Will seniors be heard?

Like most Alberta newspapers, the Red Deer Advocate has received plenty of letters from seniors angry about the province’s plan to charge some of them more money for pharmaceuticals.

Like most Alberta newspapers, the Red Deer Advocate has received plenty of letters from seniors angry about the province’s plan to charge some of them more money for pharmaceuticals.

Many of the letters urge voters to let Premier Ed Stelmach and company know just how unhappy they are with the proposed changes.

That seems like a reasonable tactic: after all, governments sometimes do back away from bad ideas, if they receive enough negative feedback from the electorate. However, it seems that, so far at least, this provincial government has turned a deaf ear to the concerns of seniors.

Perhaps Stelmach and pals believe seniors won’t vote against the Tories no matter what, so they need not fear any letters to the editor — even if there are quite a few of them being published throughout Alberta.

Alberta’s Conservatives won the last provincial election by a landslide — winning 72 of 83 seats. However, the election involved the lowest voter turnout in the province’s history (only 41 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot).

That would suggest that, in March of 2008, many voters were happy with the status quo.

Of course, some may have been so discouraged that they refused to vote, but thoroughly dissatisfied voters have a tendency to show up at the polls to vote against the government.

Two letters published in Friday’s Advocate did an excellent job of explaining why seniors, except for those who are rather poor, ought to be upset with the Tories.

Lacombe’s Doreen Sturla Scott wrote that, if the proposed drug plan changes are implemented, “a good number of other seniors will stop taking their medications in order to avoid spending their money on the drugs they will need. Then, as we seniors become ill, we might need to be hospitalized, and the costs of hospitalization will more than increase the cost of a senior’s health care in this province.”

She suggested the proposed changes may be designed to recoup money that has been lost to the government by axing health-care premiums for all Albertans.

Red Deer’s Ross Dabrusin observed that the government tried to pull the wool over people’s eyes by emphasizing the benefits of the new drug plan to low-income seniors, while downplaying “the greatly increased drug costs to a huge number of seniors.”

He also pointed out the health minister’s suggestion that seniors hurt by high drug costs simply turn to private insurance is utterly unsatisfactory.

“(Health Minister Ron Liepert) didn’t point out that private health plans cost a lot of money and that private insurance companies deny coverage for pre-existing conditions,” Dabrusin wrote.

There’s a groundswell of anger about drug plan changes building among Alberta seniors, but it remains to be seen if they can convince the government that they’ll vote for opposition candidates if the problem isn’t fixed.

For decades now, seniors have been the most loyal supporters of Alberta Conservatives — even when it hasn’t always been in their interest to be so.

Alberta Tories never get too worked up when they hear about college and university students protesting tuition increases — probably because they know most young people don’t bother to vote.

Older people do vote but, in Alberta, they seldom vote for left-wing political parties, and the government knows that.

So, unfortunately, the Tories may not feel any need to address the flawed drug plan.

Seniors may huff and puff, but will they really vote against the government?

In most cases, probably not, and that’s essentially why their protests are falling on deaf ears.

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.

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