TORONTO – At age 80, Ada Garrison finds herself at a new beginning.A host of new friends, activities and challenges abound since a health scare prompted her to move into a retirement home in downtown Toronto.Six months ago she had been living alone in a two-bedroom apartment. Her 54-year-old daughter and grandson were in the unit below but she saw them rarely, as was the case with her two sons, one of whom lives in New York.“I felt isolated,” Garrison admits of that time. “My kids were real busy and I could hear them; that was lovely, but the social time with them was skimpy.”Meanwhile, her own circle of friends was dwindling.“About half of them have died and that’s another reason that I felt blue. I was trying to make some younger friends, but people are swamped with work and there’s not a lot of leisure time.”The sociable grandmother moved to a retirement home where she now finds herself “cheek by jowl” with other seniors in an atmosphere she likens to living in a college dormitory. She takes classes and goes on group outings.Her new daily imperative: make new friends and live life to the fullest.Garrison is part of a growing group of single senior Canadian women who are redefining what it means to age alone. Their ranks are swelling, according to the latest tranche of data from the 2016 census, released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.The number of elderly Canadians is soaring — a 19.4 per cent increase among those 85 and older between 2011 and 2016. Since people are living longer and women tend to outlive men, females have long had to cope with standing alone as they grew old.Among Canadians aged 85 and older, there were nearly two women for every man in 2016, Statistics Canada found last year. For centenarians, whose ranks grew at a staggering rate of 41.3 per cent, the ratio was was five to one.Some are widowed or divorced; others never married. Many have children, but they live far away amid housing and employment pressures. Some liken becoming a single senior to reinventing themselves entirely.“There is a lot of reinvention because you’ve got another 30 to 35 years of life and why do what you’ve done before?” says 68-year-old Adina Lebo, who never married and lives alone in Toronto but finds support from a tight circle of female friends.“Some of my friends started little businesses, like dog walking, or they took their mum’s cookie recipe and started making cookies and selling them at the local bakery and local fairs. Other people have gone into business with Airbnb and turned their home into a revenue-producing (business).”Leslie Brodbeck, 71, says she found “a new confidence” after her husband died suddenly of brain cancer in 2008.“I went to the bank, for instance … and negotiated a bridge loan all by myself. I had never done anything like that in my life,” says Brodbeck, who lives in London, Ont. “I want to be a person that’s vibrant and involved, not someone who sits at home and knits.”And while it’s long been true that the people who approach 100 are mostly women, men are starting to close the gender gap, says Nora Spinks, chief executive officer of The Vanier Institute of the Family.In 2001, there were 2.3 women for every man in the 85-and-over group, Statistics Canada said Wednesday. In 2016, that ratio was down to 1.87.Spinks credits better illness detection, medical treatment and preventative care with pushing male life expectancy to increase at a slightly higher rate than that of women.But older women still live longer, and many are alone.Spinks says it’s not surprising many seniors describe feeling a newfound freedom, since it often follows a lifetime of sequential caregiving.“First you look after your kids, then you look after your parents, then you look after your spouse, then you look after your friends,” she says.“You’re taking care of others from the time you’re in your 20s — maybe late 20s, early 30s — right through to your 60s, and then all of a sudden, you get to focus on you. And for a lot of women that’s very liberating.”It’s something Bev Farrell sees everyday in her work at Third Age Outreach, a geriatric service out of St. Joseph’s Health Care in London, Ont.As a “therapeutic recreation specialist,” she helps older adults find meaningful activities such as exercise, crafts or card games.She recalls helping a widow who was foundering after a decade spent caring for her ailing husband.“She had to give herself permission to have fun, because she felt a little guilty at first.”Lebo, chair of the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Association of Retired Persons, says one of the biggest concerns of members is the fear they will outlive their savings.Health care, housing, transit and social supports are all big concerns, but she has struggled to find steady employment since being losing her job five years ago. She finds support from older single women who share her struggles and can offer a helping hand when needed.“We’re basically looking after ourselves and helping each other,” says Lebo, who also looks after her 96-year-old mother.“I have friends who’ve said, ‘Adina, we’ll be calling you to assist us on medical things that require a second person and please call us,’ so that’s an unwritten bond.”Meanwhile, older seniors like her mother are at greater risk of spending more time alone, says Lebo, especially when illness is involved and it becomes impossible to leave the house or entertain visitors.Brodbeck’s advice, meanwhile, is the same as that she gives her children: plan ahead while you can and celebrate every stage of life.“Look to the future, don’t dwell on the past, but live every day. Because you never know what’s around the corner and that’s what my husband’s death taught me.”Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version inverted the ratios of women to men in 2001 and 2016.
OTTAWA – The Canadian whistleblower at the centre of an international scandal that allegedly helped the Trump campaign capitalize politically from private Facebook information got his start in politics with the Liberal Party of Canada.But several senior Liberal officials from that time, about a decade ago, insist they have almost no recollection of then-teenager Christopher Wylie — if any at all.The New York Times and The Observer of London have reported U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign hired a data-analytics company that harvested private information from the Facebook profiles of more than 50 million users.Cambridge Analytica, the company named by Wylie as being behind the massive leak, exploited private social media activity to help allow the Trump campaign to better target voters by profiling their behaviour and personalities ahead of the U.S. election, according to the reports. The firm connected with Trump’s political adviser Steve Bannon, whom Wylie also met, the reports said.Wylie, a 28-year-old from British Columbia, is the data scientist who spoke out about controversy. He’s also the man who helped found Cambridge Analytica.“I do feel responsible for it and it’s something that I regret,” Wylie said in a video interview posted on The Observer’s web page.“It was a grossly unethical experiment because you are playing with an entire country, the psychology of an entire country, without their consent or awareness.”The reports provided many details about whistleblower who in 2007 or 2008 landed his first political gig with the federal Liberals.At age 17, he worked in the office of Canada’s opposition leader, who at that time was then-Liberal leader Stephane Dion, said one of the reports. When he was 18 years old, the newspaper said he learned all about data while working for officials on former U.S. president Barack Obama’s campaign team, and later introduced one director to the Liberals.A senior source with the Liberal Party said Sunday that Wylie last worked for the party less than a decade ago, before Justin Trudeau became leader, and was also previously involved in its youth commission. The source spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss staffing details.However, former Liberal officials from that time said they either hadn’t heard of Wylie — or they barely remembered him.“I vaguely recall him,” wrote one former senior official in an email Sunday. “I think that he was a summer intern.”Another former senior Liberal, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he asked former colleagues Sunday and some people remembered Wylie. They say he was “pretty junior” and worked in the data strategy and communications space.One former party official, however, said while they didn’t know Wylie well, they remembered him as a “big advocate of microtargetting.”One of the newspaper reports said Wylie came up with the idea behind Cambridge Analytica at age 24.The article also said Wylie was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a teen and left school at 16 years old without any qualifications. After working for the Liberals and Obama’s campaign, the report said he taught himself to code at age 19 and later studied law at the London School of Economics.The reports also said Cambridge Analytica played a major role in the referendum that led to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.Another article published May 2017 by The Guardian quoted a source that connected Wylie to a web analytics company in Victoria, B.C., called AggregateIQ. The firm has come under scrutiny in Britain for its possible role in helping the Leave campaign win the Brexit referendum.Asked about Wylie, Canada’s Liberal Party said in a statement Sunday that protecting the information of Canadians it engages with is a “foremost priority.”The party said it has a clear, stringent policy that protects individuals’ private information. It also said its agreements with campaign partners also include strict requirements.The party insists it doesn’t sell information under any circumstances.A spokeswoman for Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said Sunday that social-media platforms have a responsibility to help ensure citizens and the democratic processes are protected from “threats like foreign interference, data breaches, hate speech, and misinformation.”“While some social-media platforms have begun to take initial steps to address these issues, it’s clear that much more needs to be done,” Jordan Owens wrote in an email.Owens said the government would work with social-media firms to ensure they respect and help preserve the integrity of Canada’s democracy.Facebook said in a weekend blog post that claims the harvesting of user information was a data breach are “completely false.”The statement said University of Cambridge psychology professor Aleksandr Kogan accessed the information after he requested it from users who gave their consent when they chose to sign up for his Facebook app.“People knowingly gave their information, no systems were infiltrated, and no passwords or sensitive pieces of information were stolen or hacked,” said the post by Paul Grewal, Facebook’s vice-president and deputy general counsel.Follow @AndyBlatchford