Saskatchewan has its first ever Minister Responsible for Seniors following Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle, a move cautiously welcomed by local seniors advocates.
Warren Kaeding, the former Minister of Government Relations, will take charge of the portfolio. Kaeding was also named Minister Responsible for Rural and Remote Health.
Premier Scott Moe said the new ministry would help improve communication and policy development when it came to seniors issues.
“It does provide that official, dedicated voice and dedicated access point for seniors and seniors groups across the province,” Moe said during an interview on Tuesday. “It also provides us with a more formalized role, to be able to have Minister Kaeding look across government and look for opportunities where we are working with seniors in other portfolios.”
Moe called Kaeding “a real workhorse” whose efforts in the Ministry of Government Relations were crucial to delivering the ‘60s Scoop apology. Moe said the Melville-Saltcoats MLA showed he was willing to engage with people across the province, and that eagerness will be needed in this portfolio.
Kaeding’s first order of business would be to increase communication with seniors, the premier explained, on issues like facilities and service accessibility.
“It’s incumbent on us to ensure we are engaging and providing the services that our seniors, the generation that’s gone before us, requires, but also to learn from them so that we can leave things a little better than we found them here as well,” Moe said.
Local seniors advocates welcomed the news of a new Seniors Minister, but remained cautious about what kind of effect it would. Prince Albert Seniors Advocacy Centre executive director John Fryters said the move was long overdue. However, he also said there’s a lot of work ahead before seniors saw major tangible benefits.
“(It’s) good news for seniors, but to have the announcement of a minister for seniors translate into actual useful programs in the field … that’s a long way period in between,” he said.
Fryters added that affordable transportation is the biggest issue facing seniors in Prince Albert, especially those heading to Saskatoon for medical appointments. Right now, many seniors are forced to stay overnight or cancel appointments because they can’t get to Saskatoon on time.
Other issues include fixed incomes, which Fyters said aren’t high enough to allow some seniors to pay for all their basic needs, like food and medication. Although that’s not just a provincial issue, he’d like the new minister to take a look at possible solutions.
“We hope to have a face-to-face meeting where we can go in there with our list of issues and then see what he says,” he explained.
Fryters added that he’s encouraged by recent policy announcements, such as the government’s commitment to funding the Rose Garden Hospice for up to $2-million a year, starting in 2021. He’s hoping the creation of a new ministry is more of the same.
“Obviously Mr. Moe is listening,” he said. “That’s a good thing, but I hope that’s not just a political move. That sounds negative, but that’s my hope: that it’s not just done for political purposes. Don’t forget that seniors vote.”
Residents ages 65 and over make up 15.5 per cent of Saskatchewan’s population according to census date from 2016.