The partner may just walk away and disappear, or even come back later to challenge visitation of the children, creating more stress and court costs.
She may risk falling into poverty and relying solely on income assistance programs, if she even qualifies. She may have to work at one or more jobs to help support her family's needs, missing out, I believe, on opportunities involving her children's upbringing.
She may have to rely on other family members for financial support, if they are able to help her. Even her children may have to get part-time jobs to help out with the family's needs. She may have even worked for her husband and made his business successful, all while attending to their children and home, yet got nothing in the end.
I'm sure every one of us in this room today knows a young woman, a mom who has met this fate, and has heard many stories that fall upon similar lines.
A young woman today should feel secure in having the choice to stay at home and raise a family, work part or full time if she wishes to, and know that as she ages, she can receive the same deductions and benefits, and maybe even a pension, as her spouse does. Here is where the key lies. Where are her benefits if she chooses to stay home, is unemployed but plays a key role in the development of her family? No dollar value has ever been assigned to such an important and extremely significant job in this world.
I am 62 years old and have been married to my husband, Kim, for 38 years. I brought into this world and raised, together with my husband, eight very strong and successful children. As a single young woman, I worked from 1974 to 1978 before deciding to go to university. I worked as a waitress evenings and weekends to pay for my post-secondary education and living expenses. I married Kim in 1981 and had our daughter in June of 1982. During this time, my husband was elected to the Saskatchewan legislature. I helped him get elected and fully supported his decision and work, while I continued to go to university and raise our daughter. My first son was born in August of 1983, and I took a year off from university before going back in the fall of 1984.
My husband had been a lawyer for eight years prior to being elected, and he made a reasonable living. He stopped practising shortly after being elected and our annual income dropped significantly to only $32,000. We had a mortgage, vehicle expenses, utilities, food, clothing, a baby and children and all the other things that go along with them. We managed our money carefully, kept our expenses down, lived in a modest home and did not let our expenses exceed our income. I got a meagre family allowance at the time, around $55 per month. My husband got to deduct the children in the family allowance payments. His father passed away the year we married and we took over the farming so as not to get hit with capital gains at the time.
I helped my husband with the farming and he paid me a small amount of income. He was able to claim my salary as a deduction, but guess what. I had to pay on average about $10,000 a year in income tax, which was money neither he nor I had. However, we did our duty and paid it through installments. I remember being angry and frustrated at the time, believing the federal government did not want strong families in this country, nor did it want women to stay home and help bring up strong, well-educated and emotionally well-developed children.
What was wrong with this picture then, and what is wrong with this same picture today? A $500 child tax credit after the fact doesn't cut it either. Even if you qualified, you'd already had to find the money to pay for your child's expenses up front.
A June 2011 national article from the personal finance magazine MoneySense shows it costs $17,236 per child per year, or an estimated cost of $310,244 to raise a child from birth until their 18th birthday. That was eight years ago. It is scary to consider what those figures would be today. We need to do better.
Our young women today are delaying having families into their thirties, until they have established a career and have secured a job—hopefully with a pension. Many whose careers or places of employment do not offer benefits or a pension plan are afraid to begin a family, or they choose to have only one child. It shouldn't be this way.
I'm happy and thankful and I appreciate being able to be a stay-at-home mom and do everything possible to raise eight children who are of good character, have strong moral values, and are well-educated, resilient and successful in their lives. I did a lot of volunteer work in the schools and community and I was there for my children where and whenever I was needed. In 1995, and with a daughter and seven sons, I decided to run and was elected to the local public school board. Any money I made, right up until I resigned from the board in 2015, went to support all of my children's needs. This included monthly support to those attending university.
I was elected as an MLA in November of 2014, and today, even with the job I have, I can tell you that 95% of my monthly income continues to go to support the needs of my children who are working hard on their education and careers.
I have sacrificed a lot throughout the past 38 years for the benefit of my children—willingly and happily. I am fortunate and grateful that where I am now provides me with benefits and pensions. I fear for those young women who are wondering how they will manage and survive as they age, and who have to continue working well into their senior years just to make ends meet. My granddaughters should never have to be afraid to choose between being a stay-at-home mom and not having children at all. Young women today and into the future should know that they are valued and that what they are contributing to society in staying home and raising children has a secure financial price tag attached to it. They deserve benefits and a pension as well.
As women leaders, we can and must do better in putting in place policies and legislation that recognize and show value to today's—and our future's—young moms. Thank you for this opportunity.
My name is Juliette Shirley Noskey, née Kapashesit, which means “small” when translated to English. I'm a member of Loon River First Nation, which is a reserve about four and half hours north of Edmonton, Alberta.
I was born and raised in Moose Factory, Ontario, which is located on the Moose River. I am the daughter of Oliver and the late Alice Small, who were, throughout my childhood, harvesters working in various locations in northern Ontario. At an early age, I was placed in a residential school—Bishop Horden Hall—where I resided for nine years. Although my parents committed us to the residential school during the academic year, their commitment to our family never wavered. Family was important to my mama. Today, it is still important to my baba and nine siblings.
My mama, Alice, set an example of commitment to family through her love, hard work and perseverance. Just like my mom, I knew that I wanted to be a mother and have many children. When I became a mother, I decided that I would stay at home—a privilege not offered to my mama—and be totally involved in parenting my children.
Being a stay-at-home mom was a privilege and an honour. One of the deciding factors was that I wanted to control and protect the environment in which my children would grow up. I desired to provide for my children a loving environment where they could grow as responsible individuals and as contributing members of the community. I wanted to ensure that my children would be raised to be responsible adults in society. During challenging days I would remind myself that my children were only small for a little portion of their lives. I kept my focus on parenting for their futures as adults. Therefore, I took an extended absence from the workforce due to motherhood and parenting. Also, I kept the in mind the Bible verse found in Proverbs 22:6, which states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
It has been said that family is the cornerstone of our society. I truly believe that. That is why I decided to take that extended absence from the workforce. I had always thought that I would enter the workforce when my children were older and no longer in high school.
Unfortunately, I became a single parent—not by choice—when my youngest child was only four years old. Two years later, I decided that my children, Joanne, Candace and Adam, needed a mother who was healthy in every way, so I made the decision to leave our community. I needed to find an environment that would help me to address the issues in my life and become a better mom for them. I then decided to pursue an education so I could provide for them financially. The decision to uproot my children from the only home community that they had known was an extremely difficult one.
For nearly 20 years, I concentrated on parenting my children and worked on providing a stable environment in the home, except when I had to work when my then-husband was not employed. In the latter part of the 20 years, I made the decision to return to school and actually graduated with my oldest daughter from Portage College.
Unfortunately, throughout my time being a stay-at-home mom, I had made no pension contributions to any retirement plan. I had only made contributions to the Canada pension plan prior to having children and once again when I returned to the workforce upon completion of my education in 2006. There is no provision for retirement for women and, nowadays, for some men who decide to stay at home and raise their children.
As I near the end of my working career and look forward to retirement, I believe that my pension will not be sufficient to cover all living costs. It seems that choosing to be a stay-at-home mom penalized me and other women for doing the most important thing in society, which is to make certain that our children are cared for and to contribute to society in this manner.
I believe that today there are thousands of mothers, now retired, who live in poverty because of their decision to focus on parenting their child or children and not to enter the workforce. Many have no other pension but the small contributions made to the Canada pension plan when they entered the workforce after their children became independent and/or entered the workforce. I know some of these women personally.
One friend comes to mind. She lives in the Northwest Territories where the cost of living is high compared to other areas of the country. She has to rely on other family members to help meet her living costs. I am certain there are numerous stories of once stay-at-home moms who are now retired and live in poverty today.
I would like to highly recommend that the government look to provide adequate pension funding for individuals like me who chose to stay at home for many years in order to raise responsible adults for the society in which we live. It would be ideal if stay-at-home mothers could have a retirement plan where they could make a small contribution and possibly have the government match that amount.
In closing, I want to thank you. I consider it an honour to share a bit of my life story with you in the hope that it will somehow contribute to the advancement and recognition of all women in our country.
Meegwetch. Thank you. Hiy hiy.
Thank you, both, for taking the time to present to us. It's greatly appreciated.
I come from Fort McMurray, so I can relate to northern Alberta, Fort McKay, Fort Chip, and all of that area.
I want to follow up, Juliette, on what you commented on and maybe get Colleen's comments on it. It's your idea of having a retirement plan. In a previous committee we had a woman present here about the idea of having something similar to an RESP. Right now you can contribute to your child's education and withdraw on that in the future, but what she recommended was that, while she was a stay-at-home mom, each year, similar to the RSDP for disabilities, there would be a contribution made by the family and by the government that then would be saved and accumulate until she was 65 so that she would be able to access it well beyond the time frame when she had raised her children, whether she entered the workforce or not.
I want to ask you your thoughts on that idea, and also, both of you, if you do have ideas, I'd like to ask you to submit them to us. It's great to have conversations, but if you have specifics, Juliette, it would be great to have those specifics on paper so that they become part of our report. I think that would be very valuable.
I just want to ask for your comments on that type of specific retirement plan, or if you have other ideas, please submit them.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to Colleen and Juliette.
I think the issues you have touched on are very often overlooked.
Juliette, I would truly appreciate it, if you did in fact consult with your peers to think about a drop-out provision for CPP, and also about the need to improve the guaranteed income supplement. We do indeed have too many seniors living in poverty.
Colleen, concerning your issue about farm women, in my experience farm women contributed all of their lives—built the farm, made it possible for it to be a success—and then, when it came time, after a marriage breakup, to divide those assets, they were left out entirely. There has to be some equity for women. I think the judicial system is something we need to look at. Do courts treat women fairly in regard to the end of a marriage?
Specifically in terms of women surviving on their own.... I guess, Juliette, this pertains to you. You said you had to leave your community. Of course there's the isolation. You had to manage on your own. In terms of managing, there's a housing issue. In terms of the availability and the cost of housing—at this point in time the cost of housing is incredibly high and housing is not available—I'm wondering about a housing policy to ensure that this doesn't make women even more vulnerable and contribute to their poverty.
What would you like to see in terms of that basic need?
When I left the community, I relied on friends to give me support. They found a place for me in a rural area. Down the highway, there was a church where women—their husbands were farmers—provided the necessities for me.
I lived in Bonnyville in Alberta. I was able to apply for low-income housing, and I spent from 2000 to.... Since then I've been living in cities and smaller towns. People have asked me, “Why haven't you purchased a home?” I said it was because my money would go to my children, to raise them.
Unfortunately their dad was incarcerated in 2002, so I had no support other than me. Thankfully I had a family. My brother Raymond, when my son wanted to do extracurricular activities such as gymnastics and baseball, provided those funds for me. I had a lot of challenges in raising my children.
I went back to school; I went to school with them. It was a very difficult time, but we made it. My oldest daughter works for our nation as a care counsellor. My youngest, my only son, works in the finance department. He went through three years of university at UBC. My middle child, Candace, has gone to university at U of C in Calgary and Mount Royal University in Calgary as well.
Without the support from those individuals, I wouldn't be where I am today with respect to my children. For me, I look at my future and wonder, where do I go from here? Just about a month ago I was released from my position, and at this stage, where can I find work as an aboriginal woman? I can't go back into a small community on the reserve, because work there is limited. There's not much work, so I think my future is weak. I'm sure there are other stay-at-home moms who've gone though the same thing I'm going through. It's difficult for me to think of my future and where I will go.
I never did buy a home, because I felt I would let somebody else worry about the furnace, if the furnace broke or there were house repairs and all of that. I wanted the money I was making to go to my children.