“Canada is a nation of caregivers.”

These words were part of remarks delivered by Liv Mendelsohn, the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence (CCCE) at our inaugural Canadian Caregiving Summit. One in four Canadians is a caregiver today and one in two Canadians is expected to give care at some point in their lives. Yet despite the prevalence of caregiving in our country, there is little acknowledgement or support for Canada’s 8+ million caregivers and care providers, providing essential care to those who are ageing, living with disability or illness.

We seek to make caregiving the next frontier in Canadian public policy. On November 6 to 8, 2023, we united 350 stakeholders in person and an additional 150 online from across caregiving communities, including those in the care workforce, to work together toward a brighter future of care – one that includes a comprehensive and federally funded caregiving strategy.

Reframing “care”

Researchers, clinicians, policy makers, and lived experience experts from across Canada and around the world joined us to define the need for a national caregiving strategy, discuss substantive ideas for policy reform and learn from international models where policies related to care are ahead of ours, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.

The Summit was divided into four tracks: Healthcare, Social and community care, Work education and care and Care workforce. Participants spent the mornings in plenary sessions exploring key issues before breaking-off into smaller sessions by track in the afternoon.

We heard from caregivers and care providers who shared deep experience and new ways to think about care:

Grant Bruno, a University of Alberta researcher, CCCE advisory council member and father of two Indigenous children with Autism spoke of the Cree model of “care gifting,” care in relation that is with mutually beneficial outcomes for everyone.  

CCCE advisory council member Donna Thomson introduced the concept of “care security,” of building a future where caregivers can take on the responsibility of care without the current impacts on health and financial security.  

Juanita Ford, a member of CCCE’s Direct Support Professional Fellowship program, spoke about the need to value and support care providers, drawing attention to the reality that many work multiple jobs and access food banks because they can’t make ends meet doing the meaningful – and essential – work they love.

Celebrating Care

On the evening of November 6, Summit attendees gathered at the National Arts Centre for an evening of celebration to recognize the dedication and advocacy of outstanding caregivers, care providers and care-focused organizations.

The evening was hosted by Canada’s Queen of R&B and Soul, Jully Black. Jully shares a personal connection to caregiving; she was her mother’s caregiver during her mother’s cancer and palliative care journey.  In addition to emceeing the evening, Jully ended the Gala by serenading attendees with an original song written for her mother and finishing with an uplifting rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”.

CCCE presented six new awards during the evening:

  • Donna Thomson – Vickie Cammack Trailblazer Award
  • Nadine Henningsen – Outstanding Achievement Award
  • Katrina Prescott – Caregiver Advocacy Award
  • Oliver Fitzpatrick – Young Caregiver Advocate Award
  • Juanita Forde – Care Provider Leadership Award
  • Dr. Jasneet Parmar and Dr. Sharon Anderson – Research Excellence Award

Congratulations to all the award winners!

Making care the next frontier in Canadian public policy

On Tuesday November 7, 150 guests assembled across from Parliament Hill for a parliamentary reception to bring caregiving to the attention of our elected leaders.

The reception was hosted by caregiver champion and NDP MP Bonita Zarrillo (Port Moody-Coquitlam) and co-sponsored by representatives from all major federal parties, including Members of Parliament Irek Kusmierczyk (Liberal, Windsor-Tecumseh), Melissa Lantsman (Conservative, Thornhill), Louise Chabot (Bloc Quebecois, Thérèse-De Blainville) and Mike Morrice (Green, Kitchener Centre).

All sponsors delivered remarks highlighting their party’s awareness and commitment to issues related to caregivers and care providers. Liv Mendelsohn and CCCE’s advisory council chair and Azrieli Foundation chair Dr. Naomi Azrieli also delivered remarks.

Over 40 MPs attended the reception, including NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, as well as five members of the Senate. Several caregivers and care providers in attendance secured additional meetings with MPs of their riding to continue discussions on care – a hopeful sign for changes to come.

Working together

The primary objective of the Summit was to build bridges across sectors and collect input and ideas for a national caregiving strategy.

Attendees were invited to share input by recording their thoughts in the Caregiving Corner video booth, writing their top three priorities in our postcard campaign and participating in the Policy Lab, a facilitated workshop that wrapped up the Summit. Virtual attendees were given the same opportunities to provide input directly in the online platform.  

Many policy ideas were shared, and a few themes emerged as critical for a national strategy:

  • Financial support through caregiver tax benefits, basic income, or allowance.
  • Increased wages for care workforce to help retain and attract more people to the sector.
  • Formal caregiver recognition in the health system with adequate training opportunities to ensure safe care.
  • Job security and residency status for our growing immigrant workforce.
  • Dependable access to services for recipients of care, such as respite and recreational programming.
  • Caregiver-friendly workplace policies, including dedicated leave and flexible work arrangements.  

CCCE will be synthesizing the information over the coming weeks and working with a co-design model on a national caregiving strategy set for release in fall 2024.

A brighter future of care is possible

The final day of the summit was filled with optimism and hope as we heard from Canadian policy makers and peer countries which have successfully pushed for public policy to support caregivers.  We heard loud and clear about the importance of building and investing in a care movement.

The View from the Hill: Championing Care plenary brought together representatives from all five major Canadian federal parties to share their perspective on care policy. Members of Parliament Irek Kusmierchyk (Liberal, Windsor-Tecumseh), Anna Roberts (Conservative, King-Vaughan), Bonita Zarillo (NDP, Port Moody-Coquitlam), Luc Thériault (Bloc Quebecois, Montcalm) and Mike Morrice (Green, Kitchener Centre) all shared their views on the role of government in caregiving.

The keynote messages delivered by Alison Barkoff of the United States government (U.S. Administration of Community Living) and Baroness Jill Pitkeathley of the United Kingdom House of Lords inspired participants with a real sense that better is possible through strategic and steady work toward policy reform. Both speakers reinforced the imperativeness of building partnerships and advocating together – which is exactly what the Summit sought to accomplish.

Attendees left the Summit with hope and optimism for the future. We are excited to work with care communities from coast to coast to coast as we advocate for and draft a national caregiving strategy. Together we will roll up our sleeves. Let’s get to work!

Attendee feedback on the Canadian Caregiving Summit

As a family caregiver, I felt so encouraged by all the wonderful people and many organizations that are focused on supporting caregivers and in term the care recipients. It is heartwarming and good for one’s soul! Thank you!

What a beautiful event. Three days full of touching, true and sincere moments. We come out with new knowledge, a better understanding of the care ecosystem in Canada. But above all, we made very nice encounters: relations, relations, relations. 

[The Summit] was overwhelmingly amazing. The moments we shared on the scale we shared was powerful. We are an engaging group. We held balanced conversations that were also insightful.

This was an outstanding summit. I would love to participate again in the future to continue this collaborative work.

I feel a new sense of hope. We can do this! We can make care better in Canada!

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