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  • Boom, Bust and Consolidation November 9, 2018
    The five largest bitumen-extractive corporations in Canada control 79.3 per cent of Canada’s productive capacity of bitumen. The Big Five—Suncor Energy, Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), Cenovus Energy, Imperial Oil and Husky Energy—collectively control 90 per cent of existing bitumen upgrading capacity and are positioned to dominate Canada’s future oil sands development. In a sense they […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • A new Director for CCPA's BC Office: Message from Mary Childs, Board Chair October 24, 2018
    The CCPA-BC Board of Directors is delighted to share the news that Shannon Daub will be the next BC Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Last spring, Seth Klein announced that, after 22 years, he would be stepping down as founding Director of the CCPA-BC at the end of 2018. The CCPA-BC’s board […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Who Owns Canada’s Fossil-Fuel Sector? October 15, 2018
    The major investors in Canada’s fossil-fuel sector have high stakes in maintaining business as usual rather than addressing the industry’s serious climate issues, says a new Corporate Mapping Project study.  And as alarms ring over our continued dependence on natural gas, coal and oil, these investors have both an interest in the continued growth of […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Pharmacare consensus principles released today September 24, 2018
    A diverse coalition representing health care providers, non-profit organizations, workers, seniors, patients and academics has come together to issue a statement of consensus principles for the establishment of National Pharmacare in Canada. Our coalition believes that National Pharmacare should be a seamless extension of the existing universal health care system in Canada, which covers medically […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Kate McInturff Fellowship in Gender Justice September 19, 2018
    The CCPA is pleased to announce the creation of the Kate McInturff Fellowship in Gender Justice.This Fellowship is created to honour the legacy of senior researcher Kate McInturff who passed away in July 2018. Kate was a feminist trailblazer in public policy and gender-based research and achieved national acclaim for researching, writing, and producing CCPA’s […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
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The Progressive Economics Forum

Social Assistance in Canada

This week I am attending a conference entitled “Welfare Reform in Canada:  Provincial Social Assistance in Comparative Perspective,” organized by Professor Daniel Béland.

The focus of the conference is “social assistance,” which typically encompasses both last-resort social assistance (i.e. ‘welfare’) and disability benefits.  In Ontario, the former is known as Ontario Works and the latter as the Ontario Disability Support Program.  Every Canadian province and territory has its own social assistance system—that is, its own legislation, its own regulations and its own policies.  First Nations with self-government agreements have their own income assistance programs.  And for First Nations without self-government agreements, income assistance is funded by Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (but “aligned with the rates and eligibility criteria for off-reserve residents of the reference province or territory”).

I was a discussant on two papers at the conference.  Some of the points I made in that capacity include the following:

Mixed Objectives – I believe that social assistance programs in Canada have two major objectives: 1) to give their recipients enough money to live on; and 2) to not give their recipients enough money to live on (in part to encourage recipients to look for paid employment, in part to discourage would-be recipients from becoming recipients, and in part out of a fear that some voters might oppose higher benefit levels).  In light of this inherent contradiction, I think that social assistance is a challenging program to design, administer and defend.

Tax Credits – Tax credits (federal, provincial and territorial) have taken on greater importance for social assistance recipients over the past 15 years.  Some households with children now earn (slightly) more on an annual basis from tax credits than they do from social assistance (though it should be noted that tax credits are much less substantial for singles without dependents).  Any thoughtful analysis of social assistance analysis in Canada must consider the role of tax credits.

Training – In a March column, Thomas Walkom argues that senior levels of government in Canada do not make substantial investments in training for workers.  Nor do employers (for the most part).  Rather, “cheap workers,” who are already trained, are imported from abroad.  This raises an important question: if senior levels of government are unwilling to provide social assistance recipients with training, how realistic is it to expect them to be successful in the labour market?

Poverty Reduction – Most provinces and territories have implemented ‘poverty reduction strategies‘ in recent years.  The jury is still out on how effective they will prove to be; however, it could be that, going forward, voters would find improvements to social assistance programs (including increases in benefit levels) more palatable if such changes are made as part of poverty reduction strategies that have clear goals, including goals related to both job creation and training.

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