To B.C. decision makers, the system we build today will be the system you may use tomorrow

Contrary to popular opinion, there will be no “silver tsunami” hitting the B.C. coast.

Rather, our aging population is better described as a rising tide. A body of water that we have forecasted for decades would begin to swell.

As it does, seniors’ care is already failing to keep afloat.

Just ask the many hardworking sons, daughters and spouses who are facing challenges such as long waitlists, staff shortages and continuing care models that are focused on tasks rather than on helping seniors have the best day possible. Chances are you will not need to go far⁠—you either know them, have been them, or will soon become them.

Our population is expected to age rapidly straight through to the year 2031, and without immediate investments, the cracks which are beginning to emerge in B.C.’s health care system will continue to deepen.[1]


The statistics are startling. By 2036, the number of people over the age of 80 will have doubled, compared to 2011.[2] Further, in a recent BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) report, it was determined that our province needs to construct at least 45,000 net new beds in the next 20 years to meet growing demand.

By any measure, an aging population is indicative of an incredibly successful health system. We should celebrate that, along with recognizing that older adults continue to contribute economically and socially far beyond retirement.

However, we must also collectively identify that we are amidst a very serious situation when it comes to being able to meet the housing and care needs of an aging population.

While I wish I could tell you that we have the luxury of time to conduct more studies, do more reviews, or hold more public hearings, I cannot. There was a time for that, and it was 20 years ago.

As it stands, there are already over 1,400 people waiting to access a long-term care bed in this province. Meanwhile, in the last two years only 150 new beds have been announced.[3]

In its 2020 budget submission, BCCPA made a number of recommendations including that the B.C. government construct 5,000 new long-term care beds and 1,000 new assisted living suites over the next three years. Combined, this would require an investment of just over $1.9 billion.

BCCPA also called upon the government to immediately update a dated report which catalogs the physical condition of aging care homes that are in desperate need of repair or a rebuild. This will facilitate the replacement and renewal of older care homes that were never designed to meet the needs of a population living with advanced dementia.

In addition, BCCPA is requesting a three-year extension of the Seniors Safety and Quality Improvement Program which we operate on behalf of the Ministry of Health. This $10 million program is set to expire next March and has been pivotal in ensuring care homes across B.C. have access to the necessary equipment they need to keep seniors safe and improve their quality of life. We would also like to see it expanded to also incorporate publicly funded assisted living sites which will soon face increased operational challenges due to the implementation of Bill 16 (2016).[4]

As well as managing the needs of a growing number of older adults, we are experiencing a well-documented shortage of care workers in BC and across the country. In fact, our Association took the unprecedented move of declaring a health human resources emergency in the B.C. interior.

As a result, we think government should be investing in a number of key initiatives including:

  • Allocating $30 million over three years to significantly expand high school dual credit programs. As it stands, the dual credit program focuses too heavily on male-dominated occupations such as welding and carpentry and not enough on the social sciences and health care. It also does not do enough to support First Nations youth;
  • A government investment of $4 million per year to open 450 new training spots for health care assistants;
  • $500,000 in funding to be set aside to eliminate costly and unnecessary testing fees which represent a significant barrier for out of province health care assistants looking to register with B.C.’s Care Aide Registry;
  • $1 million to ensure that satellite testing centers can be opened, as to eliminate the need for out-of-province workers to travel to Vancouver as a condition of them being hired to work in places like the Okanagan.

In closing, I want to call B.C.’s decision makers to consider this, the system we build today, will be the system you may be using tomorrow.

Let’s build it to ensure it provides seniors with the dignity, respect and care they are counting upon us to deliver on their behalf.

Daniel Fontaine is the CEO of BC Care Providers Association and President of the Canadian Association for Long-Term Care. He also sits on the Federal Minister of Health’s Advisory Board on Dementia and was involved in the development of the recently released National Dementia Strategy.

This op-ed was adapted from Fontaine’s presentation to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Affairs.

[1] Statistics Canada. 2011. Seniors. Accessed at:

[2] Ibid.

[3] BCCPA. Bedlam in B.C.’s Continuing Care Sector. 2019. Accessed at:

[4] Historically, CCALA has permitted assisted living residents to be supported by no more than two prescribed personal services. Under the legislative changes brought forward by Bill 16 (2016) the limit of two services will be removed, enabling more people to qualify for assisted living.

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