Building a capacity to care for each other

The phone call came on my way home from Ottawa for Thanksgiving. “We’ve called an ambulance to take your mom to the hospital.” And (back) down the rabbit hole of senior health care we went.

The ongoing experience comes on the eve of that most active time for giving, sharing, volunteering. It has been a reminder of just how valuable is the time and effort we give freely, in all sorts of ways, at this time of year. It has been a reminder, too, of just how deep and yawning the gaps are in the care that we provide to one another.

As a father of three who has sat on a day care board and school council – and as an MP, of course – I have thought a lot about the needs of kids and parents. When so many of us confront the challenge and stresses of finding safe, affordable and quality childcare and education for our kids, surely a collective response is called for. It makes no sense to do nothing. And so most will know by now of our NDP commitment to a national childcare plan.

My experience with my mom over the last two months has been a reminder of another stage in life requiring care that is almost inevitable for most of us. When my father died, we were all 21 years younger, and it appeared different. Aside from radiation treatment out of town, he lived at home, was cared for at home, and died at home.

Things are different for my mom. It’s involved an extended stay in hospital on a floor where seniors are “warehoused” because the waiting list for long-term care is so long. And it’s included her retirement home – her home since she last came out of hospital seven years ago – telling me they don’t want her back.

Surely here as well, there is sense – if not a need – for a collective response. My colleague Libby Davies put one forward over a year ago in the form of Bill C-545, the Continuing Care for Canadians Act.

But on yet another trip to Kingston to visit my mom, I was listening to the story on the radio of Zahra Abdille and her two boys, Faris and Zain – killed in their apartment in Thorncliffe Park by their husband/dad, it would seem.

The deaths of Zahra and her boys tell us that this isn’t just about the inevitably of certain stages of life in which we require care. It’s not just about childcare and health care. It is about building a capacity to care for one another. It is about addressing our failure to be the compassionate and generous country we ought to be and certainly can be.

We have left, everywhere, gaps and traps for Canadians and ourselves to fall into. We do that fully aware that inevitably, many will fall into them and that many are born into them. We have left individuals and families to make their own way out of them, if they can – fully aware that many won’t be able to.

Niki Ashton tried to address the deadly gap that Zahra and her kids fell into with her motion of May, 2013, to establish a Coordinated National Action Plan to End Violence Against Women (M-444). She presented a similar motion to the Committee on the Status of Women in the wake of Zahra’s death. As usually happens under this Conservative majority, the committee went “in camera.” When they emerged, the motion had been defeated.

This holiday season, please – everyone – come out and give freely and generously what you can, knowing that we all have inside of us, the gifts that others need most – our time, our energy, love, joy, friendship, hugs and comfort. But let us not forget that there is a bigger project that isn’t seasonal, that we all need to be part of – building a generous and compassionate Canada. It’s for all moms and dads, for all kids, for all women. Indeed, it is for all of us who need to be cared for – and that is all of us.


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A society unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through “com-passion” is a cruel and inhuman society.

-Pope Benedict XVI

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