CARP’s OAS Poll in the Spotlight

From “Time for big ideas: Imagine Canada after Harper”

Stephen Harper, too, shall pass into history.

But in the meantime, Canadians are so distracted by his political blitzkrieg through the agencies, policies, programs and institutions that make Canada what it became over five decades, that we are in danger of losing our imagination regarding what is truly possible in this country. While it may seem counter-intuitive, now is the time for Canadians who actually believe in government and nation-building to be contemplating big ideas – the ones that will take us the next step to equality, economic stability and environmental sustainability.

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Why? Because if we don’t try to get what we want we won’t even get what we need.

Is this just pie in the sky – are Canadians actually open to big ideas? Absolutely. Here are just a few of the signs.

Five signs Canadians aren’t afraid of big ideas

First: CARP, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (with a membership 330,000), has just witnessed a sea change in its members’ voting intentions. For most of the past year just over 50 per cent of them chose the Conservatives. But suddenly, two issues reversed that, giving the NDP (which had consistently run a distant third) first place with 39 per cent and the Harperites 31 per cent. The first issue was the changes to the OAS. But the “political game changer,” according to Susan Eng, vice-president of advocacy for CARP, was the omnibus bill. Eighty-five percent opposed bundling so many legislative changes into a single bill. Seniors, a key part of Harper’s broader base, apparently care about democracy even more than their own safety net.

Sign number two: perhaps we should call it free market fatigue, as increasing numbers of Canadians are questioning the Conservative ideology of minimalist government and a free hand for corporations. As I detailed in my last column, large majorities of Canadians are calling for higher taxes on the wealthy and corporations and are willing to pay more themselves to preserve what we have. And they see the tax issue tied directly to that of inequality – the new top-of-mind issue.

Number three: The Alberta election which seemed for weeks to be heading towards the election of a Harper clone reversed course as Albertans suddenly paid real attention. This wasn’t just a vote against bigotry – though it was that, too – but a vote for good government, something the iconic Tory Peter Lougheed reminded voters of just in the nick of time.

Four: The re-election of Liberal and NDP governments in Ontario (where the NDP did well, too) and Manitoba respectively was not just a vote for incumbency – it was a vote for rational governance and against libertarian recklessness. So will be the almost certain election of the NDP in BC next year.

Five: The Quebec student rebellion. Deep rooted rebellions are always messy and imperfect but while many are uncomfortable with the scenes of violence the students are absolutely right to be protesting tuition fee increases. And now the demonstrations are as much about human rights and the reactionary government of Jean Charest as they are about tuition fees. They are sustained by tens of thousands of our fellow citizens prepared to make real sacrifices for what the rest of us pay lip service to: equality.