What Ontario’s new budget means for seniors and long-term care

The 2020-21 budget includes a new program designed to help elderly Ontarians — but we’ve been here before
By Steve Paikin - Published on Nov 05, 2020
A resident and a worker at Orchard Villa Long-Term Care in Pickering on June 1. (Frank Gunn/CP)

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If there’s been one massive, heart-breaking story during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that of the province’s senior citizens living in long-term care facilities.

That demographic has suffered a disproportionate share of the fatalities in this crisis. For heaven’s sake, the province had to call in the Canadian Forces to ensure things got back to some sense of normalcy. But before that, too many frail seniors had to die alone in their long-term-care homes — as visitors were prohibited from holding their hands in their final moments.

It was with that backdrop in mind that I scoured today’s Ontario “pandemic budget” for new and interesting ideas that would ameliorate this situation. And, happily, there were some items designed especially for seniors.

For example, the Tories intend to spend $1.75 billion to build new long-term-care homes and fast-track their construction. If they can actually make that happen, that’ll no doubt do an immense amount of good.

But what could governments do that’s even better than building more long-term-care beds? Seniors’ advocates will tell you it’s this: figuring out every way imaginable to keep seniors living longer in their own homes. It’s so obvious on the face of it. If we could spend a little up front — maybe on home care or other supports — we could avoid spending a lot more down the road on building long-term-care facilities.

No doubt, it was with that in mind that the government introduced a new Seniors Home Safety Tax Credit. Starting in 2021, the program would offer homeowners a 25 per cent credit on renovations up to $10,000 for such things as wheelchair ramps or stability bars, which would presumably allow seniors to live in their homes longer.

Is this a good idea? Sure. But will it actually encourage homeowners to make these upgrades? The jury’s out on that one.

The previous Liberal government once brought in something it called the Healthy Homes Renovation Tax Credit. Admittedly, it offered homeowners only a 15 per cent credit, and it was offered only to seniors living in their own homes. This government’s credit is offered to anyone with a senior citizen living in their home.

But the reality is, the previous government cancelled the program at the end of 2016 because there just wasn’t enough uptake on it. So why bring another version of the program back?

“It’s a different time,” said Finance Minister Rod Phillips during a budget-lockup news conference today. “And 25 per cent will make a real difference to seniors. We expect it to be highly subscribed.”

The treasurer has allocated $30 million for this program, which, in a budget that will spend $187 billion this fiscal year, amounts to the proverbial pimple on an elephant.

But let’s be optimistic today. Let’s hope Ontario’s 4.6 million seniors — more than 16 per cent of our population — dive into this program. Let’s hope those new wheelchair ramps and stability bars prevent much more serious accidents from happening, thereby keeping seniors out of hospitals, and perhaps, eventually, delaying or avoiding altogether their move into long-term-care facilities.

If that happens, we’ll spend a little, we’ll save a lot, and we’ll allow more and more seniors to live happily either in their own homes or with their families. Which, after all, should be the ultimate goal here.

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