Public Values

Programs to keep seniors living at home will require shifting public attitudes – again

For 25 years, OCSCO has worked to put seniors' rights and collective needs on the public agenda.

We need voices to say: I do not mind paying taxes for the services I require - Bea Ish Theilheimer, with YouTube clip

TORONTO, November 9, 2010: OCSCO, the Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens Organizations celebrated its 25th anniversary here. It was an upbeat affair, with more than 300 senior activists from 160 organizations across Ontario. Many delegates said, however, that they will have to fight hard in the current climate for the programs seniors need to live healthy lives and live independently.

OCSCO members are very accustomed to taking on challenges, in contrast with stereotypes commonly presented of old people. As Order of Canada member and full-time activist Bea Levis said in an interview, "The concept that aging is a disease and that older people are a burden, is completely false. It's a myth.

"Older people live longer now, are healthier, and the vast majority of older people are fit," she said. "They may have some problems like arthritis or diabetes, but with the proper care, it is possible to live a good life, contribute to society, contribute to your family."

Another myth to be overcome, she says, it that the aging baby boomers are "going to be a tsunami. It's more like a glacier. It's creeping slowly. There is time to make preparations for it," and her organizations are attempting to pressure governments at every level into doing just that. In many ways, getting government action is a tougher fight than ever due to the ongoing economic crisis and a right-wing political drift.

OCSCO was born out of the fight its founders raised in 1985 when the Brian Mulroney government attempted to de-index seniors' Old Age Security. When seniors realized what this innocuous-sounding proposal was going to cost them, they went ballistic, as many Canadians recall, 25 years later.

"They got two busloads of seniors together and they went to Ottawa to protest," said Levis. "And when the Prime Minister came out to talk to them, he was heckled and booed down." The event got huge media coverage at the time, leading to a firestorm of national protest.

"The protest rolled on because of the publicity" from the Ottawa event, she said. "So the government eventually backed down, and the de-indexing didn't take place. Of course they have found ways of getting around the problem later."

Bea Levis and Ray Applebaum talk about the origins of OCSCO 25 years ago and the issues it addresses today in this clip from YouTube:

From there, OCSCO was formed, and its members proceeded to identify and act on issues they're still pursuing today, including housing, homelessness, income security, and the need for community services to help seniors live independently in their own homes. In the 1980s, they were active in identifying the need for action on seniors' poverty, which led to real increases in government pension plans.

Although there are some new issues today around the aging of society, senior activists say they are fighting a lot of the same old problems, in a political climate considerably less receptive to social programs. "The concept of individual rights trumping collective rights wasn't as widespread as today," says Levis. "The concept of all taxes being bad wasn't as strong either."

OCSCO co-founder Ray Applebaum said that the aging of the Baby Boomers presents some real problems. "They're very demanding, and in some cases have more disposable income," which tends to "overshadow those people who are at the fringe of society, who can't speak for themselves," and who need community voices like OCSCO speaking for them.

As Bea Levis said, "We need to have voices that say 'I don't mind paying taxes for the services I require and by paying taxes the burden is equalized in the community so that people who can afford it pay a little bit more than the people who can't afford it. This is the way a democratic society must work."

Ish Theilheimer is Publisher of Straight Goods News.

Posted: November 17, 2010

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