Aging in Québec
Québec covers an area one-sixth the size of the United States.[i]
It has 1,135 municipalities, including 10 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants.[ii]
Its total population stands at 7.9 million. [iii]
More than 1.2 million Quebecers are 65 years of age or over. [iv]
An aging society
Québec’s population is aging at a pace that is second only to that of Japan.
Quebecers 65 or over currently account for nearly 16 percent of Québec’s population. This age group now exceeds the under-15 age group. By 2031, this age group is expected to account for nearly 26 percent of the population. [v]
This situation stems largely from a steady increase in the life expectancy of Quebecers, which rose from 68.5 years[vi] to 81.2 years[vii] between 1950 and 2009—a jump of more than 12 years in the span of just under 60 years.
The Minister responsible for Seniors
With the goal of looking after the interests of older people, Québec Premier Jean Charest appointed Québec’s first Minister responsible for Seniors in 2007.
In this role, my first mandate was to conduct an extensive public consultation on older people’s living conditions. I wanted to reach as many people as possible to discuss various aspects of their lives: their friends and relatives, groups representing them, and experts and stakeholders concerned with this issue.
The approach enabled us to take an informed look at what had already been accomplished, understand the concerns of Québec’s older people, and establish priorities to better respond to their needs.
Following the consultation, a series of initiatives was launched to respond to requests that older people had clearly expressed—mainly that they be able to remain in their own homes, in their city or town, and continue to be active in their communities.
Better adapted living environments
Municipalities are directly affected by demographic aging. Its scope is prompting local and regional authorities to find new ways to adapt service offerings and infrastructure to the needs of their increasingly older populations.
The service and infrastructure needs of Québec’s older people are far from homogeneous. They differ depending on age groups and are changing over time. The Québec government believes that older people must benefit from a living environment that meets their needs and promotes their self-fulfilment.
To give current and future generations the means to live in an environment that fosters their active aging and sense of accomplishment, a new momentum was needed in order to chart the course.
The Senior-Friendly Municipality (SFM) Approach
Based on the Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide published by the World Health Organization (WHO)[viii] in 2007, I accepted a proposal from Suzanne Garon, PhD, full professor, researcher, and principal investigator of a university research team specializing in age-friendly cities at the Research Centre on Aging of the Health and Social Services Centre—University Institute of Geriatrics of Sherbrooke (HSSC—UIGS) to support the implementation of Age-Friendly Cities pilot projects in Québec.
In 2008, the government invested C$2.8 million over five years within the framework of the Action Strategy for the Elderly to carry out projects of this nature in five municipalities, as well as a Québec City borough (Charlesbourg) and a regional county municipality in the Témiscamingue region composed of 20 municipalities.
Because Québec has several types of agglomerations, it was necessary to monitor changes in these seven highly diversified environments. Service and facility structures vary among municipalities, as do their contexts. Socioeconomic conditions and services offered in certain municipalities near major centers differ greatly from those available in remote areas.
The pilot projects were so successful that they led to the creation of a funding program with a C$2 million annual budget: the Senior-Friendly Municipality (SFM) Approach.
Examples of initiatives launched under the pilot projects
- Every winter, Granby, a city of 62,000 inhabitants, clears the snow from its network of bicycle paths over a greater distance to encourage residents of all ages to get out and walk.
- In Charlesbourg, political science students go door to door to distribute information sheets to older people. This enables the students to identify older people who are isolated and steer them toward organizations that can help them.
- In Témiscamingue, a regional county municipality made up of 20 remote cities and towns, a driver-companion service has been set up to enable older people to do their shopping. Several hundred older people are taking advantage of the assistance provided by about 20 companions, who have received training in communication techniques and safe travel. A public transportation network that uses school buses has also been established to make it easier for older people to get around.
Since 2009, a subsidy has been paid to municipalities wishing to adopt the SFM Approach. Additional funding has been granted to the Carrefour Action Municipale et Famille, a nonprofit organization that guides municipalities in carrying out projects.
Moreover, to encourage these initiatives for seniors, the Québec Minister of Municipal Affairs, Regions and Land Occupancy has offered C$9 million over three years to municipalities that have adopted the SFM Approach to fund small projects for infrastructure used by older people (for example, rest areas for people who enjoy walking that are equipped with benches and restrooms, intergenerational exercise modules, pedestrian crossings, and elevators).
Like the WHO Age-Friendly Cities Project, the Senior-Friendly Municipality Approach enables us to adapt policies, services, and municipal structures for and in collaboration with older people, who are an integral part of the decision-making process.
The approach is carried out in collaboration with the entire community and seeks, above all, to establish a culture of respect for older people for the sake of intergenerational understanding, universal access, and sustainable development.
To date, 324 Québec municipalities have adopted the approach, including the 10 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants (Montréal, Québec City, Laval, Saguenay, Lévis, Longueuil, Trois-Rivières, Terrebonne, Gatineau, and Sherbrooke).
The Carrefour action municipale et famille and the HSSC—UIGShave devised an approach specifically intended for large cities. These cities account for roughly half of Québec’s population. They are facing special challenges related to older people, owing particularly to population density, the complexity of municipal organization, and collaboration involving numerous partners.
WHO considers Québec a world leader when it comes to the SFM Approach. In September 2011, I had the privilege of participating in the first conference of the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities.
With the SFM Approach, the Québec government has achieved a major milestone on behalf of older people. Between 2008 and 2016, the government will invest more than C$24 million to implement the SFM Approach. This initiative is the focal point of the government policy on aging that we are currently devising.
The government policy on aging
Since March 2011, I have been co-chairing an interdepartmental committee composed of six ministers tasked with drawing up the policy, which will be made public in the spring of 2012.
The policy views aging not as the extension of old age but rather as the continuation of life. It seeks to create conditions geared to active aging, that is, to promote the participation, health, and safety of older people and enhance their quality of life within a framework of intergenerational equity.
The SFM Approach is the driving force behind the policy that is being shaped—a policy that is grounded in a systemic approach very similar to the one that WHO has developed.
The policy on aging is also based on a series of measures with positive outcomes that the Québec government has been gradually implementing since 2003. The measures concern all facets of the lives of older people as well as their friends and families. They have paved the way for the development of an integrated, coherent perception of actions to be taken in favor of older people.
A society enriched by the contribution of its older people
During the 2007 public consultation, older people clearly indicated that they wanted to remain in their homes and feel at home regardless of where they were living. For this reason, we are striving to ensure that Québec’s older people maintain good health in their communities and continue to thrive, wherever they may live. We want to foster the development of a society in which all Quebecers have their place and can contribute to the community, each in his or her own way. This is the objective we are striving to achieve through the government policy on aging. Québec is already a paradise for families. Now our goal is to make it a paradise for people of all ages.
[i] Institut de la Statistique du Québec, Comparaison entre la superficie du Québec et celle d’autres pays, 2008.
[ii] Ministère des Affaires municipales, des Régions et de l’Occupation du territoire, L’organisation municipale et régionale au Québec en 2010.
[iii] Institut de la statistique du Québec, Le Québec chiffres en main, 2011 edition.
[v] Institut de la statistique du Québec, Direction des statistiques sociodémographiques, December 2009.
[vi] Claude Castonguay, La longévité : une richesse, January 2010, p. 8.
[vii] Institut de la statistique du Québec, Espérance de vie à la naissance et à 65 ans selon le sexe, Québec, 1980-1982 à 2007-2009, May 2010.
[viii] On October 1, 2007, WHO launched Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide following extensive research conducted in 33 cities around the world. Based on the notion of active aging, the tool suggests ways of adapting our living environments to older people’s needs. The concept of “active aging” is drawn more specifically from WHO’s Active Aging: A Policy Framework. It advocates ongoing participation in social, economic, cultural, intellectual, and public life. It is not limited to the ability to engage in physical activity or participate in the labor market.