Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Flowers sit outside Maison Herron, a long-term care home in the Montreal suburb of Dorval on April 12, 2020.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Until COVID-19 turned many of the country’s long-term care homes into deadly prisons for their vulnerable residents, you would have been hard-pressed to argue that Canada treats its seniors poorly. Yet that is the conclusion many people seem to be making these days as the coronavirus pandemic casts a ghastly light on the living and working conditions inside some care homes.

The truth is that, overall, the current generation of Canadian seniors enjoys a better quality of life than any that came before it. Canadians are living longer and healthier lives, and most seniors are more financially comfortable than ever. Public and private pension programs created since the 1960s have vastly reduced the poverty rate among Canadian seniors to one of the lowest in the world.

In 2018, about 3.5 per cent of Canadians aged 65 or over lived below the official poverty line, compared to 8.7 per cent for the Canadian population overall, according to Statistics Canada. Many seniors do still struggle to make ends meet. But Canada’s social safety net has ensured that the proportion of seniors living in poverty has declined dramatically from one generation to the next.

Story continues below advertisement

April 16: Join André Picard for a live Q&A

Coronavirus guide: Updates and essential resources about the COVID-19 pandemic

What are the coronavirus rules in my province? A quick guide to what’s allowed and open, or closed and banned

“Elderly benefits,” as they’re called by the government, are the single largest expense in the federal budget, totaling $53.3-billion in the 2019-2020 fiscal year that ended on Mar. 31. Ottawa’s own projections show the cost of Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement rising to $70-billion by 2023.

Much of the $264-billion Canada spends annually on health care is devoted to caring for seniors. Per-capita health spending for Canadians aged 15 to 64 stood at $3,052 in 2019, compared to $11,483 for those 65 and older. For those 80 and over, the cost was about $21,000, according to data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The sums spent on pensions and health care for seniors reflect, in part, the gratitude Canadians feel toward those whose hard work in the past helped make this country great. With ever more baby boomers entering their twilight years, however, the number of Canadian seniors requiring 24-hour care has been growing rapidly. At the same time, a slow-growing working-age population has made it harder to staff long-term care homes, where the pay is scandalously low.

For years, the Canadian Medical Association has been pressing Ottawa to develop a national seniors health-care strategy to prepare the country for the coming tsunami in long-term care. But under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ottawa did not do national health-care strategies – period – while Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has focused on other priorities.

“Unlike some of our predecessors in Ottawa, who often tried to impose rigid bureaucratic health-care conformity on the provinces, we have respected their constitutional jurisdiction over health care and encouraged their innovations,” Rona Ambrose, who served as Mr. Harper’s third and final health minister, said in a 2014 speech.

The consequences of Ottawa’s unwillingness to coordinate a national strategy on long-term care were bound to show up sooner or later. When it comes to public funding, long-term care homes have long been the poor cousin to acute-care hospitals. Yet as provinces moved to cut hospital beds in recent years, the demand for long-term care has exploded. Every province has long waiting lists for spots in their facilities.

There is no mystery as to why COVID-19 has struck publicly-funded long-term care homes with such a vengeance. Their residents almost universally have underlying health conditions that complicate coronavirus infections. More than 60 per cent of them suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, according to the Canadian Association for Long Term Care.

Story continues below advertisement

Residents live in cramped quarters, sometimes four to a room. In Quebec, health authorities unwittingly contributed to the propagation of the coronavirus by transferring seniors from hospitals to long-term care facilities, ironically to free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients. And until very recently, caregivers who worked at multiple facilities helped transmit the virus from one place to another.

Unfortunately, it has taken the tragedies now striking long-term care homes in Canada to focus attention on a problem that has been long in the making. To avoid such tragedies from recurring in the future, a national long-term care strategy is needed to fund modern (pandemic-ready) infrastructure and to provide caregiver training and salaries commensurate with the job.

As a country, we need to rethink how we approach long-term care from top to bottom. And we don’t have a lot of time to do it. A 2017 Conference Board study estimated that, to meet demand, Canada needs to nearly double the number of long-term care beds available to about 450,000 by 2035.

We can’t afford to do it on the cheap.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you manage your health, your finances and your family life as Canada reopens.
Visit the hub
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies