CARP Advocacy Year in Review 2012: Pushing Back and Pushing Ahead

Susan Eng Head Shot

November 2, 2012 – Elections are important to advocates because politicians have to be seen to be addressing our issues. Keeping governments to their promises is the real challenge after the media cameras are gone.

So if 2011 was the year of the election – five provincial ones besides the federal election – 2012 might have been a quiet year simply ensuring that election promises made it through to legislation.

That changed in January. The Prime Minister’s pledge in Davos, Switzerland to “ensure the sustainability of the [Old Age Security] program for the next generation” set off a fire storm of blow back and launched CARP’s “Hands Off OAS” campaign.

To keep the record straight, CARP did not spark the opposition to the OAS change; media and CARP members were calling us before we saw the headlines. CARP got saturation media coverage the very day of the Prime Minister’s announcement; there was no need to issue a news release.

This speaks not only to the speed at which issues now develop but also to the fact that CARP has become the go-to source for opinion and action on issues that affect older Canadians.

CARP Advocacy prides itself on our thorough research but it wasn’t needed at first. The reaction to the attack on a fundamental piece of the social safety net was visceral: our members know why being able to rely on a minimum threshold of income support in retirement is important even if they themselves would not be affected. The research came in handy later when government ministers started rolling out their justifications for raising the age of eligibility from 65 to 67.

Media interest was sustained because CARP Polls mapped the precipitous decline in member support for the government from a group that just before the last election was calling for a majority mandate.

Member outrage was directed as much at the process as the change itself. It was never put before the voters, it was then bundled into an Omnibus Bill that left little opportunity to debate and rushed through Parliament on the strength of the government’s parliamentary majority alone.

CARP members mean it when they assert in our polls that a Parliamentary majority is not a blank cheque and expect opposition parties to guarantee it doesn’t become one. Anything that they perceive as attacking the checks and balances in our legislative processes will shake loose their political loyalties. The heavy response from CARP members using e-Voice to email their MPs to de-bundle the Omnibus Bill should remind our elected representatives that our votes cannot be taken for granted.

Another new front opened in 2012 – national health care reform. The federal government’s refusal to negotiate a new Health Accord left the provincial premiers pushing a rope. Their response six months later was to finally adopt some best clinical practices and purchase a few generic drugs in bulk. Really!

The real importance of the Health Accords was not to keep the provinces happy but to keep Canadians healthy – by fundamentally redirecting the country’s health care resources to that end – regardless of what had been done in the past, or whose ox would have to be gored. It requires leadership, innovation and cooperation and consensus if necessary but not necessarily consensus.

Imagine first dollar basic drug coverage for all Canadians funded by massive savings in drug costs through a single national purchasing agency with an independent drug review process that can demand fair drug pricing across the country. People living in small provinces should not have to move to access coverage available to other Canadians.

Imagine an integrated continuing care system that ensures that we can all get the care and services we need to live independently as long as possible without leaving our homes or communities. That means stable funding and mandatory standards of home care, income support for caregivers, especially those providing heavy care, geriatric care, assisted living services at home and in affordable housing, equitable access to decent nursing homes and quality end of life care.

Why not national long term care insurance?

Canada’s health care system is still a patchwork eight years and billions of tax dollars after the Health Accords. Provinces have stooped to poaching doctors and nurses from each other.

This generation of seniors is more demanding and willing to accept innovative solutions. Addressing the issues that resonate with them will also improve the system for everyone else.

If the market and political clout of CARP members and older Canadians is to have any meaning, it must be used to help politicians face down the sacred cows blocking innovation now. The Status Quo is not going to change itself.

Read the Full CARP Advocacy Annual Report