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First B.C. seniors advocate named

The provincial government has appointed Isobel Mackenzie as B.C.'s first seniors' advocate.

Mackenzie has a broad mandate as the voice of seniors in B.C. to monitor and review system-wide issues affecting their well-being.

She can make recommendations to government and other service providers in areas ranging from health and personal care to housing, transportation and income support.

"I have seen first-hand the issues, the challenges and the choices facing our seniors, their families and their caregivers," Mackenzie said Wednesday, calling her appointment an honour and a privilege.

"I have witnessed the profound desire of seniors to maintain their dignity and their independence."

Mackenzie has 18 years of local, provincial and national experience working on behalf of seniors, much of it heading Beacon Community Services in Victoria.

She is to advise government and service providers in an independent manner, meet the minister at least yearly and make public her reports and recommendations.

Opposition New Democrats, who have called for a seniors advocate since 2007, said the government hasn't given the new advocate enough power and independence to act as a strong champion.

The enabling legislation indicates problems specific to an individual senior, rather than broad system-wide issues, are likely to be referred elsewhere.

"This advocate is not empowered to look at individual issues facing seniors," NDP seniors critic Katrine Conroy said. "These individual issues often signal systemic problems."

The Office of the Seniors Advocate opens in Victoria March 31 with a $2-million budget and can be found online at www.gov.bc.ca/seniorsadvocate.

It's the first position of its kind in Canada.

B.C. has 700,000 residents over age 65 and that number is projected to double over the next 20 years, by which time seniors will make up nearly a quarter of the population.

The appointment of the advocate by Health Minister Terry Lake meets a commitment in the province's 2012 Seniors Action Plan.

That promise came after the B.C Ombudsperson issued a highly critical report in 2011 on problems in seniors' care with 176 recommendations that critics say have largely been ignored.

– Jeff Nagel

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