In a few weeks British Columbians will go to the polls to elect a new government. Within hours of the poll’s close, the media will begin offering opinions why the voter turnout was so low. Once the Vancouver Sun and Globe and Mail have declared this an Important Issue, the politicians will join in, once again acting as if they are Very Concerned by the number of people who didn’t bother to vote.
The pundits, spin-meisters, and policy wonks won’t admit it, but the reason why people can’t be bothered to vote is pretty obvious: no politician ever addresses the things that really matter to regular people.
The press and the political operatives drive the agenda during a campaign. Maybe they really believe that budget deficits are the most important issue, or pipelines across Northern BC, or global warming, or crime.
Certainly if pollsters ask people about these Important Issues, they’ll express concern about each of them, and maybe even will say that their voting choice will be based on a specific party’s position on any of these. After all, no-one wants to admit to being uninformed or uninterested.
The truth is that there are things in life that matter far, far more than green house gas emissions, balanced Provincial budgets, or the trade balance with China.
A Good Job
When a politician announces a job creation plan, it invariably means that they want to give tax dollars to large corporations who will maybe hire some people, for a while. The same goes for skills training. No-one wants to actually pay you to go to school and learn a trade, much less guarantee you a job at the other end. They want to give money to a large corporation, who maybe will use some of it to pay part of the cost of trades training, and who maybe will hire you for a while after you finish school.
An average person sees things quite differently. When they take a job they’re looking for a handful of pretty specific things:
Security – a permanent job that they can count on for at least a few years. Summer jobs are for teenagers, not for people supporting a family, a mortgage, and a car payment.
Good Pay – no-one really expects to support a family on one income, but between them two people should make enough to buy a house, make the car payments, take three weeks off each summer for vacation, and enjoy a full refrigerator, new school clothes for the kids, hockey and ballet lessons, cable TV and Internet.
Benefits – Decent pay only goes so far. A good job includes a good dental plan, medical benefits to pay for all of the things that have been delisted by the Medical Services Plan (MSP), and prescription drugs. These things easily run into thousands of dollars a year, so benefits count. And of course sick pay so that you can stay home and get healthy.
Safety – Nobody wants to break a leg at work, or fall off of a roof, of be poisoned by chemicals. No-one wants to lose their hearing or eyesight while working. No-one wants to be forced to work twelve hours days or sixty hour weeks, or to do back to back shifts.
The guy or gal who’s living pay cheque to pay cheque knows that these are things that the politicians could make happen, and they know that none of them is ever seriously discussed come election time.
For most people the Health Care equation is pretty obvious. They need:
A good Family Doctor – not always easy to find.
Medical Services Plan coverages – for someone on a tight budget, it’s a slap in the face to find out that the procedure or tests that your doctor recommended aren’t paid for by MSP. Especially when you’re also paying hefty monthly premiums to the government for MSP coverage. Universal health care is not so great if it you need to pay for it, and if it only covers some things, some of the time.
Emergency Room Staffing – any parent can tell you that a trip to Emergency lasts at least five hours. No matter what time or day you arrive, you’ll spend five minutes with a triage nurse, five minutes with a doctor, and four and a half hours in a waiting room between the two. Government likes to blame the patients, or make veiled references to “finding efficiencies”, but in the four hours that you’re sitting there with a sick child it’s pretty obvious what the problem is: there’s not enough staff to serve the people coming in. Hire a second ER doctor, and patients can be out in half as much time.
Your ordinary parent can see that despite every politician promising to fix health care, things get worse every year, and the people at the bottom of the totem pole have to pay more what they get.
It’s pretty simple: everyone needs a safe, secure, warm place to live and sleep. With a kitchen and bathroom.
If you hope to buy a house in BC, you need high enough wages to pay the mortgage. $10 an hour won’t do it. If you rent, you want protections against rent increases, scummy landlords, dangerous buildings, and security in knowing that you likely won’t be tossed out without warning.
Any average person can see that the developers aren’t going to build affordable rentals, or starter homes for families. They’re going to build whatever gives the biggest profit margins, even if they’re receiving big fat government tax incentives to build.
Again, even though every politician talks about housing, none of them seem prepared to actually do anything concrete to build more good, inexpensive homes. The people who aren’t voting know this, and don’t believe that voting for one party or the other will make any difference.
The Cost of Living
Gas prices are rising, Food prices are really rising. Housing prices are rising. Clothing prices are rising. School supply prices are rising. Tuition fees are rising. Check out this CBC chart – the cost of living is the number one concern of most people. If you look at the “Very Concerned” group, it’s #2, after Retirement and before health care costs.
At the same time, wages are stuck, or more likely going down from year to year. The days of Cost of Living increases are long forgotten, and well paid, unionized jobs are being shipped to China or India because it’s cheaper to make toasters and cars offshore, or it’s cheaper to hire foreign call centre employees than people in Canada.
Real working people know full well that their standard of living has been in a free fall for a couple of decades, and they know that their children face an even bleaker future. They know that governments could do things to change this, or did things in the past that created the problems. None of them believes that any politician will do anything to help them.
Regular working people are being squeezed in ways that haven’t been seen since the 1940s, and there’s no end in sight. That’s why the reaction to the HST was so strong – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back; the extra bit of money that people couldn’t afford to pay.
Anyone over 50 is worrying about this. Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security sure won’t pay enough for a decent lifestyle, and the decline in unionized jobs has led to a decline in the number of good employer pension plans.
The hard reality can be summed up in one sentence from a recent Financial Post story:
Last week, an Ipsos Reid poll found that just 27% expect to be fully retired at 66, down from 51% in 2008. An HSBC survey suggested that 47% of Canadians aged 55-64 have never saved at all for retirement.
Half of all people have no extra savings, and three-quarters of people can’t see when they would ever retire.
Average people understand that despite all of the moralistic finger pointing from RRSP proponents it’s often just not possible to have banked a million dollars over the last thirty or forty years. Once you pay the mortgage or rent, the car repairs, the dental work for the kids, the university tuition; and once you pay all of those ever increasing costs with an ever shrinking pay cheque…. where would that extra $300-400 month come from for an RRSP?
As it stands now, every politician is looking these people in the eye and saying “You got yourself into this mess – it’s not our problem to get you out.”