I don’t know how much of an impression our local MPP Bill Walker made at Queen’s Park in Toronto with his recent comments and questions about the two big, unresolved issues of long-term-care bed shortages and school closures. But he sure gave me a lot of food for thought.
I’ve lately found out a lot more than I ever thought I’d want to know about Canada’s looming health-care funding crisis, especially as it involves homecare and long-term care for the most elderly and frail among us.
But publicly-funded homecare has its limits, as I’ve said before with full disclosure of my family connection to the issue.
Many elderly Canadians are living longer than ever before, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine, including drugs. And it’s highly likely that at some point 24-hour, assisted care living becomes necessary, at home, in a for-profit, retirement home setting, or in a publicly-subsidized, private or municipally-run long-term care facility.
But that last option is already in short supply. Currently, if you’re a frail elderly person in need of affordable long-term care in the Owen Sound area you are faced with a one-to-two year waiting list. It’s a similar situation elsewhere in Ontario; and I daresay across Canada.
But the current and future issue of long-term care needs and how they are going to be met is not getting anywhere near the public attention and discussion it needs.
So I tipped my toque to Walker when he recently made a point of raising that issue publicly.
Then, earlier this week I heard about him being thrown out of the Ontario Legislature for interrupting Education Minister Mitzie Hunter several times during Question Period after himself asking her a question about fixing the funding formula for schools, and putting a moratorium on school closures in the meantime.
Several schools in the Grey-Bruce area are among as many as 600 across the province, Walker said, facing closure because of declining enrolment.
Here’s a question that came to my mind in connection with both the issues Walker raised, regarding long-term care bed shortages, and school closures:
What do they have in common?
I’ll give you a moment to mull that over while suggesting if you know the answer right away you might want to consider running for elected high office. Many such officials over the years have apparently had no clue.
Of course, I suppose you can forgive those who, 50-plus years ago, decided to build a lot of school buildings. How could they have known the trend-setting, demographic phenomenom they were caught up in, demanding action, wasn’t going to last, at least not when it came to school-aged enrolment and the future of those buildings.
But similar decision-makers in more recent years have had no such excuse regarding increasing health-care costs, especially for the elderly. There were plently of experts they could have consulted, like David Foot, just down the street at the University of Toronto, or they could have read his now-famous book, Boom, Bust and Echo. What have they been thinking for the past 20 years?
Right, it’s the baby-boom generation the school-closure and long-term care issues have in common.
You can look back to the Second World War and see how the boomer generation has set the stage for every important, socio-economic trend right up to the present time. And it continues, as the boomer wave grows old.
The soldiers came home, got married, or resumed their married lives, and those young couples started to have babies, lots of them. Nowhere was the baby-boom phenom more energetic than in Canada, by the way. I can still remember a teacher proudly telling us young boys and girls that Canada had one of the highest birth rates in the world.
Schools could hardly be built fast enough to keep up to the demand. They were red-brick, single-story, purpose-built structures in a distinctly unimaginative, 1950s style. I doubt the big , suburban Toronto “collegiate” I attended for five years has an enrolment problem today, with the way immigration has continued to feed the continued growth of the GTA.
But small-town, rural Ontario is a different story: the baby-boom came and went, enrolment gradually declined, and many of those school buildings have closed or are facing closure.
Local people, community residents, business-people, municipal councillors, are right when they say the loss of a school can be a severe, even a mortal blow, to a small town or village’s sense of community, and its continuing appeal to the prospect of new residents. It’s a classic conundrum: The lack of new residents, especially young families, leads to the closure of the school, which makes it that much harder to attract new residents.
Markdale, and the threatened closure of its Beavercrest public school, is an interesting and unique situation which has attracted some widespread attention, including being featured on a recent CBC-Radio current affairs program. Chapman’s Ice Cream has offered a $2 million partnership proposal to help keep the school open. The local Grey Highlands municipal council has also committed $200,000 over four years to help cover the schools operating deficit.
Every town or village in rural Ontario with a school-enrolment problem should be so lucky as to have a big business like Chapman’s to fall back on. But they don’t.
However, there are reasons to think the school-closure issue could work itself out if given a little more time: sky-high, big-city house prices will send families into small-town, rural Ontario in search of an affordable home; the high-tech, computerized revolution means more people can work from home; and rural Ontario could put the welcome mat for new immigrants
But regarding the health-care crisis and long-term care in particular, time is running out. It’s a complex issue that can’t – and probably shouldn’t – be solved by bricks and mortar alone. The boomer generation will move on, as we always have.
And that after all is the point that our generation took too long to learn. And now it appears the generations that follow us will be left to pay the price.
Speaking only for myself, of course, I find that thought troubles me these days as I face the reality of aging. I ask myself, what can I do about it?
Do the best I can to take tenacious, personal responsibility for the quality of living in the moments I am blessed to have left to me, I think.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in April, 2017