November 2, 2012 – CARP’s job as advocate is to push governments into action, to protect the policies that promote healthy, prosperous and dignified aging and to push for change in areas where gaps in law and policy making aging difficult.
It’s a difficult task, made more so with a majority government in Ottawa that doesn’t exactly encourage debate and penny-pinching provincial/territorial and municipal governments that look askance at any new spending programs.
So, as CARP holds its Annual General Meeting at the end of October, we take our yearly look back and reflect on the big advocacy issues of 2012. As the calendar turned on 2011, we achieved success on a number of key fronts and, as the year unfolded, took part in a hard-fought battle to fend off attacks on our retirement benefit system. Here are the major issues we tackled:
In March last year, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-36, which aims to increase sentencing for elder abuse convictions. The bill stalled at second reading (summer Parliamentary recess) but is once again on its way to becoming law. CARP’s focus now turns to provincial governments, who must allocate the necessary resources to better detect, investigate and prosecute offenders as well as provide support for their victims.
CARP’s persistent lobbying played a determining role in ending the last traces of mandatory retirement, the practice whereby employers can enforce their employees to retire at a certain age. When the government passed Bill C-13 (the 2011 Budget Implementation Bill) it repealed Section 15(1)(c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, giving workers the assurance they wouldn’t be forced out due to their age. This legislation will come into effect in December 2012 – good news for the 800,000 employees in federally regulated industries.
But the job is not finished. The change is not retroactive. Until December 2012, such employees can still be forced to retire. And the airline pilots, whose Charter challenge helped to spur on the legislative amendment, have just suffered a setback in their uphill battle to be reinstated. At least one province still allows mandatory retirement in some circumstances. And in a deliberate step backwards, Ontario quietly reinstated mandatory retirement for firefighters at age 60, regardless of fitness or personal ability to perform on the job.
New Health Accords
With the current Health Accords expiring in 2014, a new national direction for funding our health care system was badly needed. Unfortunately, as the new year began, the federal government didn’t see the need to negotiate with the provinces, instead unilaterally setting its share of healthcare costs for the immediate future. In the absence of federal leadership, CARP turned its efforts to working with the provinces to set national standards of care, especially for older Canadians. This resulted in two provinces devising a health strategy that specifically targets seniors.
Attack on public pensions
The fight to defend Old Age Security cutbacks became the defining initiative of CARP’s 2012 advocacy efforts. As soon as the Prime Minister stated he wanted to make changes to our “retirement income system” CARP sprang into action to protect OAS benefits. In February, it launched the Hands Off OAS campaign, its website becoming the focal point for opposition. Media appearances, newsletters, letter campaigns and consistent messaging brought out CARP members’ discontent over the government action. Although the legislation was passed, the government took a major hit in popularity — for the first time since CARP began polling, more members expressed support for the NDP than the Conservatives.
Two things have to happen now. CARP will work to minimize the impact of the OAS changes on the most vulnerable while continuing the Hands Off OAS campaign to have the changes reversed. The government’s backing up the effective date in the face of opposition gives us time.
With 2012 coming to a close and a new year of advocacy ahead, CARP will continue to push governments into action, to protect the policies that promote healthy, prosperous and dignified aging and to push for change in areas where gaps in law and policy making aging difficult.