CARP AGM: Seniors Minister Seamus O’Regan Shares Updates on National Dental Plan, Pharmacare, RRIF Reform and GIS Hikes

On Thursday, Seamus O’Regan paid his first visit to CARP's Zoomerplex headquarters since becoming seniors minister this past July. Photo: Paul Alexander

Seniors Minister Seamus O’Regan heralded the advent of the federal dental plan at CARP’s annual general meeting, telling the gathered members that his government “isn’t afraid of doing big things for older Canadians.”

O’Regan, 53, who was paying his first visit to CARP’s Zoomerplex headquarters in Toronto since being appointed as seniors minister in July 2023, called the dental plan “a big deal” saying that his government was building the equivalent of “new national health care plan.” He also explained where the government is on big CARP issues like pharmacare, RRIF reform and a boost to the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).

A busy politician – he is also minister of labour – O’Regan joins a prestigious list of top politicians to address CARP’s AGM including the not-yet prime minister Justin Trudeau (2015); NDP leader Jagmeet Singh (2021); then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer (2018); former NDP leader Tom Mulcair (2012) and Ontario Premier Doug Ford (2022). 

A native of Newfoundland and Labrador representing the riding of St. John’s South Mount-Pearl, O’Regan noted that one-quarter of people living in his home province are seniors and that half are over the age of 50.

“That’s what Canada will look like in a few years,” he said, before joking that “in Newfoundland and Labrador, we’re living in the future.”

O’Regan called the Canadian Dental Care Plan “the biggest thing to happen to our health-care system in my lifetime.” Photo: Paul Alexander


The rapidly growing aging demographic represents a “daunting prospect” for all levels of government, which is why the senior’s minister mandate is to ensure that older people age with dignity and on their own terms.

“Aging with dignity comes down to choice, affordability, inclusion and to community – and good governance,” he said.


Dental Plan Will Cover 9 million


Part of that good governance is making sure that seniors have the means to age in their homes as long as possible. Besides ensuring that senior’s benefits keep pace with the cost of living, O’Regan pointed to the Canadian Dental Care Plan. 

“This is a big deal,” he said, “It’s the biggest thing to happen to our health-care system in my lifetime.”

One-third of Canadians – including many seniors – don’t have dental care insurance. Many find dental costs exorbitant and must simply live with the discomfort and pain. The dental plan covers people in households making less than $90,000 a year.

“That’s about nine million people.”

From dentures to teeth cleaning to surgery, he said that “dental care is essential health care and is also about quality of life. There’s no dignity in having to choose between paying your rent or getting new dentures.”

He was pleased at the pace at which seniors were enrolling for the program, noting that 800,000 seniors had signed up for the plan so far. 

In a sit-down chat with Bill VanGorder, CARP’s chief policy officer, O’Regan admitted that the plan was still in its “early stages,” adding that the health minister is currently meeting with the provinces and dental associations to iron out all the details. But he noted it wasn’t surprising that there are “growing pains” for this massive program, which he called “the largest service rollout of its kind – ever – by the government of Canada. We are building a new national health-care plan.” 

Bill VanGorder, CARP’s chief policy officer, greets O’Regan armed with a notepad of questions for the seniors minister. Photo: Paul Alexander


Pharmacare, Boosting GIS and RRIF Rules


VanGorder also asked him about whether a national pharmacare would be in place by the next election. He urged the seniors minister to push for funding of all recommended vaccines for seniors across the country, which drew a big round of applause. O’Regan responded that his party was in discussions with the NDP on how to rollout a pharmacare program and that the government’s new  bulk-buying program was already saving billions.

With financial security such a major issue for CARP members, VanGorder asked the minister what his government would do to ensure retirees didn’t outlive their savings. O’Regan said his government was addressing “affordability,” saying he was “committed” to boosting the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) for those Canadians most in need. 

In questions from the floor, O’Regan was asked about the ministry’s direction on mental health and loneliness. He acknowledged that it was an issue that afflicted many older Canadians, including a personal anecdote about his mother coping with loneliness when her husband died.

He said that he was “passionate” about mental health, speaking movingly about his own battles with depression. “When you go through those experiences in your own life,  you never forget them.”

Taking questions from the thousands of online participants, Anthony Quinn, CARP’s chief community and benefits officer, asked the Minister about changing the rules of mandatory RRIF withdrawals, a very unpopular government policy that depletes savings at an accelerated pace. “If it’s a big issue for you, then it’s a big issue for me,” adding that he would talk to the finance minister about it. Quinn also asked the minister how the government is helping seniors avoid long-term care and remain in their homes. 

From left to right: Moses Znaimer, chairman and president of the board; Bill VanGorder, chief policy officer; Seniors Minister Seamus O’Regan; B.C. Rep Romona Kaptyn and CARP President Rudy Buttignol at the Zoomerplex in Toronto. Photo: Paul Alexander


Healthy Turnout


CARP president Rudy Buttignol said he was pleased with the high turnout of members online and with the feedback they provided. 

In closing, O’Regan noted that COVID-19 had taken a physical and psychological toll on all Canadians, but especially seniors.

“We carried on and we came out of it better than any country in the world. What will we tackle next?”


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