April 19, 2022

Article at respectnews.ca

Keeping the political heat on, toning down the spice

In our toxic political climate, I never know what to expect when I interview an elected representative.

When I reach out for an interview, I just want honest answers to honest questions. I expect there will be differences of opinion between parties (and even within parties), but out of respect for our readers I want those differences to be expressed constructively.

I am not interested in telling our readers that Party A thinks Party B is worse than burnt toast. We all hear enough of that.

Maybe it’s because we cover the seniors beat, but I have been consistently impressed by the quality of dialogue I have had with federal and provincial politicians.

Over the past few years we have brought you interviews with federal seniors’ ministers Filomena Tassi and Deb Schulte, and Alberta seniors minister Josephine Pon. They are all partisans to be sure, but in our chats they all focused on the issues at hand. I’d go so far as to say they all showed a desire to cooperate across party lines to make improvements in seniors’ programming.

Schulte (Liberal) and Pon (UCP) were co-chairs of last year’s Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors Forum. Whatever their differences are—and there is bound to be tension in any federal-provincial approach, especially in Alberta—they presented a united front on addressing the issues before them. They spoke of each other respectfully and courteously.

I was also impressed last week when I spoke with Shelby Kramp-Neuman, the CPC shadow minister for seniors, for our budget story on page 3. She offered the federal government credit where she felt it was due, and presented her criticism in a direct and constructive manner.

From one issue to another, and from time to time, I will agree or disagree with all of these people—I’m certainly not endorsing any of them or their respective parties. But it’s refreshing to see that some of our leaders can express disagreement without vitriol, and that they can present opposing viewpoints while (I believe) genuinely trying to make things better.

The next challenge, of course, is to get the job done—to actually make things better. The problem with seniors’ issues is that every 40- or 50-year-old policymaker seems to think they will be 40 or 50 forever, and today’s 80-year-olds will be 80 forever.

Everybody is a senior-to-be, at least if they’re lucky. We will all get old. We will all need communities and programs and services to allow us to live well. This isn’t about “us” middle-aged people helping “them” seniors—proper policy on aging matters for every one of us.

Kramp-Neuman’s critique of the budget rings true. Today’s seniors need better policies and programs in place immediately, not rolled out over two or three years. I would add that we failed to start this work in time to prepare for the needs of our aging population. We’re way behind where we should be, and this failure is shared by all parties at all levels of government.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of politics is concentrated on the pitched battles that promote partisan tribalism over practical policy discussions.

It’s unfortunate that the big guns in the front rows—our Premiers and Prime Ministers, ministers of finance or health or foreign affairs, along with their opposition critics—feel compelled to employ bluster and rancour at every turn. They drown out the vital work being done by their equally earnest but less belligerent counterparts in portfolios like Seniors.

Kramp-Neuman said “It's important that seniors, and the portfolio itself, really needn't be a partisan issue. It doesn't. It's not something that needs to be overwhelmingly spicy.” I hope that notion catches on.

As voters, we want the parties to have differences. We want alternatives, we want choice. But we need to treat each other with respect. It would help to have more examples of this among our representatives.