Reporting on the Federal CARP Debate

April 15, 2011 – The election campaign is at the midpoint and already the major parties have addressed issues that matter to the 350,000 CARP members across the country and indeed, to anyone who cares deeply about our quality of life as we age.

CARP has called on all parties to deal with retirement security, healthcare and support for caregivers and all parties have proposed measures, which if implemented, would make a significant improvement to the status quo.

And so they should. The message has got through to them that 70% of older Canadians vote regularly and in this election, could make all the difference.

There are clear options to compare and serious choices to make.

CARP held an hour-long debate to help examine those election promises and help you decide which party will make those promises a reality.

The CARP debate was moderated by Susan Eng, VP of Advocacy, and the three major parties sent representatives. Bernard Trottier, who’s running in the Toronto riding of Etibicoke-Lakeshore, was the Conservative candidate. Toronto Centre candidate, Bob Rae, represented the Liberal Party. And, from the Hamilton East–Stoney Creek riding in Ontario, candidate Wayne Marston represented the NDP.

What Did We Ask?

It wasn’t enough just to make the debate senior-centric. Rather, CARP had the party representatives outline their positions on specific issues, account for their promises, and prove that their plans were better than the others were.

The questions focused on retirement income, healthcare, and stewardship.

The first question was on retirement security. The recent economic downturn has made financial security top of mind for everyone but especially for those already retired or facing retirement since the option for changing their financial circumstances are more limited.

Canadians are not saving enough for their retirement and 2/3rds of all working Canadians do not have a workplace pension. CARP has called for a universal supplementary pension plan to help people reliably and adequately save for their retirement.

All levels of government have finally admitted that Canada’s pension system needs fixing and that government has a role to play.

Pension reform will help those in the future. Current retirees also need help. More than a quarter of a million Canadians over age 65 live in poverty today – single women are most at risk. 1.6 million Canadians receive some GIS – Guaranteed Income Supplements – and they are by definition living with financial insecurity in retirement.

Eng asked the debaters what their party would do to address the retirement security concerns of Canadians? What will they do to ensure that no senior today lives in poverty?

The healthcare question was framed by the upcoming expiry of the health accords and the demographic challenge. Health care, hospital and drug costs are spiraling out of control and threatening to devour provincial budgets.

Most experts have finally stopped blaming the aging population for these escalating costs, citing instead the high cost of new technologies and drugs as well as greater usage of the health care system overall.

Yet Canadians are still not getting the health care services they expect and the most recent reports suggest raising taxes, cutting services, imposing user fees or allowing private payment for services. CARP members consistently call for cost savings through fundamental re-structuring and delivering health care differently. Eng asked the debaters what their parties would do to negotiate a new way of spending Canadian tax dollars on health care. And, what the respective parties will do to support family caregivers and get drug costs under control?

Finally, the last question focused on stewardship: CARP members consistently demonstrate through our polling that they care about what they leave behind for their children and grandchildren. That includes the environment, sound fiscal management and our institutions of democracy.

They recall that Canada had a $14 million surplus in 2006 and surpluses for several years before that and want to know what happened to it.

They demand fundamental change to how we deliver public services rather than just cutting services or raising taxes.

Many served in the military for the democratic freedoms we have now and others grew up during the 60s and 70s – a period of great social and political change. They care about Parliament and our democratic institutions.

The question was, what will Canada look like in the near future, what environmental legacy will you leave, how will you ensure that the rights of older Canadians are protected – the right to work, to not have to confront elder abuse and to have their elected representative account to them?

The CARP Debate Effect

The debate, which was broadcast nationally on Vision Television which reaches nine million homes, accomplished a number of goals. One, it forced the parties to focus on the issues that matter to Canadians as they age, rather than on politics as usual.

Second, the promises made in the debate will allow CARP to push for immediate change.

In a series of specific questions designed to elicit concise answers, the three party representatives agreed on a number of important issues. They unanimously promised auto enrolment for GIS, full retroactivity for OAS/GIS/CPP, and they all committed to offering incentives for employers to retain willing older workers.

Perhaps most surprisingly, all three parties supported bulk purchasing of drugs and to move towards a national universal pharmacare program. Politicians may be finding it easy to speak to the issues that affect older Canadians while campaigning, but the true test will come for the party that forms the government. We now have a record of promises made directly to CARP members, and CARP will hold them to account.

Finally, the debate served to remind politicians and viewers that older Canadians hold a lot of influence at the ballot box. Politicians have started to get the message, but now its time for voters to wield their democratic power to get the things they need.

To watch the debate, click here.