Canadian Politics

A05(e) - Gender, Parental Status, and Policy in Canada

Date: Jun 12 | Time: 03:30pm to 05:00pm | Location:

Strategies to Reproduce Societies: Comparing Social Reproduction Policy Regimes in Quebec and Ontario: Emma Willert (York University), Dennis Pilon (York University)
Abstract: The proposed paper asks to what degree the demographic challenge of falling birth rates in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec have been addressed at the policy level by increasing immigration. There is strong economic utility in having a large and growing population, and the policy making process is consequently heavily invested in the components of demographic growth or change. This analysis uses a feminist political economy approach to social reproduction, as population management strategies are inherently gendered phenomena, tying closely to women’s reproductive choices and patterns. I posit that increased levels of immigration are often utilized as a social reproduction strategy to avoid the high costs associated with socially reproducing the population internally. This paper seeks to demonstrate that high levels of immigration can be seen as an attractive neoliberal population strategy intended to bypass the high costs associated with domestic social reproduction in favour of importing the human capital and labour of immigrants whose social reproduction costs were incurred by their country of origin. This cross-provincial case study seeks to explore and provide deeper context to demographic management strategies at the subnational level. It utilizes Canada’s constitutional framework that allows each province to address their population concerns independently from one another, as well as the fact that there is significant regional variation, to make a unique comparison of an increasingly common population management strategy across the developed world. Tracking government reactions to demographic change offers valuable insight into possible future public policy strategies that may be deployed.

A Defense of Decentralization: Federal Program Opt-out and Parental Leave in Quebec: Emma Willert (York University), Dennis Pilon (York University)
Abstract: Many feminist political economists identify the decentralization of Canada as a defining negative feature of the neoliberal age, leading to inequality in service provision and entitlement for women across the country. They argue a strong centralized government—as opposed to a piecemeal, decentralized approach—is superior to achieve equity and redistributive goals. However, I suggest feminists should view the federalist system as providing elastic opportunities for policy change. While centralization can lend itself to radical political projects and change that can be quickly and universally applied at a national scale, this can equally be used to dismantle progressive and feminist policy. Decentralization may serve an insulating function in jurisdictions where there is a strong remaining support base for feminist policy. Indeed, decentralization has provided an avenue for progressive policy when feminist economic goals are vulnerable to attack or erosion at other levels of government. To illustrate this I draw upon the implementation of parental leave policy in Canada. In contrast to the federal Employment Insurance program, Quebec’s Parental Insurance Plan offers more generous benefits and lower qualifying thresholds which produces demonstrably beneficial effects for women and families. It is thus critical to consider social and temporal factors that inform how feminist advocates navigate Canada’s federalist system—that is, whether power at the federal or provincial levels creates the most fruitful ground for reformist social policy. I suggest that, to secure minority rights and entitlements, a politically diverse set of jurisdictions might prove a more productive realm for feminist advocates.

Family Homelessness in Canada: Exploring the Connection Between Gender and Negative Policy Feedback: Lori Oliver (Queen's University), Margaret Little (Queen's University)
Abstract: This study considers the relationship between policy and politics to understand the barriers to addressing the increased prevalence of family homelessness in Canada. A timeline of events from 1960-2020 is constructed with data gathered from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation archived reports, news articles published in Canadian major dailies, federal Hansard debates, and interviews with activists and shelter workers. The results illustrate that family homelessness was previously understood in relation to welfare state spending but is now understood more narrowly in relation to temporary displacement as a result of family violence. I argue that the shift in how family homelessness is framed stems from negative policy feedback. Adding a gendered lens to Jacobs and Weaver (2015), I show that self-undermining feedback effects within social housing policy and the overrepresentation of low-income female-headed families in social housing units combine to create political disincentives to broad recognition of family homelessness in policy contexts.

Rent Burdened in Canada: A Comparison of Federal - Provincial Government Policy Responses to the Needs of Elderly Women and Lone Female Headed Households: Carol-Anne Hudson (McMaster University), Peter Graefe (McMaster University)
Abstract: There is no more urgent, no more immediate topic of concern for many Canadians than the issue of affordable housing. However, affordability is experienced unevenly (Tranjan, 2023). Among low- and moderate-income renters in the private market, elderly women and lone female headed households are especially burdened and are at the highest risk of falling into homelessness (Homeless Hub, 2019). The proposed study compares and contrasts federal and provincial government rent supplement policies along the principles of portable, stackable, targeted, accessible, and affordable. From the perspective of policy success, the study asks: With a focus on rent supplements and women, how well are governments meeting the criteria for highly successful social policymaking? What is and isn’t working? What lessons can be learned? What actions need to be taken to ensure policy success? Drawing on Linquist et al (2022) criteria for achieving policy success in Canada, preliminary findings suggest that rent supplement policies fail to achieve highly valued social outcomes, do not have a broad base of public or political support for the achievements and the associated processes and costs; and do not manage to sustain this performance for a considerable period of time in the face of changing circumstances (p.5). Failure can be attributed to what Jenson et al (2019) have termed a dehistorized understanding of difference and inequality where key actors differed over how to account historically for the origins and perpetuation of inequality as the point of departure for policymaking (p.137).