Priorities should include seniors

EDITORIAL Telegraph-Journal

Victor Boudreau, the province’s health minister and leader of the strategic program review, has suggested government may use a financial means test to determine how much a senior citizen should pay for long-term care. It seems seniors will be expected to help control spending in the province’s social development department.

Governing is the art of juggling priorities and the Liberal government should take a hard look at its list before targeting seniors. The principle that those of greater means should pay more of their share of extended care shouldn’t necessarily be ruled out. Public funding for care should be divided so those who need the most financial help receive it. But the Liberals are trying to solve a specific expense problem without taking a broader look at this issue.

New Brunswick had more deaths than births for the first time in 2014 and our median age of 43.7 is the oldest in Canada. We are growing older as a province and this demographic shift will have a profound impact on health-care costs in the years ahead. The fact there are 650 seniors already waiting for a bed in a special care or nursing home is a leading indicator of the looming crisis. We will need more special care and nursing home beds and a larger percentage of New Brunswickers will need extended care with fewer residents of a working age to support those public services.

Against this backdrop of rising health-care costs and an expectation of seniors contributing more, the Liberals are embarking on a large public infrastructure spending program. Finance Minister Roger Melanson is hoping the federal government will contribute $30 million to match the provincial contribution to twin Highway 11 between Shediac and Shediac Bridge. We fail to see the logic behind spending $30 million in new provincial money to twin a road while we ask our most elderly citizens to sell their houses or dip into their RRSPs to help pay for their care.

After contributing to our province and paying taxes for decades, our seniors deserve to be more of a priority than asphalt. We urge the Liberals to develop a full long-term care strategy that determines how we will fund beds and ongoing care in a manner that is fair to seniors and taxpayers. In the meantime, keep the paving crews idle.