TORONTO - The province's home-care system is getting a $700-million boost from the governing Liberals to give seniors more help with meals, shopping, shovelling snow and housekeeping so they can remain in their homes longer, Health Minister George Smitherman announced Tuesday.

The three-year Aging at Home strategy will go beyond traditional home care and give seniors an "enhanced basket of services'' that will help them remain in the comfort of their own homes, Smitherman said.

"Some of those things are not medical but, if you don't have them, (it can) force you into a long-term care home," he said. "It could be grocery shopping, could be snow shovelling or it could be changing light bulbs."

Although critics say the announcement is designed to get the Liberals re-elected rather than truly help the elderly, Smitherman said the government has long been committed to home care, especially with Ontario's senior population expected to double in the next 16 years.

Seniors are happiest in their homes, and the decision takes pressure off provincial long-term care facilities and hospital emergency rooms, he said.

"People want to live with dignity and independence in the home that they know," Smitherman said. "It's our obligation to do as much as possible to fulfil that."

The $700 million will start rolling out next April, well after the Oct. 10 election.

Although Smitherman said the announcement isn't election-related, he said it's the kind of program which would be in jeopardy if the Conservatives are elected because they won't be able to afford such investments while rolling back the $2.6-billion health premium.

Progressive Conservative critic Elizabeth Witmer said the cash is a blatant attempt to bribe taxpayers with their own money. The Liberals have ignored seniors for four years and are just now throwing money at a serious issue that deserves attention, she said.

"It's just shameful," Witmer said. "It's just an election promise. Who can believe them?"

The NDP said the Liberals gave more priority to giving politicians a 25 per cent pay increase than they did to beefing up home care.

NDP Leader Howard Hampton said in a statement that if the Liberals had been serious about helping seniors, they wouldn't have waited until the eve of an election to make such an announcement.