By Mariana Carrera
AIMS on Campus Fellow
This past March, the Government of Nova Scotia released SHIFT: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population. The release of the plan couldn’t come soon enough. Recently released census data has announced what has been long expected: seniors now outnumber children for the first time in Canadian history, and unsurprisingly Nova Scotia has one of the highest proportions of seniors at 19.9 percent.
The problems associated with an aging population have been discussed in this province ad nauseam. We know that the rising costs of healthcare and other public services are unsustainable. We know that labour force participation continues to be dragged down by the aging demographics. We know that the youth exodus out of the province has crippled us.
When I began my graduate studies, I remember there being such an interest in the One Nova Scotia (Ivany) Report. It was filled with hope: working together, it’s possible to reinvigorate our population and economy. I dared to believe it myself, but a cloud of cynicism has come over me since. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in my home province and its many capacities. However, the SHIFT action plan is typical in the way it repeats old facts and reframes it as new action to be taken—just like how we already knew many of the “revelations” of the Ivany Report.
In 2005, the Nova Scotia Seniors’ Secretariat released its Strategy for Positive Aging in Nova Scotia. The 196 page document highlighted 9 goals: celebrating seniors, financial security, health and well-being, maximizing independence, housing options, transportation, respecting diversity, employment and life transitions, and supportive communities. Twelve years later, the Department of Seniors gives us SHIFT, a 32 page document which highlights three goals: value the social and economic contributions of older adults; promote healthy, active living; and support aging in place, connected to community life. Sound familiar?
Reading SHIFT, one would think that the previous Strategy for Positive Aging never existed. Did anything change because of it? Did we learn anything from it? The Department of Seniors’ Accountability Reports do speak to activities undertaken in support of the Strategy. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be more to be found in terms of a comprehensive cross-sectoral evaluation of the goals. However, if our goals for addressing the aging population have not changed much in so many years, evidently something is going wrong.
The Department of Seniors has repeated that “it’s up to everyone, individuals, governments, business, community organizations and the voluntary sector to anticipate the challenges and take the steps needed to meet them.” Yet the old Strategy and the new Action Plan, while both recognizing the enormous scope of the issue, fall short in meaningfully bringing in the province’s resources and capacities from all sectors to make change happen. Business, government, and nonprofits need to be working together strategically to push our province forward. Failure to do so, I’m afraid, augurs the death of our economy and our dwindling population.