CARP’s new head of policy combines years of experience with a fresh perspective for unique recipe of success

Being both a “new kid on the block” and a self-professed “old dog” at the same time seems like a paradox. For CARP’s new head of policy, Bill VanGorder, it’s also a golden opportunity.

Bill VanGorder

 “I’ve been in the seniors’ advocacy game for a long time, but now I’m stepping into some new and very impressive shoes”, says Bill VanGorder, CARP’s new Interim Chief Policy Officer while Marissa Lennox is on maternity leave.  With an impressive tenure spanning over 15 years, during which he has served on the Board of Directors, and as both Founding Chair of the Nova Scotia Chapter and Senior Spokesperson for the Atlantic provinces, Bill has made an immeasurable contribution to CARP’s mission of making Canada a better place to age.

We sat down with Bill to pick his brain on the opportunities he sees to affect change for older adults within his new role, the unique value of CARP to its members and why everyone should advocate to make Canada a great place to age for us all.

How does it feel to be both a longstanding and brand-new team member at the same time? It must be a little strange.

Although I know CARP well from a senior volunteer and Chapter perspective, joining the core team in a leadership role is a whole different ballgame. After just a few weeks on the job, I am more impressed than ever by the hard working, skilled and experienced staff that supports our vast and diverse community of energetic, dedicated, and loyal CARP members from coast to coast.

What unique perspectives do you bring to your new role as Chief Policy Officer?

I have been actively involved in advocacy and policy development on issues of importance to older Canadians for the past 30 years and have also been the CEO of a few not-for-profit organizations. Living and working across Canada has given me a deep understanding of the unique challenges facing seniors across provincial and territorial lines. I believe this intimate knowledge, paired with my own lived experiences as an active senior, position me as a uniquely effective champion for our members’ needs, giving them the representation to government they need in order to affect real change.

Clearly this has been a harrowing year, with COVID-19 bringing unprecedented urgency to the long-term care crisis. What is your message to government on this issue?

COVID-19 has brought jarring new urgency to the issues CARP has been lobbying around for over 5 years.  We know what needs to change, and have articulated it clearly time and again, but governments have been slow to act. Tragically, our most vulnerable seniors are now unfairly paying the price. We need projects not platitudes: work not words.

CARP has developed a concrete list of fixes that the government can make now to protect seniors in care settings ahead of a second wave of the pandemic, with a focus on keeping more people safe at home as they age. Ultimately, we’re demanding accountability, so that we can move forward with focus in protecting vulnerable residents in long-term care.

What makes CARP such a powerful and vital voice for older adults in Canada?

Our over 320,000 members make us the largest advocacy organization for older adults in Canada. Our members, many of whom are involved with one of our regional Chapters, are active leaders in their communities, giving us the grassroots power we need to  advocate across the country for better healthcare, financial security, and freedom from ageism. Our non-partisan alignment allows us to work with all political parties to improve the lives of older people, backed by input we receive straight from our members.

The thing that politicians need to remember is that seniors are strong, and not just at the ballot box. Older people are pillars of their communities—they’re volunteers, friends, grandparents, workers and activists. In many ways, they are invaluable members of society, and policy needs to reflect that indisputable truth. That’s what CARP does and, thanks to our members, we do it very well.

Why should anyone join CARP and why is it so important to do so during COVID-19?

People join CARP because of our reputation, proven success in affecting meaningful change and the fact that we’re Canada’s loudest voice calling for better lives for seniors. They want to know they’re lending their support to an organization that will represent them and their loved ones when it matters most.

The COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the precarious position faced by many of our older friends and family members. Seniors often feel as though they’re an afterthought when governments are setting their agendas, and we simply don’t accept that. Local and national policies affecting older adults in Canada are only going to get more and more integral as our population continues to age.

More than 8 in 10 COVID-19 deaths in Canada are linked to long-term care homes—nearly twice as high as other developed nations.  We must stop “warehousing” our seniors in old, unmanageable, underfunded and understaffed long-term care facilities. Joining CARP is the best way to show you care about this urgent issue and want to see real change happen.

Why is it important for everyone to stand up for seniors, regardless of their own age?

Caring about our older relatives and friends is the great unifier across any age group. Younger Canadians worry about the world they will live in when they grow older if they don’t take notice now.  The fact is that we’re living longer than ever (life-expectancy is increasing by one year every decade), so seniors’ issues are really all of our issues. We all want to enjoy a long and happy life, so we all need to work together to make that happen.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for policy change affecting seniors in the next year?

That’s always a loaded question! The world of advocacy changes quickly; reacting to the world around us is a big part of our approach. In no particular order, here’s our wish list of what we’re fighting for right now:

  1. Better home care being prioritized as a central component of institutional long-term care (keep seniors at  home, where they want to be, by giving them the supports and services they need to do so.
  2. The elimination of ageism in every facet of society.
  3. Publicly funded and easily accessible best-in-class vaccines (flu, shingles and pneumonia) for all seniors across the country.
  4. Active (and safe) participation by our CARP Chapters and members in upcoming elections (including a potential Federal election).
  5. Regular moderate physical activity being enjoyed by older adults everywhere and recognized as the best way to improve our health and well-being as we age. To this end, our Chapters will be spearheading walking groups in their communities.

What are you most excited about in your new role?

I love a challenge and I’m never been one to shy away from change. Returning to work full-time is not as daunting as I might have at first believed, since I have the support of a small number of skilled and dedicated staff and the enthusiasm of our robust member network across the country.

ZoomerMedia, our official media partner, is also a huge source of inspiration and support, helping us reach a massive audience with our message. There’s a ton of opportunity right now to shake things up, and that’s always an exciting place to be.

Any message for our members across Canada?

We hear you, and we’re fighting for you. CARP has your back, no matter what and we’re all in this thing together.

If you are not already a member, I urge you to join. The more members we have, the easier it is for us to move the needle on the issues that affect us all, and help older people in Canada live with the dignity and respect they deserve. As an added bonus, our Members also enjoy exclusive benefits and savings on a full catalogue of products and service  from CARP’s trusted partners that empower them to live their best lives.

We’re excited to support Bill as he takes his first steps in his new shoes, and look forward to working with him to enhance the lives of older adults across the country while fighting for urgent action in long-term care.

Please help us welcome him to the team!

Not a member? Want a better life for our seniors?

Join CARP today