More than one in five people living in the Thunder Bay area are now over age 65, and the city is two years older than the Ontario median average.
New census data from Statistics Canada figures record 32,140 seniors among the district’s 146,855 residents, which amounts to 22 per cent of the population and an increase of 7,700 over the last decade
Three of the four major parties vying to form Ontario’s next government on June 2 are promising to phase out for-profit, long-term care facilities, following the system pressures that emerged under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here’s how the local candidates in the northwest say they’ll tackle the issue if elected.
Thunder Bay-Superior North Liberal candidate Shelby Ch’ng looked back on the last two years as having exposed for-profit long-term care as “warehousing seniors.” She cites a 2021 report from the government’s science table that found 78 per cent more resident deaths from COVID-19 occurred in for-profit long-term care homes than in non-profit homes.
“It was the military that had to get called in to take care of people,” Ch’ng said.
“We had people with bandages on their arms for days lying in their own waste, not being fed, under-medicated, overmedicated — it was absolute mayhem inside for-profit long-term care facilities and the Ford government is actually investing taxpayer money into more private long-term care facilities and it’s just not how we take care of seniors. For-profit long-term care facilities is the greatest mistake of the 20th century.”
Should they be elected, the Liberals plan to phase out for-profit long-term care facilities “as quickly as possible” as they create 58,000 new spaces and expand home care for 400,000 Ontarians. They also vow to increase seniors’ pensions by $1,000 per year.
Judith Monteith-Farrell, the NDP incumbent candidate for Thunder Bay-Atikokan, said the Liberals took her party’s promise to phase out for-profit, long-term care homes, some of whose proprietors have 30-year contracts with the provincial government.
Monteith-Farrell sees a different kind of senior citizen emerging from a generational shift who’s more likely to be active and still engaged in the workforce. As baby boomers continue to age, her party says, it will create 50,000 new spaces by 2030, including supporting housing and affordable housing for seniors age at home.
In the meantime, the NDP promises to connect hospital budgets directly to the rate of health care inflation.
“They’ve been in a funding model that is actually disastrous,” Monteith-Farrell said.
“We need to have a system where hospitals have the money they need where they’re not robbing from Peter to pay Paul. They have stable funding they can rely on so if the cost of living has gone up two per cent, they know they can get two per cent and not have to juggle around cutting care for individuals in the hospitals or programming that’s essential.”
Progressive Conservative Party
Thunder Bay-Atikokan candidate Kevin Holland is running for the PCs because he feels it’s the only party that will see to it that long-term care homes are built in Ontario’s smaller communities.
The incumbent party is investing $933 million in 80 new long-term care projects, and planning to add 7,510 new spaces and upgrade 4,197 more.
Holland points to the previous Liberal government for allowing the province to fall behind on planning for long-term care, when only one per cent of the 20 per cent needed was constructed.
As Conmee’s mayor and chair of the municipality’s non-profit housing corporation, Holland said lobbying efforts “hit a brick wall” with the Liberals as it sought to have 128 beds built so it can accommodate its elders when the time comes.
“Not all residents, especially the ones who were raised or lived their whole life in a rural area want to move into an urban centre when that time comes,” he said. “By allowing development of long-term care in rural settings, it alleviates the demand on the urban centres. The advocacy we’ve had with the Ford government has been positive in that regard.”
He adds both the non-profit and private sectors need to continue to play a role.
The Green Party wants to phase out for-profit, long-term care, but its Thunder Bay-Atikokan candidate, Eric Arner, believes the way to ensure elders are supported is to better regulate their care.
Arner said a lower staff-to-patient ratio with registered nurses, registered nurse practitioners, and more, better-compensated personal support workers (PSWs) will lay seniors’ conditions on a stronger foundation of professional care.
The Greens promise to add $2 billion to long-term care funding, and are also running on heightened inspections and enforcement to ensure facilities are meeting those standards.
Arner is pragmatic about his party’s fortunes among voters, but said good ideas can punch above their weight when it comes to influencing policy with a few seats.
“We’re fairly certain the other parties are going to have more seats than us so we want to make sure we get a message through to them, here are our ideas, please run with it,” Arner said.
“And that has happened in the past four years. Mike Schreiner has brought a lot of ideas in and other parties have run with them and that’s great. We want to do that with long-term care facilities and staff. And that costs money but it’s an important place to put money.”
New Blue Party
Ontario’s New Blue Party is also running candidates in northwestern Ontario. Its one-page party platform lists “restoring dignity and transparency in our health care” as a priority, but does not mention long-term care homes.