Montreal announces additional consultation for Age-Friendly Cities initiative
When Montreal mayor Valérie Plante’s administration announced they wanted input from older citizens about how to make the city a more age-friendly place, they did so in a way that excluded the most vulnerable seniors, according to two Concordia researchers.
This month the city of Montreal organized four senior consultation sessions to gather information about how to better address the needs of older citizens. Seniors who could not attend the sessions were directed to an online poll on the city’s website.
On Feb. 7, Kim Sawchuk, the director of Ageing, Communication, Technologies (ACT) at Concordia, and Shannon Hebblethwaite, the director of the engAGE centre for research on aging, sent an open letter to Plante criticizing the consultation process.
Sawchuk and Hebblethwaite wrote that they were pleased the city was developing an action plan to better the lives of Montreal seniors, but said they were worried the consultations excluded the people whose voices needed to be heard the most.
In an interview with The Concordian, Hebblethwaite said older seniors, especially those with reduced mobility, would have trouble attending the sessions. An online survey was no solution, she added, claiming 58 per cent of seniors over the age of 75 do not use the internet. She also expressed concern that the consultations excluded anglophones because there was no consultation scheduled in the Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (CDN-NDG) borough, where many of the city’s English-speaking seniors live.
“If you don’t design an age-friendly consultation process, how can we trust you to design an age-friendly city?” she asked.
According to Hebblethwaite, since she and Sawchuk sent their open letter, the city has responded to some of their concerns. A consultation session was added for Feb. 26 in the CDN-NDG borough, and a bilingual phone line has been set up for seniors to call if they have questions about the consultation process.
Nonetheless, Hebblethwaite said she is worried. Winter in Montreal brings icy sidewalks and snowy cobblestones—obstacles that can be difficult for seniors to navigate, especially those with mobility issues.
“Holding those consultations in February makes it dangerous if not impossible for seniors to attend those sessions,” she said. “We want the city to extend the consultations for a month or two into the spring.”
Hebblethwaite noted that in other cities such as Vancouver and Toronto, paper surveys were posted in public places, like churches and community centres, for seniors to fill out.
The Montreal consultations are part of the Age-Friendly Cities initiative, which began as a call from the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2007 for municipalities around the world to develop plans to address problems that affect seniors.
The city of Montreal estimates that people aged 65 and over account for 17 per cent of the city’s population and that figure will rise to 21 per cent by 2036.
Social isolation among seniors is one of the major issues Montreal will try to tackle. In 2016, the Canadian government reported that social isolation is linked to a significantly increased risk of depression and dementia. Hebblethwaite added that language barriers can contribute to feelings of social isolation. For example, English-speaking seniors in Montreal are more likely to be socially isolated than their French counterparts.
“A lot of older, English-speaking seniors came to this province before the language laws, and their children may have left Quebec,” she said. “They don’t have the same family or social networks [as French-speaking seniors].”
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin