Simon Doyle is a reporter based in Ottawa who specializes in lobbying and public affairs. Follow him on Twitter @sdoyle333.
The Conservative government has been hearing out some of the Canadian Nurses Association's proposals for targeted measures on seniors care in advance of the budget.
While few surprises are expected in Finance Minister Joe Oliver's budget on April 21 – and the Conservatives are disinclined to major federal health initiatives – industry lobbyists haven't yet taken health off the table. And a group representing physicians is also increasing the pressure, as the election gives Conservatives and their challengers a reason to court the seniors vote.
The CNA has proposed a series of measures for seniors health, particularly related to home care that aims to take the pressure off hospitals.
One of the CNA's proposals is to make the family caregiver tax credit refundable, so that people providing care for aging family members could receive direct payments totalling about $2,000 per year. The measure would be similar to the Tories' universal child care benefit.
The CNA has reported more than 60 communications with MPs, senators, or government officials over the past six months, according to the federal lobbyist registry. Since January the group has reported four meetings with officials in the Finance Department and the Prime Minister's Office.
Parliamentarians and government officials have been "extremely interested" in the issue, said Anne Sutherland Boal, chief executive of the nurses' association.
"Everybody has a personal stake. They have an elderly parent, they're caring for an elderly parent, they have a cousin who's recently lost an elderly parent, or they're heading into the seniors' years themselves," Ms. Sutherland Boal said.
Making the family caregiver tax credit refundable would cost the federal government about $104-million per year, the association estimates.
The CNA has also suggested the government could save money by narrowing its proposed adult fitness tax credit to one for seniors, which would support the objective of active and healthy aging.
Despite a push last year to shoehorn health care priorities onto the Conservative government's 2015 budget, health industry lobbyists say they aren't expecting much in the way of national strategies or big investments on budget day.
Still, seniors health is getting more attention as the October election nears, and many health industry lobbyists have turned their attention to the parties and their 2015 election platforms.
Seniors, the fastest growing age group, will make up a quarter of the population by 2036, and according to the Canadian Medical Association, account for 62 per cent of health care costs, all things staying the same.
"The reality is that seniors vote," said Greg Lyle, head of polling and consulting firm Innovative Research Group. People over the age of 65 can make up half of the electorate due to their voter turnout, he added. "It's also a weakness for the Tories, so anything they can do to sort of preempt it, get it off the table, that works for them."
The CMA, an association of physicians, has been active on the political front.
Last month the group arranged for Conservative MP Harold Albrecht, NDP MP Irene Mathyssen and Liberal MP John McCallum to agree to create an all-party seniors caucus after the next election. The CMA said it would be available as a research resource for the caucus.
The CMA and several other groups – including Osteoporosis Canada, the Canadian Association of Optometrists, the National Pensioners Federation, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation – have also formed a new Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy to make seniors care a ballot issue in the election campaign.
The alliance is running a campaign that will be active until election day with a website that encourages voters to voice their support through social media.
The CMA has been calling for national seniors strategy, including investment in long-term care facilities, electronic medical records and home care.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada has also been active. Its budget submission called for $30-million per year over five years to develop a plan to tackle Alzheimer's disease and dementia, and since December the group has met with Health Minister Rona Ambrose, junior minister for seniors Alice Wong and other government officials, according to the federal lobbyists registry.