The latest population figures released last week by Statistics Canada provide further evidence of the demographic shift taking place in this country.
The national statistics agency announced Sept. 29 that seniors — those 65 and older — now officially make up a larger proportion of the population, 16.1 per cent, than Canadians under the age of 15, at 16.0 per cent.
The trend toward a greater percentage of seniors isn’t a surprise; the stats people have been alerting us for years about the demographic shift that would occur as the baby boomers age. Social demographics experts suggest what the latest figures do is emphasize the need for planning and policy-making to deal with the changing population tide.
In a Canadian Press story in the Sept. 30 Herald, Amanda Grenier, director of McMaster University’s Gilbrea Centre for Studies in Aging said the latest StatsCan report signals that it’s time to address the challenges posed by an aging population. “We haven’t necessarily had the national debates we should be having around aging. That could be on dementia, that could be on care, that could be on cities. We have a bit of catching up to do as a country,” she said.
Don Kerr, social demography professor at Western University, also noted Canada would be wise to plan now to accommodate the demographic changes taking place. He noted countries in Europe and Asia, which have a higher proportion of seniors than Canada does at present, are trying to grapple with the corresponding economic implications. He pointed to Japan as an example of a nation dealing with a shrinking labour force and higher national debt levels that are at least in part the result of the aging population.
Whether the discussions happen at the national level or provincially, it makes good sense to begin putting plans in place to deal with the coming years when seniors will make up an increasingly larger portion of the population. Statistics Canada projections indicate that by 2024, the proportion of seniors will grow to about 20 per cent from the current 15 per cent, and will account for 25 per cent by 2063. It doesn’t require a PhD to see that will have an obvious impact on the country in all sorts of ways, including economically and socially.
Grenier said Canadian policymakers should follow the examples of their international counterparts by examining “how to organize society” to better meet the needs of an aging population. Others have been urging Canadian policymakers to take steps now to begin dealing with the shifting demographic. The Canadian Medical Association has been one of the leading voices in calling for the creation of a national seniors strategy to pave the way for the necessary changes.
The CMA and an alliance of partner organizations have been encouraging a national discussion through the website of the Alliance for a National Seniors Strategy, where members of the public can add their support for a national seniors strategy.
Dealing with the aging of the Canadian population will be much easier if adjustments are made over time, starting now, instead of waiting until the full crunch hits.
We know it’s coming. The numbers make that clear.