Voting your Priorities – or not letting your vote be taken for granted

CARP members: take a bow! Every major party platform addresses your priorities – you may prefer one to another but the issues are front and centre in this election campaign. And still are – even with the media attention on the horse race and the surge of the NDP.

This is unprecedented. You now actually have to choose between competing promises about pension reform, caregiver support, addressing poverty among pensioners and even elder abuse. It wasn’t that long ago that other interest groups and political staffers told us to drop these demands.

So, you can take credit for the breakthrough. The message has got through to the politicians that older Canadians are the most engaged voters and the thousands of you participating in the CARP Polls have backed that up by demonstrating to them that you are monitoring their parliamentary activity very closely AND that it could affect your vote.

So does it? We keep asking and you keep saying “yes!” – but then how do you actually vote?

The simplistic view of the advocate is that if you want something, ask for it and back it up with something they need, in this case, your vote. If they don’t offer you what you want and you vote for them anyway, it undermines your message.

Luckily, with all the parties bidding for your vote, even the least of the platforms would be a net improvement on the status quo on our issues – IF it is implemented. Is that good enough? The least of them? Or should we ask the party that forms the government to implement the best of all the promises?

And why not? Even the richest of the election promises are only a step in the right direction. Let’s take the caregiver support promises. The richest bid is worth $1,500 per year. If the caregiver had to hire a home care worker at $15 per hour, that’s 100 hours for the entire year! A person who has to quit his or her job in order to look after a loved one would welcome that money but it is hardly enough. A recent University of Waterloo study found that the average caregiver puts in about 22 hours a week – at $15 an hour that would be worth $17,000 a year. So there’s a very long way to go before the average family gets the combination of direct financial assistance and publicly provided home care services to actually ensure that their loved ones can stay at home rather than in hospital or long term care.

CARP’s role will be to hold whichever party forms the government to at least their own election promises and also ask for what is needed, not just what they promised.

There’s something to be said for all this electoral attention to our priorities – given that they have been given such short shrift in previous elections and promises that have been broken are too numerous to list here. And they have the gall to make those same promises again – despite the fact that they had the chance to fulfill them while they were in power. This applies to governments of all stripes – it may just be the nature of the relationship between the government and the governed.

An election – love it or hate it – is about the only time that the electorate is empowered to demand attention to what they need and expect. And in this election, CARP members got that – the attention of all the parties and substantive promises. We could declare victory and go back to our daily lives. But that would be falling into the trap of their political game.

To get what we want, we need to actually vote for the people or party who made the promises we like. Once that message is sent loud and clear, we have a much greater chance of convincing the party that takes power after the election to act on those promises.

Older voters exercise their franchise unfailingly because they believe it’s their duty as citizens. But also, as we have seen from our polling, because they believe in our democratic institutions.

Now, with no one party guaranteed of a majority – and with it the ability to govern without asking for our approval for at least another four years – this is the time to be clear about your choices. Are you satisfied that the politicians are talking about our priorities and making promises about them or do you want them to actually fulfill those promises?

Older voters have the power and the choice.

Keywords: election, caregivers, seniors