Yes, Virginia

If you want proof that seniors, their families and caregivers are ready for a single window portal wired to the Internet, go no further than Brockville, Ontario. This city is the municipal partner in a collaborative seniors portal initiative being undertaken by the Canadian Seniors Partnership (CSP).

The CSP, the Brockville collaborative seniors portal and the Seniors Canada On-line (SCOL) initiative were the subject of a joint plenary presentation to Lac Carling delegates by Brian Ferguson of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), Geoffrey Quirt of the Ontario Seniors Secretariat and Dave Paul of the City of Brockville. Together they outlined the vision, accomplishments and future for their collaborative approach to serving Canadian seniors.

While the projects themselves are impressive, the real story is about the intersection of three initiatives into one vision of integrated service delivery to Canadian seniors, their families and caregivers. The vision is of an integrated, multi-channel, cross-jurisdictional, no-wrong door approach for any senior, family or caregiver that is looking for information on programs or services for the over 55 age group. As Geoffrey Quirt noted, a citizen should be able to access information on a program or service from any level of government through an Internet, telephone or over-the-counter portal and not even be aware that he or she is getting that service from the federal, provincial or municipal government. The lessons learned that were shared with Lac Carling delegates demonstrate that governments can collaborate based on a long-term vision of improved service delivery.

The seniors initiative is timely. The aging of the Canadian population over the next few decades will present both opportunities and challenges for all governments. Federal/provincial/territorial Ministers have said there is a need to put in place the necessary policies and programs so Canada is ready for this change. Issues facing seniors, their families and caregivers include ageism, access to health/home care, affordable housing and isolation , and the need to create a society in which seniors are valued and recognized for their contributions.

The Government of Canada is contributing in part to this challenge through the Government On-Line (GOL) initiative. This initiative is aimed at improving information and services to Canadians by providing enhanced access to improved citizen-centred, integrated services. GOL funded a Seniors Cluster with the objective of encouraging partnership development geared to service improvement and service integration. The cluster is an online platform for meeting the vision of building a new government service delivery mechanism that will meet the needs of seniors. Users can access the cluster through the Seniors Canada On-line web site ( Seven federal departments, seven provincial partners and an advisory panel of national and provincial seniors’ organizations from across Canada are working together to discuss site design, functionality and features. The site offers access to a wide range of information for seniors including options for finding the information and services from multiple government departments.

The presentation to Lac Carling delegates provided some lessons learned in developing the SCOL web site. First of all, it is important to describe the concept clearly to client groups in order to encourage take-up. Second, the site itself must use plain language, and the user should be able to reach his or her goal within three clicks. Third, potential users – seniors, caregivers and families – should be involved at the outset in the design of the site. Finally, participants at the session were advised to keep focused on their vision, and to avoid being sidetracked by challenges that arise.

The second pillar of the seniors strategy is the Canadian Seniors Partnership. The CSP is an association of senior officials from the federal and provincial/territorial governments and the volunteer sector. Its goal is to bring about a transformation in the way that programs and services are accessed by Canadian seniors, their families, caregivers and supporting service organizations. The CSP was formed in November 2001 after a discussion paper was commissioned by VAC that proposed models for government service delivery to seniors in the information age. Co-chaired by the Ontario Seniors Secretariat and VAC, the CSP is collaborating to develop a sustainable model for integrating related activities across departmental, governmental and sector silos, using all service delivery channels, in order to ensure that services become more citizen-centred. Conference delegates were offered some lessons that have been learned regarding the formation of the CSP: it is necessary to have leadership from all levels of government, to get early political support, and to be willing to compromise in order to ensure movement toward the final outcome. Second, it is important to accommodate other projects that might be integrated into the original venture. Third, it is critical to make sure the partnership remains relevant and useful to all partners as well as true to the final vision.

The third pillar in the pursuit of their vision is the new collaborative seniors web portal that will be hosted by the City of Brockville, along with the governments of Canada and Ontario. Brockville is ideally suited for the project. It is a medium sized centre, where the population of seniors (i.e. those over 55) is approximately 5% higher than the national average. Over