The two sleeper issues of 2015 federal election

Shortly before Christmas, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins launched a call for a national pharmacare program, receiving a brief flutter of attention, but the issues may well return...
Shortly before Christmas, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins launched a call for a national pharmacare program, receiving a brief flutter of attention, but the issues may well return…

Seniors’ issues and health care are being discussed around dinner tables and bubbling under the surface. Expect more politicians to take notice.

Holidays are assumed to be down times for politics, but over the past decade in Canada, political fates could well have been influenced by conversations at holiday gatherings.

The 2005-06 campaign — the one that brought the Conservatives to power — included a Christmas break. The 2008 election took place a few days after Thanksgiving. The 2011 campaign featured a brief timeout for Easter and Passover.

Back in 2006, pollster Nik Nanos suggested that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives might have owed their surge in the polls to the Christmas break.

“Having a holiday in the middle of the campaign provides the unique chance for family and friends to gather and talk about what is happening politically,” Nanos said. “Corporate research shows that word-of-mouth opinions have a great impact on consumer behaviour. I don’t think one can underestimate the impact of friends, parents, siblings and neighbours on voting behaviour.”

So rather than ask the pundits for their predictions about the ballot-box issue for the 2015 election, maybe we should be asking what was on the minds of people around the holiday dinner table this week (besides seconds or desserts). My bet? Health care and seniors’ issues. If Canadian families are not already grappling with health-care concerns at this immediate moment, many are expecting to be juggling matters related to senior care, especially as the population ages.

This article was published by The Toronto Star on December 26th, 2014.  To see this article and other related articles on their website, please click here

These are the people who were not talking about tax cuts or smaller government as they gathered with family over the holidays. Rather, they were the ones exchanging stories of crowded emergency rooms, waiting lists at retirement homes and out-of-control drug prices. Sound like any tales recounted around your dinner table?

The Canadian Medical Association has been making a concerted push this past year to get federal politicians talking about seniors’ care — with not a whole lot of luck so far.

In fact, while Parliament Hill was otherwise occupied with sexual harassment controversy and security matters in November, CMA president Christopher Simpson delivered a strong speech in Ottawa, laying out the urgent case for politicians to wrap their minds around seniors’ issues.

He spoke about the increasing “gridlock” at hospitals and a national health-care system in desperate need of some updated thinking and policies. He talked of the stark numbers. “Canada’s 5.2 million seniors represent almost 15 per cent of the population but account for almost half of health costs, Simpson said.

By 2036, the 65-plus group will account for a quarter of the population, and those over 85 will quadruple.”

At the practical, political level, the CMA commissioned some polling from Nanos in 2014, to determine whether seniors’ issues had the power to influence election results.

In the Yellowhead (Alta.) and Whitby federal byelections in November, nine in 10 voters told Nanos that they wanted political parties to make senior care a part of their election platforms.

Earlier in the year, while the headlines were preoccupied with the Quebec election, the CMA also released some Nanos polling from 26 “swing” ridings, showing that seniors’ issues had the potential to influence voting choices in these strategically crucial regions for all parties. Still, few people are predicting — at least right now —that health care or seniors’ issues will be a big part of the ballot choice in the 2015 campaign. That may be shortsighted.

Ten days before Christmas, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins launched a call for a national pharmacare program. The timing was curious. Why kick off such an important discussion when Parliament has already risen for the holidays, and while the media is preoccupied with end-of-2014 retrospectives? Hoskins’ call got a brief flutter of attention, and then disappeared — for now.

My hunch is that we’re going to be hearing more about pharmacare in 2015, maybe even a lot more.

The New Democrats are already onside, and federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has signalled that she’s open to a conversation about reining in drug costs for Canadians.

Moreover, given the close ties between the Liberal government at Queen’s Park and the federal Liberals, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to see this idea landing somewhere in Justin Trudeau’s election platform in 2015.

Liberals reportedly flirted with proposals for a pharmacare program in past election campaigns, and former interim leader Bob Rae talked about it when he was running for the party leadership in 2006.

Inside the Commons, the subject of pharmacare came up only a couple of dozen times in the chamber in 2014, and seniors’ issues rarely dominated question period over the past year.

But if the national political conversation in 2015 is driven by what’s being discussed around the dinner tables this week and next, we may see health care and seniors’ needs as the sleeper issues of the next election campaign.


©  The Toronto Star