Action plan not a “document that will sit on the shelf”

Opposition parties say plan keeps seniors healthy and engaged, but suspect of timing

Premier Stephen McNeil holds the SHIFT: Nova Scotia’s action plan for an aging population, which he launched during an announcement in Fall River on March 30. The province has earmarked $13.6 million over three years to implement 50 action items to keep the provinces aging population healthy and engaged. (Healey photo)

FALL RIVER: A comprehensive plan aimed at keeping older Nova Scotians healthy and engaged was officially launched to much fan fare on Thursday afternoon March 30.

Premier Stephen McNeil, Health Minister Leo Glavine and Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank Liberal MLA Bill Horne, along with those involved in the creation of the $13.6 million SHIFT: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population were on hand at the announcement with the Gordon R. Snow Community Centre in Fall River as the backdrop.

The province has committed the money over the next three years to implementing the 50 specified actions over eight government departments.

Premier Stephen McNeil speaks about SHIFT: Nova Scotia’s action plan for an aging population, which he launched during an announcement in Fall River on March 30. (Healey photo)

“This is not a document that will sit on the shelf,” said McNeil, his hand holding the 30-page SHIFT action plan. “It’s 50 action items that will allow us to breath life into this document and change our province and our community.

“It will also allow us to leverage federal dollars that will build on top of that.”

By 2030, more than one in four Nova Scotians will be aged 65 and over, the release from the government said.

Waverley-Fall River-Beaver Bank Liberal MLA Bill Horne speaks during the province’s announcement of its first action plan for the aging population. (Healey photo)

The government didn’t create the action plan, said McNeil, but rather the more than 600 Nova Scotians they connected with through the engagement process did.

“These actions will be there, and I know you Marjorie will hold us all accountable, to make sure we continue to do these,” he said. “It’s a cross-government initiative, it’s a cross-community initiative. In order for us to maximize the opportunity that we have with the aging population, we all need to participate and be part of it.”

Aging-well advocate Marjorie Willison speaks. (Healey photo)

Aging-well advocate Marjorie Willison said the action plan was innovative given its cross-section of government departments involved. Willison was the co-chair of the action plan’s advisory committee.

“This isn’t a report. This isn’t a study,” said Willison. “This is an action plan.”

Initiatives include:

— helping older Nova Scotians stay in their homes longer

— improving access to affordable, healthy foods for vulnerable older adults

— highlighting the benefits to employers of hiring older workers and creating age-friendly workplaces

— working with partner organizations to promote mentorship opportunities for older adults

— supporting community transportation with a focus on rural communities

— helping older adults share and develop food and nutrition skills and knowledge

— promoting physical activity and regular exercise at all ages, including middle-aged and older adults, with a strong emphasis on walking

— giving communities funding for age-friendly planning.

While the announcement was being billed as a way to celebrate the contributions older Nova Scotians make every day, not everyone was willing to give the governing Liberal government a thumbs up.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said it’s a little hypocritical to hear what the government is planning to do, although he does think it is a sound document.

“The initiative itself has a great deal to be commended about,” he said. “It’s just that the words ring a little hollow and a little thin when the signature feature of the last three-and-a-half years of the McNeil Liberals have been the cutbacks to programs already in place for seniors.”

Grant Kerr of Fall River speaks to the media about what the provinces first action plan, SHIFT: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an aging population, will mean to him. (Healey photo)

PC Leader Jamie Baillie did commend the Liberals for putting some good things in the action plan, but said the reality for most seniors is they’re worried about a family doctor; Pharmacare premiums; and home-care.

“The Premier had nothing to say on all those issues today,” said Baillie in a media scrum following the presser. “People are going to be pretty disappointed that there’s no plan for those various essentials of life for our seniors.”

He was also concerned with the timing of the announcement.

“When its an election year they come out with these fancy documents that have some pretty lofty goals, but in a non-election year we’ve seen them jack up seniors pharmacare; cut nursing home budgets,” said Baillie. “I suspect there will be some cynicism with the timing of today’s announcement.”