Archived - Notes for the launch of Seniors Action Quebec and the release of a study on English-speaking seniors in Quebec

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Montreal, Quebec, November 19, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for that kind welcome.

I am very pleased to be here in Montreal to take part in the launch of Seniors Action Quebec and to release my new study, which includes a portrait of Quebec’s English-speaking seniors.

New organizations bring new energy and new vitality to our communities. This is why I truly appreciate every opportunity to meet those who are actively involved in enhancing the vitality of Quebec’s Anglophone community. It’s always an energizing and inspiring experience.

In this spirit, I would like to recognize the remarkable work done over the past few years to create Seniors Action Quebec.

Community members have greatly contributed to this endeavour—first and foremost, the volunteers who have dedicated time and passion to the foundation of SAQ. I think, for instance, of Mrs. Sheila Goldbloom, who co-chaired, with ministers Réjean Hébert and Marguerite Blais, the province-wide consultation on the living conditions of Quebec seniors. And the Quebec Community Groups Network exercised great leadership in forming a provincial network and voice for English-speaking seniors, by creating committees, conducting surveys and organizing conferences.

The official launch today of Seniors Action Quebec—a province-wide network of English-speaking seniors—is excellent news, not only for the Anglophone community, but also for federal institutions. Through this network, they will be able to more easily identify and target this population. It’s an important moment for the English-speaking community, and you deserve congratulations for this successful initiative.

I would also like to thank the network and its members for helping to organize our joint event this morning here at Concordia University to launch the SAQ and my new study, Enjoying Your Senior Years in Your Own Language, Culture and Community: Federal support from key institutions and a portrait of English-speaking seniors in Quebec.

I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize Dr. Joanne Pocock, who carried out the research for the study, completing it within a short timeframe with diligence, professionalism and patience. I also commend the members of the study’s consultative committee, who took the time to read drafts and provide comments at various stages: Dr. Lorraine O’Donnell, Dr. Daphne Nahmiash, Mr. David Cassidy and Ms. Rita Legault.

My office undertook this exploratory study for two reasons: to describe federal support from key institutions, and to develop a portrait of English-speaking seniors in Quebec.

We know that populations are aging rapidly in Western societies. What is less known is that official language minority communities—Anglophone in Quebec and Francophone in other provinces—are particularly affected by population aging.

The proportion of seniors in these communities is markedly higher than that in official language majority communities. In some instances, the figures for these communities are as high as those in Japan, the world’s leading country in terms of aging population.

A strong motivation for carrying out our study was to address knowledge gaps. Going into this project, we discovered that information and data on official language minority seniors—in this instance, in Quebec—was dispersed and fragmentary. It either focused on seniors in general, or on official language minority communities as a whole, but not on senior citizens who live in those communities.

With that in mind, I realized that a portrait of English-speaking seniors was warranted to answer basic questions: Where are they? Who are they? Who cares for them? What services do they have access to? How do they use those services?

To answer those questions, we gathered existing data and presented it in a statistical portrait. You may be interested to hear that a similar portrait exists for French-speaking seniors in official language minority communities: Profil statistique 2006 des personnes âgées francophones au Canada.

I also wanted to get an idea of what federal support is available to official language minority seniors and their organizations, in Quebec and elsewhere. We reviewed policy and program support in six federal institutions: Canadian Heritage, Employment and Social Development Canada, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Status of Women Canada.

With the creation of Seniors Action Quebec, I saw an opportunity to inform organizations across the province about federal policies and programs, while also drawing the attention of our federal institutions to the situation of Quebec’s Anglophone seniors and the challenges that some of them face.

Outside Greater Montreal, which accounts for more than two thirds of Quebec’s English-speaking population and of its Anglophone seniors, English-speaking communities tend to be small and have a high proportion of seniors with specific health and social services needs. Yet many of these smaller, remote communities have less capacity in terms of public services, community infrastructure and social networks in the minority language.

Because half of English-speaking seniors in Quebec do not speak French, they may have a hard time finding local professionals who can provide services in a language they can understand. Those seniors are vulnerable, often depending on a family member or friend when they need to obtain information or health or social services.

For example, I have spoken with members of the English-speaking minority communities in some small towns in Quebec, and they point out that it is difficult to obtain service in English for seniors experiencing the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s—an illness where language comprehension is a key factor.

And despite having, on average, a higher level of education than other seniors in this province, a high proportion of Quebec’s English-speaking seniors are living below the low-income cut-off.

Furthermore, there are six times more immigrants and members of visible minorities among English-speaking seniors than among French-speaking seniors in Quebec. Service providers must take this into account when providing services to this group.

Some may wonder how any of this concerns me as Commissioner of Official Languages. This is the answer: I have a mandate to take all necessary measures within my authority to achieve the objectives of the Official Languages Act. Under Part VII of the Act, the federal government is required to enhance the vitality of official language minority communities. Federal institutions, therefore, have an obligation to take positive measures to carry out this commitment.

In light of this, I am recommending that federal institutions whose activities affect seniors and their organizations in official language minority communities—such as Canadian Heritage and Employment and Social Development Canada—consult advocacy groups such as Seniors Action Quebec when developing and implementing policies and programs.

I must point out that, while the study provides an overview of the situation for Quebec’s English-speaking seniors, it leaves several questions unanswered. That is why I stress the need for federal institutions to coordinate their efforts to fill gaps in research on aging in minority communities.

As it stands, national policy on seniors and aging appears to take minority communities into account to some degree, but it is unclear whether English- and French-speaking communities in minority situations are fully and systematically taken into consideration. My study shows that a few of our federal institutions are providing programs for seniors and seniors’ organizations, though none are tailoring these programs to the needs of official language minority communities.

Although there is some coordination for policy development at the federal level—for example, through the Interdepartmental Committee on Seniors, led by Employment and Social Development Canada with the participation of Canadian Heritage—there may be further opportunities for coordination to ensure that seniors in our official language minority communities are consulted. I hope that Seniors Action Quebec will serve as a bridge between our federal institutions and our Anglophone senior communities in this province.

To remain vital and vibrant, the Anglophone community in Quebec requires not only strong leadership, but also participation from all its members: its youth, its newcomers, and its seniors—and I can vouch for this last group, being a senior myself.

To the network members, I once again congratulate you all for founding Seniors Action Quebec. I have every confidence that you will build on this momentum and continue doing what you have always done, and that is to ensure that the official language minority community in the province continues to thrive—no matter where its members live.

Thank you.

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