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?