Earlier this month (December 2017) the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) hosted a roundtable event examining the issue of our aging population and what it will mean for our communities and businesses.
It’s a timely discussion given the recent approval of the City and County of Peterborough’s Age Friendly Plan, the continued success of the Chamber’s Seniors Showcase Trade Show in June and the continued efforts of the Peterborough Council on Aging.
Ashley Challinor is the Director of Policy for the OCC and provided us with this overview of the very interesting and thought-provoking discussion.
“The Ministry of Finance presented some fascinating statistics during the session which indicated that Ontario is not only facing slower population growth in the future, but slower growth of the working age population. Currently, immigration represents 78 percent of population growth but given that immigrants tend to settle in urban areas, it means smaller communities are facing a unique challenge related to aging. Overall, the number of seniors in the province is set to double by 2014, which means we have to plan and act now.
One of the themes of the roundtable, laid out by the Minister and echoed by many at the table, was that we need to stop discussing the aging population as exclusively a challenge and exclusively a cost driver. The perception of a growing senior population is currently that of a problem that needs to be solved, rather than an opportunity to be tapped. Similarly, the discussion of seniors needs to broaden beyond health and long-term care needs.
Research conducted by the Ministry of Seniors Affairs indicates that older Ontarians want to continue to give back and continue to be of service after they retire and as they age. This can manifest itself in many ways – volunteering, mentoring, training, seniors caring for other seniors, etc. Not only could we do a better job of encouraging this kind of service, but we could also do a better job of measuring its economic impact.
Another theme that emerged related to the changing nature of work, and how seniors may be able to take advantage of the sharing economy and non-traditional work arrangements. Similarly, seniors tend to be experienced in the kinds of skills that will be in-demand in an automated future: management, critical thinking, negotiation and mediation, caregiving, strategy and planning, communication, and many more.
However, the changing nature of work also means that older business owners may struggle with
succession plans if their children – or any younger persons – are not interested in taking over the business, jeopardizing what they have worked to build and potentially interfering with their retirement plans. Broadly, this is part of the larger discussion of the decoupling of economic growth from the size of the labour force, how future growth will be generated, and who will pay for the needs of an older population that is largely not participating in paid work.
Some questions for consideration:
How can smaller communities survive and thrive as the average age of their residents rises? How can they encourage younger people and immigrants to move to their communities - and with them, new businesses? How can they naturally transition their communities to ones that support seniors, i.e. through initiatives like NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities)?
Seniors today fear outliving the pension model, but are also interested in working beyond 65 and continuing to contribute well into their later years. How can policy-makers square that circle, linking seniors’ income security and their need for a sense of purpose?
We tend to speak about seniors as a monolith, but the experiences of someone aged 65 differ wildly from someone who is 85. How can we bring nuance to the discussion of older adults, and ensure that younger seniors are not put “on the shelf” prematurely?
While we do not want to only think of an aging population as a cost driver in the health care system, the sustainability of that system and its evolution toward one that can effectively manage chronic disease and long-term care is critical to navigating demographic change. How do we re-orient the system around patient outcomes and measure savings across hospitals, LHINs, and even Ministries to ensure that the government can manage these new demands?
In 2018, the OCC will tackle three major policy projects: on the untapped potential of Ontario’s health and life sciences sector; on building a transportation network for the future; and on managing growth through strategic urbanization and housing policy. All three of these projects intersect with seniors’ issues, and an aging population will have to be considered as we grow the health sector, build new transit options, and design livable communities."
The Peterborough Chamber is extremely interested in being a part of this discussion and policy work and would love to hear from our members and partner organizations to move the conversation forward.
We also look forward to participating in a city and county-wide program to certify local businesses as age-friendly based on certain criteria.