Make the Politicians Work for Your Vote

A Globe and Mail article today was headlined “Tories losing coveted senior vote, polls find”.

This is newsworthy because Tories have traditionally taken the seniors’ vote for granted – assuming that they are more socially and fiscally conservative. What all the politicians forget is that we vote regularly because we care about what government can and should do for Canadians.

It remains a mystery why the federal parties continue to ignore their largest voting block. Elections Canada reported that the voter turnout in the 2004 election was 75% among 58–67 year-olds. Averaging in all those 45 and more, the voter turnout was 70% and in that election, cast nearly 9 million ballots or 64% of all votes cast. Canadians 45+ make up 42% of the population.

If we want answers from those seeking our votes at the polls on Tuesday, now is the time to ask. Only once every few years will the politicians actually come to our doors. The rest of the time, we have to run the gauntlet of assistants and appointment secretaries.

So here’s the “doorstep question”: What will you do to help people weather this market turmoil and what will you do to prevent this from happening in the future?

CARP asked this question at the CBC Town Hall this week. The representatives of the four political parties responded with increased income supplements for seniors, increased seniors tax credit, home care, catastrophic drug coverage, more doctors and nurses – all issues CARP has also advocated but not the ones that will address the financial anxiety in homes across the country.

The only nod to the current crisis came from a Liberal proposal to suspend mandatory withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds [RRIFs] which would at least remove salt from the wound by not forcing people to sell their stocks into this severely depressed market. Current tax rules require people to withdraw fixed amounts from their RRIFs after reaching age 71 and many must sell their stocks to fund the tax payable on such withdrawals.

The Liberals are proposing a short term suspension of this fixed withdrawal requirement. CARP has advocated for its permanent removal. Those able to cover living expenses without drawing down and paying tax on their savings should have the flexibility to keep their savings intact until they need them and certainly to wait out a severe market downturn.

The other party representatives made noises about protecting pension funds but with no mention of pensions in their published platforms nor details in their responses, there is little comfort for retirees and those contemplating retirement, especially for those without pension benefits to begin with.

So if the candidate at your door asks: “What can we do about it?” here are some suggestions.

• Remove the requirement to make fixed withdrawals from Registered Retirement Income Funds [RRIFs]

• Make sure that industry players who helped create this mess actually feel real consequences if they have breached securities regulations. CARP has called for an independent investor protection and enforcement agency to level the playing field for retail investors seeking redress and restitution. At present, there is little deterrence, minimal capacity to investigate or prosecute criminally or civilly. Debacles like the Asset Backed Commercial Paper ordeal continue to erode investor confidence.