Framing Aging through the State: Canada's Two Senate Committees on Aging, 1963-1966 and 2006-2009

By Struthers, James | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Framing Aging through the State: Canada's Two Senate Committees on Aging, 1963-1966 and 2006-2009


Struthers, James, Canadian Review of Social Policy


Abstract

Between 1963-1966 and 2006-2009, the work of two Special Senate Committees on Aging helped to construct a national dialogue around the consequences of population aging. An analysis of the final reports of each Senate committee provides a revealing window into how old age was framed differently as a policy problem in these two eras separated by almost half a century. Although the significance of ageism resonates in each report, the core concerns of the two Senate Committees differ markedly. Poverty among the elderly dominated the research and recommendations of the 1960s committee chaired by Senator David Croll. Its key recommendation - the creation of a Guaranteed Income Supplement for the needy - was quickly implemented in 1967, and subsequently has become one of Canada's social policy success stories. The 2006-2009 committee, chaired by Senator Sharon Carstairs, focused primarily on promoting healthy aging and a national caregiver strategy. Thus far, its policy significance remains obscure. This article explores the reasons behind the different emphases of each Senate Committee, the framing and impact of their final reports, and the ways in which changing, social economic, and demographic contexts have shaped interactions between citizens and the state around the consequences of population aging.

Résumé

De 1963 à 1966, puis de 2006 à 2009, le travail de deux Comités spéciaux d'enquête sur la gérontologie a contribué à établir un dialogue national sur les conséquences du vieillissement de la population. L'analyse des rapports finaux de ces deux comités sénatoriaux révèle des différences dans la perception de la vieillesse en tant que problème politique à ces deux époques séparées de près d'un demi-siècle. Bien que l'ampleur de l'âgisme ressorte de chaque rapport, les principales préoccupations des deux comités sénatoriaux sont résolument différentes. La question de la pauvreté chez les personnes âgées dominait les recherches et les recommandations du comité des années 1960 présidé par le sénateur David Croll. La recommandation phare de ce comité, à savoir la création d'un Supplément de revenu garanti pour les personnes dans le besoin, a été mise en oeuvre dès 1967 pour devenir par la suite l'une des principales réussites canadiennes en matière sociale. Le comité de 2006-2009, présidé par la sénatrice Sharon Carstairs, a principalement axé son travail sur la promotion de la santé des aÎnés et sur une stratégie nationale relative aux fournisseurs de soins. À ce jour, sa portée politique reste obscure. Cet article explore les raisons qui se cachent derrière les orientations différentes des comités sénatoriaux, l'élaboration et l'impact de leurs rapports finaux, et la manière dont les évolutions sociales, économiques et démographiques ont façonné les interactions entre les citoyens et l'État sur les conséquences du vieillissement de la population.

Introduction

One of the more useful roles of Canada's non-elected Senate is as a site for social investigation and discussion of important issues within Canadian society (Campbell, 1978). The influential 2006 Senate Social Affairs Committee report on transforming perceptions and policy responses to mental illness and mental health is a case in point (Senate of Canada, 2006). This article will discuss the Senate's role in attempts to frame policy agendas around the issue of aging in Canada through a comparison of two reports from Special Senate Committees on Aging, separated by almost half a century. The evidence, arguments, and images of aging contained within final report of the 1966 Senate Committee on Aging, chaired by Liberal Senator David Croll, played a major role in the 1967 launch of Canada's Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) (Struthers, 2004; Myles 1998). Over time the GIS, the first Negative Income Tax, has become one of Canada's great social policy success stories helping to cut the poverty rate among Canadian seniors over 65 from 37% to 6% between 1970 and 2000 (Veall, 2008). …

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