HALIFAX — Dealing with an older population is as much about opportunities as it is about challenges, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday as he announced a new $13.6 million action plan he touted as a shift in attitudes about aging.
McNeil said the three-year plan, entitled "Shift," would help address issues confronting a province where more than one in four people will be 65 and over by 2030.
"Twenty-five per cent of our citizens between the ages of 65 and 69 are still working," McNeil told reporters.
"Twenty-five per cent of them are self-employed, creating opportunities for our sons and daughters to be able to stay in our communities."
The focus of the plan, which will be administered across eight government departments, is to help older Nova Scotians stay connected to their communities by promoting healthy living and continued access to jobs.
It includes 50 initiatives aimed at such things as helping people stay in their homes longer, helping them access affordable and healthy foods, and promoting the benefits to employers of hiring older workers.
Other initiatives would seek mentorship opportunities for older adults and promote physical activity.
McNeil said the funding would be used for housing grant programs, community grants and also to assist transportation initiatives that address the needs of older people. He said part of the provincial money would also help the province access about $21.4 million in federal funding for affordable housing.
Still, he said he realized there needs to be an ongoing commitment beyond the three-year funding window.
"This is really about looking at the opportunity in an aging population," McNeil said. "For far too long we've looked at it as a negative when in actual fact there is a tremendous amount of talent and energy in an aging population."
Penny MacAuley, whose photograph is on the cover of the plan, said her story is an example of the attitude being promoted.
The 65-year-old owner of Penelope's Boutique, said she began working in the consignment business after years as a singer-songwriter and television producer.
MacAuley said she ended up with her own business after being told by her previous employer that she was too old to relate to younger people.
"Here we are six years later and I have a great demographic, from 18-years-old to probably 80-years-old. The young people like me fine, they don't think I'm too old."
MacAuley said she has a 26-year-old shop assistant and has also used a co-op student from Citadel High School in Halifax for the last three years.
"I'm helping with the community," she said.
Grant Kerr, 71, a retired Christian educator with the United Church, said he works with seniors, and finds many still have a lot to contribute.
"I think this is a wonderful opportunity ... to see what we can do better and differently. There are a lot of folks with a lot of experience and insight," Kerr said.
NDP Leader Gary Burrill said while the plan has good ideas, he fears the words are a bit empty coming from a government that has cut nearly $8 million in funding to nursing homes in recent years, affecting such things as staffing and residents' diets.
"It is a little bit hypocritical and hard to take to hear these fine words about seniors programming from a government that has done so much harm to seniors," said Burrill.
Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie also wondered about the timing of the plan's release, given strong rumours that an election is imminent.
"When it's an election year they come out with these fancy documents that have some pretty lofty goals and that's good," Baillie said. "In a non-election year we've seen them ... cut nursing home budgets for food."
The plan follows consultations carried out last summer with more than 600 Nova Scotians.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press