It was tucked into the provincial Throne Speech last month with little fanfare but the prospect of a seniors advocate is a good one, so long as that advocate has authority and a real voice.
As proposed by the B.C. Liberals, the seniors advocate would have neither. The advocate would be hired and fired at the discretion of cabinet and would not have the authority to investigate individual cases.
Contrast that to B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, who does not answer to a ministry or the cabinet of the day and is appointed to a five-year term. The current child advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, has clashed regularly with the Liberal government after releasing some of her reports but she was still given a second five-year mandate in 2011. Her last investigation, however, was accepted unconditionally, after she looked into the case of the 11-year-old boy that needed to be Tasered by Prince George RCMP to be restrained. Her report found there simply are no resources for children with complex card needs and errors by the Ministry for Children and Family Development simply exacerbated the problem.
In response, the Liberals immediately took steps to create a six-bed facility specifically for children with complex needs.
Under the current parameters set out in the Throne Speech, the seniors advocate could not conduct such an investigation, never mind write the report, and if they had the nerve to do so, would likely be fired by the premier and cabinet for abusing their position, regardless of the worthiness of the subject matter.
A seniors advocate with a strong mandate and the same authority as the children's advocate could accomplish so much on behalf of seniors in B.C., particularly looking at issues that fall between the cracks of various ministries and levels of government.
Abuse in long-term care facilities, the rise in the number of sexually-transmitted diseases in the 65-plus demographic and the targeting of seniors for fraudulent schemes are just a few examples. A seniors advocate could also dive into politically sensitive waters of right-to-die and doctor-assisted suicide.
Hopefully after the election, whether the Liberals return to power or the NDP form government, the senior's advocate idea returns, but this time with some bite to it.