Alberta/Mackenzie Provincial CWL Vision for an Independent Seniors Advocate
The CWL journey to lobby for an Independent Seniors Advocate began with a CWL provincial initiative back in 2015 calling members to sign a petition.
The petition read:
Urge the Alberta Provincial Government to amend the Alberta Health Act to ensure that the Seniors Advocate is an Officer of the Legislature and therefore independent.
We asked the CWL members to begin a grassroots movement through the MLA’s. At that time, there was a seniors advocate, but he was accountable to the Minister of Health and there was no separate office. Because there was no separate office when a government changes, the position is at the mercy of the new government.
Alberta Independent Officers of the Legislature are impartial, non-partisan officers that operate independently from the Alberta government, political parties and individual elected officials, and are responsible to the legislative assembly. The officers carry out duties assigned by the statues and report to the Assembly through the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices.
Alberta has 7 Officers of the Legislature:
(Source: Government of Alberta)
This CWL Call to Action sees the work of the advocate and her/his office as one that monitors and analyzes senior services as well as a resource for seniors looking for information on a variety of issues. Because seniors’ issues cross so many different ministries (health, finance, housing, social development transportation, housing, etc.) it seems necessary to have someone co-ordinate across all the ministries.
It would be the first stop for any senior or caregiver to get the necessary information they require be it health, housing, financial abuse, etc. related. It would also have the authority to investigate complaints such as inadequate care in nursing homes or abuse, etc. It would make recommendations to the government through the Standing Committee on Legislative Offices.
In 2013, the idea of having a Seniors Advocate to address seniors’ issues arose out of the news that New Brunswick created a Seniors Advocate position. BC and Newfoundland have since created similar positions.
Within Alberta, Kerry Towle, a member of the Wild Rose party presented a private members bill, Bill C 208, titled the “Seniors Advocate Act” in the Fall of 2013. Unfortunately, the Bill died in the Legislature in December of 2013.
In January 2014, the Alberta Government formed the Health Care Advocate Office which included a Health Care Advocate, a Mental Health Care Advocate and a Seniors Advocate. All of these offices reported to the Minister of Health. This did not meet the criteria of our initiative: the CWL was specifically asking for an Independent Officer of the Legislature. This would mean that the Seniors Advocate would report to the Legislature and not to a Minister of the Legislature. The office, being independent, would survive a change in government and could continue with its mandate to serve the seniors in Alberta.
The following initiative was presented at the ABMK CWL convention in June 2014 and was adopted as a provincial initiative:
The Alberta Mackenzie Provincial Council of the Catholic Women’s League (ABMK CWL) wishes of their constituents to “Urge the Alberta Provincial Government to amend the Alberta Health Act to ensure that the Seniors Advocate is an Officer of the Legislature and therefore Independent”
In September of 2014, Jim Prentice became the new Premier with the Conservative Party and formed the Ministry of Seniors with Jeff Johnson as the Minister. The CWL put its petition on hold while it awaited the guidelines of this new ministry. Since the guidelines did not include independent accountability, the petition was circulated in all constituencies that had CWL councils. Over 4000 signatures were collected, and were sent to the ABMK CWL Provincial Council.
In 2015, a provincial election was called and the NDP under Rachel Notley formed the new Alberta government.
April 2016 saw the ABMK CWL President and some standing committee chairs meet with the NDP Minister of Seniors and Housing, Lori Sigurdson. She did appoint a seniors advocate, but the position was again not independent of the government.
In October 2018 the NDP was defeated by the UCP government, the UPC eliminated the seniors advocate position.
In 2020, the ABMK Provincial Council met with the UPC regarding the Seniors Advocate. While they did listen to us, no change was made to the existing ministries. Letters continue to be written with no indication of reversing their decision.