If ever there’s a clear-cut signal that an election campaign has been officially launched, it’s the appearance of senior citizens on the radar — the greydar, as it were — of politicians and their flacks.
Now, I didn’t actually see any members of the oldsters club breaking bread with Yvonne Jones earlier this week when she promised the Liberals would make sure Newfoundland seniors could avoid despair and debt in their sunset years.
But Jones’ commitment to turn on the financial IVs for the elderly was delivered in what was referred to as a “personal care home,” so I can only assume there were a few voters of the 65-plus age range somewhere in the vicinity, taking in this visit from a politician, one of those exercises that seem to invariably occur when electoral success and power is being sought.
And, of course, they would have heard Jones and her party — shock of all shocks — practically guarantee they will make life more bearable for each and every Newfoundland senior citizen.
There was a platform blocked with goodies: a minister of aging (would he or she have to have been born a few years before Confederation to be handed that particular portfolio?); a seniors’ advocate (a shot at redemption for Fraser March?); an aging strategy (how about avoiding nagging and needy grandchildren?).
About all that was missing was a promise to place dispensers of Viagra (and its female equivalent) in the corridors of senior citizen complexes throughout the province.
And you certainly couldn’t blame those seniors within earshot of Jones, and the tens of thousands of their contemporaries eventually getting the message through the media, if they had complained that they’d heard it all before, many times over, and that politicians seem to find the geriatric generation amazingly attractive during elections.
In fact, I’ve seen the act up close and personal and would have a few extra coppers if I had a loonie for every time I followed a political leader into a senior citizens home during an election campaign for a shallow “photo-op.”
Meet and greet
With photographers and cameramen recording every moment, there would unfold a ritual that always had a strong whiff of b.s. — the residents of a targeted home for the elderly would be positioned in a neat little circle of seats, and the leader would go from one to another, shaking hands, repeating some meaningless comment, delivered often in a patronizing tone: “Hi, grand to see you. Hope you’re having a nice afternoon.”
And it was obvious (to me, at least) that some of the men and women seemed pathetically unaware who this stranger was making the rounds of the room (it could have been William Coaker as far as a few were concerned). Others were obviously viewing the event as a diversion from a humdrum day (about a notch below the token visit of nephew Jimmy with his flask of Lamb’s, trying to gain late mention in the skipper’s will), while others were curious just to see if the rhetoric had been altered since the last campaign visitation.
I’ve probably forgotten (given my own 60-plus years on the planet) that a scattered person in the room might have been bold enough to inquire about broken promises of the past, or to ask why the politicians had disappeared since their last appearance in the home. But most, as I recall, were polite to a fault, a trait a politician could, and would, take full advantage of.
Perhaps in that place where Yvonne Jones decided to go and seek votes the other day, there was a resident or two wanting to ask why they should believe what she was saying, why her party hadn’t initiated these kinds of measures when it was in power. Perhaps they were thinking that politicians are all alike, that the party labels are irrelevant.
Election time rolls around, time for a visit to the elderly, time for a few photos, time to get a few votes, time then to vanish until the next campaign.
After all, it’s an old song, one they’ve heard on countless occasions.
One evening a few weeks back, my father turned back the clock briefly to his stage years, and belted out an incredibly strong and theatrical version of that song that espouses (and accurately so) the belief that “there’s no folks like the old folks after all,” a heartwarming and timeless ode to parents everywhere, of every generation. It was a glorious few moments for Dad and his familial audience.
But I couldn’t help this week but place a twisted variation on those words when I saw in the paper the latest version of the story of the politicians and the seniors.
“There’s no folks like the old folks … to exploit.”
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.