The Year of Provincial Elections

January 14, 2011 – 2011 is an election year across Canada, with Ontario, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the North West Territories all heading to the polls. Add to these six elections the growing murmur of yet another federal election, and the result is election fever.

Elections should be a time of assessment and change – of monitoring where we are and where we’d like to be heading. Since all of these elections – including the anticipated federal election – are the first elections after the recession, the respective governments will have to show how they commandeered during the worst of the economic crisis, while opposition parties will be tasked with proving that they could do better.

At the same time, older Canadians have risen in public policy prominence over the past number of years. Partly because of CARP’s efforts to bring the issues to the political front burner- and reminding politicians that older voters are toe most politically engaged and regular voters – but also because of the sheer weight of demographic evidence that suggests that the issues that matter to older Canadians will matter to all Canadians, from financial security to healthcare. Of course, politicians cannot afford to ignore that older Canadians vote at almost twice the rate of younger Canadians. Simply, in a year of elections, the issues that concern older Canadians will become public policy priorities.

So what are some of these issues?

The political parties are already into electioneering mode, which means they’re strategizing and developing their platforms and anticipating the ideas of their opponents. In the meantime, they’re talking to CARP to gauge the needs and concerns of our members.

As it turns out, older Canadians across the country are facing the similar challenges of financial insecurity and access to quality healthcare, especially homecare and related services. Energy costs will likely become a major issue in most provincial elections, as costs are climbing everywhere. In Ontario, the Smart Meters have left a particularly bitter taste among older citizens, who already feel the pinch of the HST. And while the BC election isn’t happening this year, Premier Gordon Campbell’s resignation in 2010 is proof that Canadians won’t accept poorly executed incursions into their finances.

Likewise, affordable housing will likely be an issue at the provincial level, whether in the form of subsidized housing for those with especially low-income or some form of financial assistance or relief for those who pay high property taxes. Indeed, property tax deferral proposals are popping up at all three levels of government.

Housing and aging at home, however, goes beyond affordability. Governments need to acknowledge the benefits of facilitating home care for those who need it. Caregiver support is one way of ensuring Canadians can help their loved ones age at home while simultaneously saving billions of dollars in off-set funds and care from the hospital and long-term care systems.

Reducing the cost of living is crucial, but it’s only one side of the coin. Income support and reduced taxation are also needed. Federally – should an election be called – increases to OAS/GIS will be necessary to appeal to financially strapped older voters. Mandated RRIF withdrawals should be eliminated. Provincially, governments will have to look into providing meaningful support to the most financially hard-pressed seniors. Tax credits have been the preferred route recently, but with poverty rates among older Canadians growing in recent years, governments will have to become more creative in keeping older Canadians financially secure.