Bill VanGorder Meeting with Jagmeet Singh, Leader of the NDP

An interview with Bill VanGorder, Chief Policy Officer and Chief Operating Officer, CARP

Q:How did the meeting with Jagmeet Singh come about?

A: Jagmeet Singh reached out and expressed an interest in meeting with CARP.  Anthony Quinn, Chief Community Officer and I (Chief Policy Officer and Chief Operations Officer at CARP) joined him in a Zoom meeting for 45 minutes on Thursday, April 20.  This was just one of a number we have scheduled with government officials this spring.  The next is at the end of May with Conservative MP/Deputy Leader Melissa Lantsman.

Q: Does CARP support some political parties over others?

A: CARP is non-partisan.  We are affiliated with advocacy priorities, not political parties, and we will always take an opportunity to meet with decision-makers of any party, and certainly with national leaders of parties. As part of our advocacy, CARP meets with many different elected officials – both in terms of parties and levels of government.

Over 95% of CARP members vote.  Naturally we tend to support candidates who support CARP priorities and who show themselves to be accountable when it comes to promises.

All parties receive the same key information about our advocacy priorities, through a number of communications, including our annual advocacy priorities memo, budget submissions, presence in governmental processes such as bill hearings and other advocacy actions as needed.

Q: Can you tell us about your meeting with Jagmeet Singh?

It was a pleasure to meet with Jagmeet Singh and the conversation was very positive. When CARP meets with elected officials, particularly leaders of national parties, we consider the urgency of our various priorities as well as the decision-maker and their area of interest.  Jagmeet Singh expressed great interest in the government’s promise with respect to dental care.  For this reason, we focused on this issue with Mr. Singh as lack of dental care for older Canadians across the country is one of our major concerns and was our very first item in our last budget submission.

Although dental care was listed as a federal budget item, there were no specifics about where the money would be spent.  We told Mr. Singh that we were very concerned that seniors were not identified as recipients.  Bad dental care can have a lot of impacts on older Canadians.  Read more.

Seniors in LTC facilities and many of those living in their own homes or communities do not have access to dentists and regular check ups. Mr. Singh told CARP that as a part of the program offered by the government, dental hygienists will be able to receive payment directly by government for their services, which means that mobile oral health services can be made available to seniors living in their own homes or communities. Therefore, CARP will be advocating with provincial governments to make sure this program is implemented.

Q: Did you talk about other advocacy priorities?

A: Yes. CARP also shared with Jagmeet Singh our concerns related to older Canadians and their financial security.  In particular, we highlighted our fight against mandatory RRIF withdrawals.

Once Canadians turn 71, they must convert their RRSPs to RRIFs and begin making mandatory withdrawals at a set rate. These rules don’t reflect increasing life expectancies, and much shorter time spent in retirement, as people are working longer than ever before. When older Canadians are forced to draw down on their savings, they risk outliving their funds. This problem is compounded by lower rates of return, declines in personal savings rates, and reduced access to workplace pension plans.  Ending mandatory RRIF withdrawals is a tangible action that the federal government can take to immediately improve the financial security of Canada’s retirees. Mr. Singh was interested to hear about this issue and agreed with the CARP perspective. We’ve been after the government for years to get rid of this outdated mandatory withdrawal rule and hope that the NDP leader will support us in having that done.

Finally, CARP shared with Jagmeet Singh our demand that the government increase Old Age Security (OAS) not just for those over 75, but for those 65 to 75.  Feedback from our members is it’s often the younger part of that demographic who have more financial difficulties because of lack of savings and increase of the cost of living, so we don’t want that two tier system to continue.

Q: What do you think the meetings with government officials such as Jagmeet Singh achieves?

A: Advocacy requires various strategies and actions and often, much time, to bring about meaningful change.  Decision-makers are faced with countless issues and stakeholders.  These conversations allow decision-makers to really hear from CARP about what is at stake for older Canadians, as well as the solutions proposed by CARP.  It’s an educational opportunity. It also gives CARP a chance to see which of our many important issues might get traction.  Where is there an opening for real change?   These conversations and relationships bring us one step closer to policy changes and successful implementation. We are lucky in Canada to have a democratic political system.  However imperfect this system is, we have a voice to use.  CARP’s voice is representative of 330,000 CARP members, and many, many older Canadians.  There are over 7,330,605 seniors in Canada.  If we all speak up and vote for the issues that positively impact aging, just imagine what could change.

So, we urge our CARP Members to contact their local elected members at all levels of government to express your concerns.  It is important for CARP to speak nationally, but politicians really listen when they hear from the folks who actually vote for them.