Keeping politicians' feet to the fire

Originally published in the Sudbury Star on June 1st, 2010. To go to the Sudbury Star Website please click here

The Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) — also known as Canada’s Association for the 50-plus — can do its best to “keep politicians’ feet to the fire” on issues, but it’s at the grassroots where the association can have the biggest impact, says CARP’s vice-president-advocacy.

“We need you to be our eyes and ears on the ground,” Susan Eng told more than 100 people at the Sudbury chapter’s 14th annual general meeting held Wednesday at the Howard Johnson Hotel.

“You have much more weight with the local politicians. We need you to tell us what is happening. ‘Your member in Sudbury told our people ‘X’ and we know your (party) policy is ‘Y’. That’s the importance of local communication. Keep the information flowing.” Eng’s half-hour address was entitled:A New Strategy on Aging — social changes that will enhance the quality of life for all Canadians as they age.

Eng told her audience that politicians are very good about making promises during election time, but not so good as keeping them. That’s why CARP lobbies them with membership surveys on issues such as pension reform in order to remind them about issues of importance to Canadians.

A newsletter survey on pension concerns that generated 6,000 responses, she said, has been brought to the attention of finance ministers of four provinces.

“I show them the surveys because politicians need to learn how to count,” she said. “They need to know that if they do not keep their promises, they will lose your vote.”

Eng said that when the next election happens in the fall, candidates who come to the door should be grilled about their stand on particular issues.

“People over 60 vote regularly and 70% of our membership votes regularly,” she said. “(But) you are a little too loyal with your voting. If you are too loyal, you are taken for granted.

“So, the next time a candidate comes to your door, pull out one of your issues and say ‘this is where my vote is going to go. So, if you make this promise, I am going to vote for you and so will everybody on my street.’ Stick to it and honour it.

“So, if the person gets elected and is sitting in parliament and votes against your motion, what we will do at CARP is take note.”

Eng also described the five-year push by CARP for pension reform, an issue which only became national news the past two years because the global recession and when pension plans of companies such as AbititiBowater and General Motors started having funding concerns.

While CARP succeeded in getting the media alerted to the pension crisis, it had no impact on the government, which she said doesn’t seem interested in the issue.

“The media got interested and informed,” she said. “But the politicians hired experts to go around and tell us nothing was wrong. So, we have nothing to report in terms of actual action after two years.”