Thursday, 24 March 2011

Grey Power & The Seniors' Election

They may not agree on issues like ethics and leadership.  But out of the gate, all major parties in the imminent federal election are in accordance:  2011 is the Seniors’ Election.   Granted, charges of contempt, scandal, hyperpartisanship, coalition-collusion, and game-playing will dominate the soft news coverage of this campaign.  If there is any room for policy discussion, however, it will focus squarely on issues related to Canadians over 60.

I use the words “policy discussion” deliberately, as we are unlikely to see much “debate” over whether seniors’ issues are important (or even much disagreement over how to solve them). 

At the top of the agenda will be topics like seniors’ poverty (to be addressed through changes to the Guaranteed Income Supplement and Canadian Pension Plan), seniors’ healthcare (which will involve reducing wait times for elective surgeries like cataracts and joint replacement, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs), and seniors’ quality of life (including pledges to offer support for care-givers and provinces wishing to expand their homecare programs). 

This overwhelming focus on seniors should come as little surprise for two reasons:

1.       Seniors make up the largest segment of the population.  Since they were born, baby boomers have dominated the social, commercial, and political life of our society.  From the advent of “consumer culture” and the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, to today’s focus on “Freedom 55” (or 65), boomers have influenced every aspect of the Western World.  In this context, “grey power” is only the most recent manifestation of this generation’s dominance.  We would be surprised (even disappointed) if politicians suddenly stopped paying attention to baby boomers.

2.       Seniors are far more politically active than younger Canadians.  In fact, according to most measures in Canada and the United States, Canadians over 60 are twice as likely to vote as Canadians under 40.  In this environment, it would be politically foolish for party leaders and candidates to ignore the largest and most engaged segment of the electorate.

Some will argue that “seniors issues” affect all Canadians.  Most of us have parents , grandparents, relatives, and friends over 60, after all.  And addressing these challenges now will enable future generations to enjoy programs that today’s seniors do not.

Yet in an age when politicians, media, and academics are having such difficulty engaging youth in politics, attracting them with promises of “what’s in it for your grandmother” may not be as successful as  a more balanced focus on issues pertaining to younger generations.

What do you think?  Are politicians placing too much emphasis on seniors’ issues in this federal election campaign?  Is there a way to reach out to other demographic groups, or to make so-called “seniors issues” more relevant to younger Canadians?


  1. Certainly baby boomers/seniors have contributed greatly to government coffers for some 40 plus years. They have paid taxes to support and provide the benefits they now would like to receive in their retirement. Many have also paid tuition and support for many of the youth (many of whom they continue to support-allowing them to live at home past the age of 30). These same youth demand that their needs continue to be more evenly/fairy addressed without their engagement in the political process

  2. I wouldn't say that politicians are placing too much emphasis on seniors' issues, because the issues that were raised are very important and there is certainly some work that needs to be done. However, politicians should simultaniously try to reach out a lot more to younger Canadians.

    There was just recently a debate regarding UBB (Usage Based Billing) and the only major party that was against it from the start was the NDP. Only after a petition received over 400,000 signatures, the Liberals and eventually the Conservatives started paying attention to the issue. This type of issue affects young people directly since, let's be honest, young people spend a lot more time on the Internet than seniors and it also affects their wallets. By addressing these type of issues, a party would easily be able to increase political engagement since many young people even organized rallies across Canada in protest to this issue so it shows that young people actually do care and do engage when they feel that it's important.

    In response to the first comment: I certainly agree that seniors have done their share and there is no doubt about it. However, I do not agree that the youth demands that their needs continue to be more evenly addressed since they are not evenly addressed to begin with. Once politicians start paying attention to issues that affect youth today, the same youth might actually become more politically engaged.