Barbara Steele: ‘We need a Seniors’ Advocate who stands up to government, not pats them on the back.’

Barbara Steele, a former six-term City of Surrey councillor and a one-time president of the Union of BC Municipalities, is well-known to the communities she has served for her tireless work on behalf of seniors while in government. Now post-politics and a self-described senior herself, she is once again raising her voice in defense of elderly British Columbians.

In a guest editorial published in The Orca online news and opinion website, Steele is weighing in on the subject of the independence of the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate (OSA). Currently, the OSA reports to government, via Deputy Minister of Health, effectively making the role accountable to the institution requiring the most scrutiny — government itself.

Steele says she was one of several stakeholders consulted prior to the creation of the office…

As a group we strongly advocated for seniors, and as many of us were older adults and family caregivers we knew our subject well.

High on our priority list was to provide protections for seniors facing abuse and neglect. An important aim of the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate was to include well-trained and knowledgeable staff who would be readily able to assist seniors who self-identified as “at risk.”

This is the vision stakeholders supported, and that was never realized when the office was established.

Steele argues that independence is integral to the vision of the seniors’ advocate.

When the Office of the Seniors’ Advocate speaks on behalf of those whom it represents, it must be independent of government. That is, in a nutshell, why so many of us called for establishing a Seniors’ Advocate in the first place.

In addition to supporting BCCPA’s call for a fully independent OSA, similar to the Children and Youth Advocate or the B.C. Ombudsperson (who report to the B.C. Legislature), Steele also says that after 5 years it is time to review the mandate of Canada’s first-ever seniors’ advocate.


With regards to BCCPA’s call for Isobel Mackenzie to resign, Steele says after reading the emails between with her and leadership from the Hospital Employees’ Union, she also believes Mackenzie should step down.

[The OSA] tries to make the case around worker pay as a solution to improve care, but is that really the job of our Seniors’ Advocate, or that of the union leaders she exchanges emails and texts with?

Today, I am prepared to be more outspoken than ever because I am now also a senior. We seniors have been treated too long as a group that cannot make decisions for ourselves. It is belittling, insulting and it must stop.

“We need a Seniors’ Advocate who stands up to government,” writes Steele, “not pats them on the back.”

Visit The Orca to read Barbara Steele’s guest editorial here.

For more background on the matter of the independence of the Seniors’ Advocate, see the following linked articles and correspondence.

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