Canadian Politics

A01(a) - The State of Social Policy in Canada: Part 1

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 08:30am to 10:00am | Location:

Chair/Président/Présidente : Rianne Mahon (Carleton University)

Discussant/Commentateur/Commentatrice : Daniel Béland (McGill University)

Social policy is a central aspect of Canadian economic, social, and political life. This is especially the case in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which served to highlight the importance of social programs for Canada and the rest of the world. This panel, which is the first of three panels regarding the state of social policy in Canada, will bring together contributors from the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Social Policy in Canada. Together with the other panels in the series, it will provide a comprehensive map of the major components of social policy while identifying the central issues relevant to social protection in Canada.

Federalism in the new era of welfare state expansion: Keith Banting (Queen's)
Abstract: Without seeming to notice, Canadians are living through the most significant expansion of social programs in the last half century. Much attention has been paid to the temporary federal benefits adopted in response to COVID. However, the expansion of permanent federal social programs has also been formidable. Major innovations include changes to the Canada Child Benefit and the Canada Pension Plan, the phase-in of universal childcare across the country, the adoption of a Canada Disability Benefit and the build-up of a Canadian Dental Care Plan. These innovations represent a bold assertion of federal leadership and, with the exception of CPP and childcare, the policy process has largely by-passed the provinces. This paper will analyze the implications for federalism. It will examine the incentives for federal reliance on income transfers in response to diverse social needs, and the response of provincial governments to federal activism. Among other cases, the paper will examine the expansion of the federal role in dental care.

Civil society organizations: Pillars of social policy: Rachel Laforest (Queen's)
Abstract: Civil society organizations are vital to social policy development and implementation. To analyze the social architecture, we need to incorporate community as a fourth pillar of the welfare diamond to understand the distribution of responsibilities for welfare provision amongst family, market, community, and state. Yet, analyzing the role of civil society organizations in welfare state studies has often been an afterthought (Annetts et al. 2009). Part of the challenge is that civil society organizations are deeply diverse and play various roles in the social policy arena. They are conduits for transmitting citizen interests and preferences into the policy arena. Through mobilization, they shape societal understandings of fairness, justice, and equality. Over the past decade, the rise of Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and Occupy Movement have drawn attention to growing inequities in Canadian society. In addition, civil society organizations are increasingly intertwined in social policy delivery systems. Each province has its unique institutionalized interaction between state and society, which shapes and constrains how social policy is developed. For example, social economy organizations in Quebec play a pivotal role in how delivery systems are organized in child care and home care . Because of this diversity of roles, this paper will problematize how civil society organizations are structured and represented across provincial jurisdictions to showcase the impact it has in the social policy debates.

Funding social policy in Canada: Jacques Olivier (Université de Montréal), Antoine Genest-Grégoire (Université de Sherbrooke)
Abstract: The book chapter analyzes the financing of social policy in Canada. We start by presenting the “tax bargain” in Canada, by highlighting the role of the electoral system and of interest group representation in creating an equilibrium of relatively low tax and social spending with a high degree of tax progressivity. This is because the country funds social policy with low value added taxes and social security contributions, whose incidence is regressive or proportional, but uses heavily progressive income taxes. We then delve into inter-provincial differences and the dynamics generated by federalism. As a decentralized federation, tax rates differ markedly between provinces to reflect welfare state models. At the same time, vertical fiscal imbalance involves that provinces don’t have the fiscal room to significantly reduce taxes, whereas the federal government can increase social spending without raising taxes or can reduce taxes without significantly retrenching social spending. The last section discusses the political dynamics incurred by public opinion about taxation. It shows that while recent increases in pension contributions have been politically easy to do, the recent economic crisis, Canada’s relatively meager welfare state and the perceived crisis of health care generate low support for higher taxation. We illustrate our arguments with recent tax reforms made by the Harper and Trudeau governments and with recent public opinion surveys conducted in the country. Overall, this chapter contributes to our understanding of the political economy of the financing of social policy in the context of a decentralized federation.

Social assistance in the Canadian provinces: The politics of neglect: Alain Noël (Université de Montréal)
Abstract: Social assistance programs in the Canadian provinces are notoriously ungenerous, leaving beneficiaries far below the poverty threshold. This situation reflects, of course, the residual, liberal nature of the Canadian welfare state, as well as the marginal political voice of persons living in poverty. It may also reflect the low political saliency of social assistance benefits. Unlike health care or day care, these benefits concern few citizens and they are rarely, if ever, mentioned in electoral campaigns. In recent years, in particular, the number of persons receiving social assistance has declined in every province, making the issue less salient than ever. Following Lødemel (1997) and Noël (2020), this paper documents this politics of neglect, to clarify, in particular, the relationship between social assistance rates and benefits. It suggests that when social assistance concerns fewer people, it tends to become less visible and even less generous.