ELECTION 2015: Different parties, different plans to support home caregivers

North Island-Powell River: Candidates voice support for expanding benefits for those who take care of aging family members

All four North Island–Powell River candidates in the upcoming federal election have voiced their support for expanding benefits for those within our society who take care of aging family members as a full- or part-time ‘job.’

“As we age,” says Conservative Party candidate Laura Smith, “it’s very important that we provide caregivers with the supports that they need. It can be very difficult to carry on with your working life, you know, if you’re in the sandwich generation, looking after kids.”

Smith says the Conservatives have made excellent policy decisions in this area, and will continue to do so.

“We have introduced the Family Caregivers Tax Credit,” she says. “We’ve also brought in the Canadian Employers for Caregivers Plan, which is a plan that supports employers who want to help their employees cope with their roles as caregivers as well as their roles as employees. We’ve expanded compassionate care benefits, that provides up to six weeks of EI benefits when you need to go look after a loved one, and we’ve also not just expanded the eligibility of that, but we’ve made it available to self-employed people.

“So we have identified this as a priority for helping seniors and their families age in place and age with dignity.”

Liberal Party candidate Peter Schwarzhoff, agrees that the goal is to keep people in their homes as long as possible, but disagrees with how to accomplish that.

A Liberal government “will introduce more flexible and accessible employment insurance compassionate care benefit that’s available to any Canadian who needs to take care of a seriously ill family member.”

That flexibility, Schwarzhoff says, will take the form of covering caregivers who deliver care on weekends or outside of normal work hours, which he says is currently not covered by the Conservatives’ plan, and those who need to deliver that care in shorter, intermittent time periods, rather than for long, continuous stretches.

“Everybody’s family circumstance is different, so we want to build some flexibility into that program,” he says.

He says the Liberals will support this plan with an additional $190-million per year without increasing EI contributions.

Green Party Candidate Brenda Sayers says she, too, understands the struggle families are facing with home care.

“When I was looking after my mother, I had flexibility in my job, because I’d negotiated a good contract with my employer where I could leave when I needed to in case there was an emergency,” says Brenda Sayers. “Also, through my Nation, we had home care support, so we were very fortunate. But I also understand the difficulties that families face that don’t have such support.”

Sayers says the Green Party, “is planning on having a housing plan that would offer affordable, predictable home care support,” adding the party would also create a policy that would allow seniors to have access to the equity in their homes “to support the day to day living expenses of the elderly so they can continue to have care in their homes.”

NDP candidate Rachel Blaney says her experience in respite care informs her position.

“Several years ago when I was in university, I actually had a summer job in Nanaimo with Respite Care Unlimited, and what we were doing was training volunteers to go into people’s homes and help seniors out,” Blaney says. “A lot of those families were struggling, and I just learned so much that summer about how hard people were working and how silent that struggle could be.”

She says the number of seniors is will double in the next 25 years, “so having a strategy just makes sense. Yes, we are going to make sure there are EI benefits for caregivers and we want to make sure it’s flexible and work with families to the best of our ability.

“We also know that home care is needed more. We need more people going to homes and providing support there to really relieve some of that pressure, so we’ll be investing money in that.”