ANDREW SCHEER IS COURTING YOUR VOTE
POLITICAL LEADERS at all levels realize that if they want to win an election, they absolutely must capture the interest – and support – of older voters. A big reason why CARP has become such a popular stop for politicians from across the political spectrum is it’s a way for party leaders to reach out and tap into this vote-rich demographic.
The Conservative Party of Canada’s new leader Andrew Scheer was the latest to seize the opportunity, providing the keynote address at CARP’s Annual General Meeting and Chapter Congress, held at the ZoomerPlex in Toronto in late October.
“I want to send the signal that the issues facing seniors are very important to the Conservative Party,” Scheer told the gathering of CARP representatives from across Canada.
Introducing the Opposition leader, CARP’s director of advocacy Wanda Morris noted that the last “political heavyweight” to address CARP (Justin Trudeau in 2015) is now the prime minister. Scheer joked that he would like to follow that “rite of passage.”
The 38-year-old leader, who surprised most observers when he captured the party’s nomination last May, is anything but an establishment Tory. A father of five, Scheer worked in the insurance industry in Regina before switching to politics in 2005, winning a seat in Regina-Qu’Appelle at the ripe old age of 25, defeating well-known NDP veteran Lorne Nystrom. In 2011, he was re-elected and went on to become the youngest-ever Speaker of the House, under Stephen Harper’s Conservative majority.
In May, he was elected leader
of the Conservative Party, coming from well behind in the polls to defeat consensus favourite Maxime Bernier.
Scheer not only used CARP’s townhall-style event to share his party’s general policy positions and answer questions on where his party stands on seniors issues but also to boost his profile. While he comes across as an affable politician with deft debating skills, he’s struggled to establish his voice on the national stage, a difficult task with a media that’s still largely enamoured with Prime Minister Trudeau, not to men- tion the NDP’s rising star, leader Jagmeet Singh.
In prefacing his remarks, Scheer admitted that the Conservative message failed to resonate with the public in the last election, especially with younger voters, who came out in force and largely voted Liberal. “We’re in a listening phase right now,” he told the CARP AGM. “We lost the last election and we have to figure out what we did wrong.”
Although Scheer wasn’t in a position to share concrete policy measures (this will have to wait until next year as the party devis- es and costs out its official platform), he did say that he wants to develop a program to help older Canadians that also meshes with “conservative principles.” While none of this is set in stone, Scheer dropped enough hints to deduce that his seniors agenda should resemble something like this.
Expand the annual contribution limit into Tax-Free Savings Accounts (the Liberals slashed the maximum from $10,000 a year to $5,000)
Look at proposals that would eliminate mandatory RRIF withdrawls
Ensure inflation does not drastically erode seniors’ quality of living
Index GIS and OAS to reflect true cost of living for seniors
Provide incentives for Canadians to start building their retirement portfolio at an earlier age, so we don’t outlive our savings
Take action to ensure companies can’t renege on their unfunded pension obligations
Reduce taxes (he claimed the Liberals are “always taking things away rather than building things up”)
Eliminate carbon taxes (pointing to the Ontario experience, he says they lead to sky-high utility bills)
Ensure that GST or HST is not applied to essentials like groceries, medications and, most importantly, energy bills
Allow pension income splitting for seniors to remain in place
Look into providing a caregiver’s allowance
Work with provinces to provide support and framework to expand the number of seniors’ housing units on the market
Any Parliamentary vote on this issue would be a free vote
If you think this agenda looks suspiciously similar to the one Stephen Harper employed during his years in power, you’re not mistaken. Harper’s road to power was, to a great extent, paved by the support of older voters. During the Harper-led majority governments, CARP polls consistently showed a majority of the members supported the Conservative Party because of their seniors policy.
However, in 2015, this formula changed abruptly. Days before the election, CARP polls highlighted a radical shift had taken place – Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had finally made a significant dent in the Tory support from older voters, with the majority now backing the Liberals. The Liberals’ senior agenda (increasing GIS, enhancing the Canada Pension Plan and reversing OAS eligibility back to 65 from 67) clearly struck a chord with the older electorate, as did a hugely effective last-minute ad campaign featuring nonagenarian political legend Hazel McCallion endorsing the Liberals’ seniors policy, while images of Trudeau’s appearance at the CARP AGM played in the background.
An astute politician, Scheer has read these numbers and undoubtedly realizes the Conservatives can no longer take the older constituency for granted – he must earn it. When asked if his age (both Scheer and Singh are 38, while Trudeau is 45) would
preclude him from focusing on issues that affect older Canadians, he made a crack about the Liberals failure to appoint a dedicated seniors minister, something his own party would rectify.
He also claimed that rather than focusing specifically on millennials or seniors, he wants to engage all age groups through a multigenerational approach: “A lot of the issues younger people face also affect older Canadians,” he told the CARP AGM.
With more and more younger voters deciding to finally exercise their democratic privilege and getting out to the voting booth, this approach makes a lot of sense – the party that can make the most convincing case to both these powerful generations will win the next federal election.
After addressing the CARP AGM (above), Scheer had a sit-down with Zoomer Radio’s Libby Znaimer (above right). After the talk, with CARP president Moses Znaimer (right).
The CARP team meets with Scheer. From left to right: Laas Turnbull, Marissa Semkiw, Wanda Morris and Anthony Quinn. Scheer also had time for a policy talk with Moses Znaimer