A federal minister was in Port Alberni on Wednesday to speak to Indigenous elders and discuss the federal budget.
Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra Joyce Murray was recently named president of the Treasury Board after Jane Philpott resigned from the cabinet. Part of Murray’s new role includes a federal budget tour, meeting with Canadians across the country to discuss how the 2019 budget can benefit them.
But Murray’s goal in Port Alberni on Wednesday was to hear from seniors.
“Seniors are important and we want to make their lives more affordable in a number of ways,” she explained. “They deserve to live with respect and comfort after all the levels of service they provided to their community.”
She joined the Elders’ Breakfast in the morning—a regular gathering of Indigenous elders at the Port Alberni Friendship Centre–and heard their questions and concerns. Topics included healthcare, pensions, the digital world and different challenges that come with accessing culturally-appropriate services.
Wally Samuel, an Ahousaht elder who lives in Port Alberni, pointed out during the Elders Breakfast that Indigenous people living off-reserve don’t always have access to services on the reserve. He suggested that the federal government should be looking to the province’s friendship centres in order to provide support and services to elders living off-reserve.
“That’s our home away from home,” he said.
Murray said afterwards that it was one of her biggest takeaways from the event.
“There’s more work to be done in addressing the needs of Indigenous seniors living off reserve,” she said. “That’s an important message that I can take back to Ottawa.”
The federal government’s new budget includes an increase to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) earnings exemption so that low-income seniors who choose to keep working can keep more of their hard-earned income. Other measures for seniors include pro-active enrolment in the Canada Pension Plan for contributors who are 70 years old or older and increased protection of workplace pensions earned by seniors in the event of corporate insolvency.
Budget 2019 also proposes increased funding for the New Horizons for Seniors Program to help seniors thrive and stay connected to their communities. The new funding will support projects in communities across the country, including the Port Alberni Friendship Centre.
Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, who accompanied Murray to the breakfast, said he was pleased to see the federal minister having face-to-face conversations with elders.
“To have someone that is from the west coast, someone close by that understands our needs, speaking to the knowledge-holders of our community…it’s a big deal,” he said. “There were some really important issues that the minister heard first hand. Overall, we’re really grateful.”
With many people leaving reserves to come to urban centres, Johns said that there is “more and more pressure” on friendship centres to deliver services. The Port Alberni Friendship Centre will be receiving less funding this year than in previous years.
“The minister heard this loud and clear,” said Johns. “We need federal support and the federal government to help in many ways. These are really important things for the government to hear.”