Beyond the headlines
One of the key questions confronting social activists is: how much change should we seek? Many causes splinter between supporters who call for significant or even radical change and those who push for more moderate change, with an eye to incrementally achieving more over time. Both sides have had their triumphs. Imagine if the U.S. had settled for kinder, gentler slavery as some activists at the time counseled? On the flip side, air quality has improved significantly through gradual reductions in vehicle emissions.
I came face to face with this dilemma in my former role as CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada. Our work there was focused on legalizing Medical Aid in Dying. In my early years with that organization, some of the most ardent opposition I faced came not from those who opposed assisted dying, but from those who wholeheartedly supported it and felt Dying with Dignity Canada’s goals were too limited.
Looking back, I’m largely pleased with what we and our allies accomplished. For the first time ever, Canadians who are imminently dying have the legal right to an assisted death. Yet we were close to achieving more. The Supreme Court did not restrict assisted dying to those whose deaths would take place in the foreseeable future. But the legislation passed by the Liberal Government did exactly that. Would we have achieved a bigger win if we had pushed the boundaries further at the beginning?
That’s not the only decision I wonder about.
CARP worked closely with the Ontario government over many years to improve retirement security; we supported Ontario’s Pension Plan reform with its goal of providing a pension of 40% (combined CPP and ORPP) on up to $90,000 of earnings.
Last year we faced a critical decision. Did we continue to support a go-it-alone strategy for Ontario, or push instead for a pan-Canadian solution, knowing that it would provide smaller pensions than the Ontario proposal.
We believed all Canadians should have enhanced pensions, so ultimately opted to support a CPP enhancement. Sadly, the compromises required for a pan-Canadian solution meant that pensions to be paid fell from 40% to 33% of pre-retirement earnings and earnings eligible for pension dropped from $90,000 to $82,700. Deferring full implementation from 2019 to 2025 further eroded the plan’s value. Did we make the right call?
We’ll never know if accepting these compromises was the correct decision, because we don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t. But advocacy successes and compromises do seem to go hand in hand.
In the two examples above, we opted to compromise. But sometimes we have compromise thrust upon us.
In Ontario, CARP supported Bill 193. This private member’s bill would have dramatically increased protections against door-to-door sales scams. Not only was it designed to restrict predatory practices, it would have imposed significant punitive damages on wrong-doers. Overall, we thought it was a strong bill. My colleague, our Director of Policy and human rights lawyer Wade Poziomka, particularly liked the way the bill served out justice to scam artists.
While that bill died, a new government consumer protection bill tackling door-to-door sales is in the works. This one does address a few of the more egregious practices, but the punitive element is notably absent. I’ve nothing against the bill, but it falls short of its predecessor.
In my years as an advocate, I’ve seen a clear pattern. In the examples above, whether legalizing assisted dying, enhancing pensions or restricting predatory door-to-door sales, an early win was challenged and eroded; a wimpier, watered down victory was eventually secured.
There can be a vast chasm between the change sought and its eventual legislative enactment. Once a promise is made, the story fades from the headlines and public attention wanders; good intentions wither and reforms are weakened when decision-makers face pressure from well-funded special interest groups.
Just because this pattern is predictable doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. Our goal at CARP is to keep governments’ feet to the fire and ensure that promises are both made and honoured. We not only have to get in the headlines, we need to stay the course after the excitement has faded.
In this blog, it’s my intention to share with you some of the work we’re doing beyond the headlines. My hope is that by making you aware of the continued effort required, you’ll continue your support and join in our campaigns when we need to remind governments who will be casting votes come election day. Give and take is a necessary part of governing. But we must remain vigilant and vocal to ensure any compromises made are necessary and as minimal as possible.
Wanda Morris, VP of Advocacy, CARP