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  • Ontario's middle and working class families are losing ground August 15, 2017
    Ontario is becoming more polarized as middle and working class families see their share of the income pie shrinking while upper middle and rich families take home even more. New research from CCPA-Ontario Senior Economist Sheila Block reveals a staggering divide between two labour markets in the province: the top half of families continue to pile […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Join us in October for the CCPA-BC fundraising gala, featuring Senator Murray Sinclair August 14, 2017
    We are incredibly honoured to announce that Senator Murray Sinclair will address our 2017 Annual Gala as keynote speaker, on Thursday, October 19 in Vancouver. Tickets are now on sale. Will you join us? Senator Sinclair has served as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was the first Indigenous judge appointed in Manitoba, […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • How to make NAFTA sustainable, equitable July 19, 2017
    Global Affairs Canada is consulting Canadians on their priorities for, and concerns about, the planned renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In CCPA’s submission to this process, Scott Sinclair, Stuart Trew and Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood point out how NAFTA has failed to live up to its promise with respect to job and productivity […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • What’s next for BC? July 4, 2017
    Five weeks ago the CCPA-BC began a letter to our supporters with this statement: “What an interesting and exciting moment in BC politics! For a bunch of policy nerds like us at the CCPA, it doesn’t get much better than this.” At the time, we were writing about the just-announced agreement between the BC NDP […]
    Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
  • Could skyrocketing private sector debt spell economic crisis? June 21, 2017
    Our latest report finds that Canada is racking up private sector debt faster than any other advanced economy in the world, putting the country at risk of serious economic consequences. The report, Addicted to Debt, reveals that Canada has added $1 trillion in private sector debt over the past five years, with the corporate sector […]
    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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