KATHERINE FORD/Guest Columnist
In this federal election, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a target voter. Apparently, it’s me.
Who knew? Who knew he even cared?
He never writes, he never phones, he never sings Melancholy Baby — preferring The Beatles and their ilk for his public musical performances.
All joking aside, I am chuffed to think Stephen and his cohort — whom I like to call Harpies if only to emphasize their mad attack-dog House of Commons behaviour — have apparently chosen me to represent their target voter. Not me personally, but the faceless mass of the Canadian population I represent — female, a committed voter, and a senior citizen.
I represent the majority of votes in this country and, as the Baby Boomers begin to turn 65 this year, our voice should become even stronger and louder. According to Statistics Canada: “Seniors are more likely to vote at all levels of government than younger persons.”
As Janet Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership told the CBC: “It’s time politicians recognize the power of the concerned senior…They’re people with clout, they’re people with education and they vote, they vote, they vote.”
We won’t put up and shut up
Unlike previous generations — our parents and grandparents who fought in two world wars and lived through the Depression — today’s seniors aren’t likely to put up and shut up, grateful for whatever crumbs fall from the federal table.
Our level of deference for those who have won popularity contests — i.e. politicians — is not automatic, if it exists at all. That attitude comes in part from what StatsCan says is “one of the fundamental characteristics that will distinguish the next generation of seniors…its higher educational attainment.”
Our parents and their parents did not face their senior years with the social safety net that has been built up by my generation. We have lived in relative affluence and are not willing, nor should we be, to face the declining years of our lives in penury, dependent on the kindness of strangers. Worse, for politicians who believe platitudes suffice for programs, my generation of seniors is the first of the second-wave feminists to demand equitable treatment in our senior years. We are unlikely to endure the patronizing attitude of care-givers without putting up a chorus of disagreement and anger. Not for us the meek childishness that has been the lot of so many seniors in care.
No more nice little old ladies
What this means in terms of our voting is our reluctance to vote for politicians who treat us as an afterthought or as “nice, quiet, little old ladies.” So beware the Solange Denis effect. (She was the senior who, in 1985, confronted Prime Minister Brian Mulroney when he said his majority government would de-index the Canada Pension Plan. Do that, she said, and it’s “Goodbye, Charlie Brown.”)
The message was clear. The de-indexing plan was dropped.
Today, there are a lot more Solanges, senior women voters with education, brains, money and opinions who are not prepared to be quiet and vote for a father figure, even if it comes wearing a natty blue sweater.
We take our cues from the likes of mystery writer Henning Mankell, who wrote in The Fifth Woman: “It was only in the Western world that old people were viewed with indulgence or contemptuous sympathy. In other cultures, age was respected as the period of enlightened wisdom.”
Much of our comfort in retirement will be supplied by our own foreplanning — pensions, RRSPs, and investments. But we expect all levels of government to help us protect our good planning.
Health care is a prime concern for us. The Public Health Agency of Canada reports that the majority of senior citizens had at least one chronic health condition, such as arthritis, and one-quarter of those have a chronic heart condition.
Keeping us healthy and out of the public hospitals should be on every politician’s agenda. Health care is delivered by the provinces, but overseen by the federal Canada Health Act.
What that translates to, in terms of vote, is a strong block in favour of more comprehensive heath care, enhanced pension, better home care and muscular, good looking toy boys available for odd jobs around the house. Okay, I made the last one up.
But if seniors hold the fate of the May 2 election, if Stephen Harper and the Conservatives really are courting the female seniors’ vote, I’m still waiting for the how to be revealed. I’m not holding my breath waiting for him to recognize my power over his future.