Wednesday April 23, 2014

Don’t mess with seniors

Brian Mulroney learned a lesson early in his tenure as prime minister in the 1980s: don’t mess with the seniors.

In 1985, as his government proposed to de-index Old Age Security payments so they would no longer rise with inflation, Mulroney had an encounter with a Quebec senior named Solange Denis outside the Parliament buildings. With the cameras rolling, the diminutive senior marched up to him and yelled: “You lied to us. You made us vote for you and then goodbye, Charlie Brown!”

That powerful exchange, replayed countless times after, sunk the idea and, some say, derailed the entire government’s agenda to eliminate the federal deficit in the 1980s.

Now, Transportation Minister and Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone is taking on a similar issue in announcing long-overdue changes to B.C. Ferries, including reduction of service on low-traffic routes and reducing the seniors’ discount on B.C. Ferries to 50 per cent from 100 per cent for passengers on mid-week sailings.

As Stone has pointed out, the discount is a result of extensive consultation with senior users who indicated that they would be willing to give up their free sailings if it kept overall ferry rates from skyrocketing even more or if it kept services from being reduced further.

But answering a speculative question on a survey is one thing: announcing an official change is another. The response, particularly on Vancouver Island and coastal communities that rely on B.C. Ferries, is more than predictable.

The fact is that B.C. Ferries is a sinking ship in dire need of repairs. Stone’s announcements, while certain to be unpopular, are necessary and the changes appear to be well thought out. As a massive demographic wave crosses the threshold of seniorhood, we very well could see a lot more retooling or even elimination of seniors discounts in the world of business.

But well-intentioned and well-thought-out plans have been known to die on the altar of
public outrage before.

Here’s hoping Todd Stone doesn’t run into his own “Goodbye Charlie Brown” moment on a B.C. Ferries vessel.

We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by publisher Tim Shoults, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.

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