The Middle-Aged Guide to Growing Up: Shafted

Profit sharing: I'll cast my vote for that!
Profit sharing: I’ll cast my vote for that!

I’m a Boomer, born the same year as the Voting Rights Act, which finally conferred democracy on American blacks nearly a century after the Emancipation. I cherish democracy, being born white and male in North America in the middle of the 20th century, I think of it as my right. Of course, it isn’t. Most of the world’s population doesn’t have my ability to cast a free vote.

And I vote. In every election, municipal, provincial, federal, at my yacht club and in the Oscar™ pool. I’ve never missed a vote I’ve been eligible for since I cast my first vote in 1972 for Pierre Trudeau. Voting is made so easy in Canada, you’d think everyone would do it; no line-ups, nearby polling stations, friendly scrutineers, no purple ink and machine guns. But they don’t. Vote, I mean. The turnout in the last federal election, one many people thought of as the most critical in decades, was just over 60%. Voting has been heading south from 70% since 1988 in this country. Of course, turnout is even more anaemic for provincial and municipal elections.

I think of one’s vote as one’s own business. The only time I ever tried to influence someone’s vote was when a Jewish friend of mine was going to unwittingly vote for a fundamentalist Christian who had made distinctly anti-semitic remarks before he got involved in politics. That’s the power of your vote, you can use it as a needle or a bludgeon. However, some things are just so unjust that they demand communal electoral action, and they demand getting involved.

Federal Industry Minister James Moore made some comments last week which got a lot of press. He said “We have never been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier….is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so”.

The second half of that comment got all the attention, and Moore was forced to apologize for it, which he did, handsomely. But the first half of the statement betrays a callousness born of ideology and privilege.

The same week, Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was rubbishing the genuine concerns of retirees, voters, business leaders, academics, pension experts, union leaders and economists who all agreed that the Canada Pension Plan needed expanding if the next generation wasn’t going to age in poverty. He claimed the economy was too fragile to support CPP enhancement now, that increased contributions would be job-killers, that it might be attempted in “three, five or eight years” if things improved. He then doubled down by saying he wouldn’t support any action that far in the future.

Well, which is it? Are we wealthier than we’ve ever been yet unable to care for our senior citizens? Are we so desperately impoverished that future generations of retirees will move to North Korea for the standard of living?

Both sets of comments were an outrage, and demonstrated how completely out of touch a government I used to grudgingly admire for its consistency and messaging had become from its own citizens.

CPP expansion is not a matter of “Is it a good idea?”, it’s far more a matter of “do it now or risk a generation of poverty”, Canadians are no less frugal than other nationalities, yet we can’t save for retirement on a normal middle-class income. And the number making a middle-class income is shrinking, so the number unable to save will grow.

The answer in my universe is a Guaranteed Annual Minimum Income, to replace all social supports, including pensions, welfare, disability, social assistance, etc. Roll it all into a minimum annual income of $20,000 per adult, and allow people to make their own choices. Just the savings in administration would go a long way to funding the plan.

This isn’t socialism, it’s pure profit-sharing. We own this country, and if it’s “wealthier than it’s ever been”, that’s because of us, and our productivity and sweat. And we deserve to share in the wealth we’ve created. We all should, actually, but if we have to start somewhere, let’s start with retirees. I’ll cast my vote for that.