CanadaOldest Canadians present challenges for policy-makers

OTTAWA — Aging baby boomers are once again getting the lion’s share of attention as they swell the ranks of the oldest people in the country.

New census data released Wednesday by Statistics Canada showed Canadians over the age of 65 now outnumber those under the age of 15 for the first time.

However, one expert says it’s not just newly minted senior citizens who should be on the radar screen. It’s those who are over 85, a group that grew almost 20% in the last five years.

“This is a population that we haven’t paid a tremendous amount of attention to,” said Colin Busby, associate research director for the C.D. Howe Institute. “I’m talking about those 85 and up or those 100 and up.”

The census counted 770,780 Canadians aged 85 or older in 2016. This cohort grew almost four times as fast as the population as a whole between 2011 and 2016.

There were 8,230 people at least 100 years old, a group that grew 41% compared with five years earlier.

“We’re likely to continue to see that kind of expansion,” said Busby. “This is very interesting for a whole number of reasons.”

As populations age, the health issues related to aging, including dementia, will grow. Higher proportions of people over the age of 85 also live alone, most of them women. Busby said it struck him there are almost twice as many women as men among those over 85. Many of those would have cared for a spouse until their death, but now have to rely on their children or government supports if they want to stay in their homes.

That includes help even just for basic tasks such as buying groceries, cooking and doing laundry, he said.

“The demographic issues in that group are acute, they’re ongoing,” said Busby. “We still don’t have very good solutions to helping out people in those age groups maintain their autonomy and maintain their ability to live in their homes as long as they would like. It points to some obvious weaknesses in how we have designed our health-care policies and social policy systems.”

Health Minister Jane Philpott said the population growth among older Canadians is “something to be celebrated.

“Aging is a good thing, and the fact that we’re all living longer is very good news for Canadians, reflects the fact that we have an increasingly healthy population and it’s great that people are living longer,” she said. “It does, of course, raise concerns as it relates to the sustainability of our health-care system, but there is no reason for panic.”

Philpott said the government has policies to help, including investments in housing and home care. Ottawa is spending $6 billion over the next decade to provide the provinces with new funding for home care programs.

Much of the discussion among policy-makers following Wednesday’s census release was about when Canadians retire and what can or should be done to encourage people to work longer, in order to maintain a tax base and workforce able to pay for the growing needs in government programs for an aging population.

The previous Conservative government in 2012 proposed a plan to increase the pension eligibility age to 67 from 65, with a phased-in increase starting in 2023. In 2016, the new Liberal government scrapped that plan.

Although the Liberals’ economic advisory council recommended earlier this year that eligibility for both old age security and the Canada Pension Plan be raised to at least 67, Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos indicated Wednesday the government isn’t going back down that road, saying there are incentives to work longer, but the programs will be there at age 65 for workers who need it then.


Some highlights from Wednesday’s release of Statistics Canada’s latest tranche of census data, this one focused on age, sex and dwelling types:

* The inexorable march of baby boomers towards retirement resulted in a 20% increase in the number of Canadians aged 65 and older between 2011 and 2016, the largest such increase in 70 years.

* There are 5.9 million Canadians aged 65 and older, a group that now outnumbers children 14 and under (5.8 million) for the first time in history.

* Centenarians, those over the age of 100, comprised the fastest-growing segment of Canada’s population: 8,230 people in 2016, a 41.3% increase thanks to a gradual increase in life expectancy (80 years for men, 84 for women).

* The census counted 770,780 people aged 85 and older, an increase of 19.4% between 2011 and 2016 — nearly four times the growth rate of the overall Canadian population.

* Despite the largest increase in the proportion of seniors (16.9%) since 1871, their share of the Canadian population remains one of the lowest in the G7, second only to the United States.

* Similarly, Canada’s workforce — those aged 15 to 64 — continues to be an economic boon for the country, representing 66.5% of the population, the highest in the G7. However, with 4.9 million people aged 55 to 64 and just 4.3 million aged 15 to 24, those about to leave the workforce significantly outnumber those about to join it.

* Among those 65 and older, Canada has 20% more women than men; women aged 85 and older outnumber their male counterparts two to one.

* In Atlantic Canada, nearly one in five people is over the age of 65, the highest proportion in the country, thanks to low fertility, low immigration and a persistent pattern of young people moving away. The ratio is lowest in Alberta, where just 12.3% of residents are retirement age or older — the largest difference since Confederation.

* The territories are home to the youngest populations in Canada, owing in large part to high fertility rates and lower life expectancy among indigenous Canadians.

* Kent, B.C., boasts the highest proportion of men to women — 122.6 males for every 100 females — owing in part to the fact it’s home to two federal penitentiaries (Mountain Institution and Kent Institution).

* The number of Canadians aged 15 to 64 increased by 452,240 between 2011 and 2016, the smallest relative increase (0.4%) since 1851.

* Detached single-family homes remain the most common dwelling type in Canada, representing 53.6%  in 2016, but that percentage is steadily declining. Nearly three in 10 dwellings in Toronto were in a high-rise apartment building, followed by London at 16.8% and Vancouver at 16.7%.

* Building permit numbers suggest the pace of construction of apartment units, in particular condominiums, has surpassed that of single-detached dwellings built since 2012.

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