Blog | October 05, 2012

By Jason van Rassel, Calgary HeraldThe province is going ahead with plans to appoint a seniors� advocate, but critics are saying the government�s current plan for the office will neuter it.The government is still researching what the advocate�s mandate and powers will be, but Health Minister Fred Horne said Thursday it has already decided the office will be part of his department.That plan runs counter to the wishes of opposition parties and some lobby groups, which want the seniors advocate to be an independent office that reports to the legislature.�At this point, we do not see pursuing this as somebody who is an officer of the legislature,� said Horne.�We want to see what we can do within government.�Horne said he sees one of the advocate�s main functions as being someone who can help people access services and programs available to seniors.Because several government departments share responsibilities for different aspects of seniors� health and housing, Horne said the advocate should be someone who can navigate that.�If you�re going to do a good job of getting information and co-ordinating things, you really have to look at the resources that are available within government,� he said.But others are saying that model will compromise the seniors� advocate�s ability to be independent and critical of the government when necessary.�An officer like this is ultimately responsible to the citizens of Alberta, and not the minister of health,� said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta, which sent a delegation to the legislature Wednesday to meet with Horne and associate minister of seniors George VanderBurg.In the absence of making the advocate an independent officer of the legislature, Moore-Kilgannon said the government could allay critics� concerns by making sure there are checks and balances in the office�s mandate.Rules preventing the minister from altering or editing the advocate�s reports and legislated deadlines for making them public would be good safeguards, said Moore-Kilgannon.In B.C., the provincial government is planning to appoint its own seniors� advocate sometime next year.The government there hasn�t decided whether the seniors� advocate will operate at arm�s length from the government, but the sentiment from public consultations was overwhelmingly in favour of establishing an independent office.Here in Alberta, opposition parties on the left and right have called for an independent seniors� advocate.Kerry Towle, the Wildrose critic for seniors, is sponsoring a private member�s bill calling on the seniors� advocate to report directly to the legislature.�It�s important for the government to have that kind of watchdog,� said Calgary Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth, the party�s health critic.With so many seniors dependent on facilities and their operators for housing and care, people are hesitant to speak out for fear of reprisals, Forsyth said.�Families and seniors are afraid to complain. I�ve heard it again and again,� she said.The Wildrose private member�s bill is expected to be introduced in the legislature next spring.By Jason van Rassel, Calgary
Twitter:@JasonvanRasselThis article was published in the Calgary Herald on October 5, 2012. Read the full article on the Calgary Herald website.