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Redesigning Canada’s Social Policy Regime: From Liberal Maternalism to Liberal Reconciliation?. Rianne Mahon Chancellor’s Professor Carleton University Ottawa, Canada Presented to Canada-Korea Social Policy Research Cooperation University of Toronto January 27-28, 2005.

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redesigning canada s social policy regime from liberal maternalism to liberal reconciliation

Redesigning Canada’s Social Policy Regime: From Liberal Maternalism to Liberal Reconciliation?

Rianne Mahon

Chancellor’s Professor

Carleton University

Ottawa, Canada

Presented to

Canada-Korea Social Policy Research Cooperation

University of Toronto

January 27-28, 2005

social policy redesign debating the new social architecture

Social Policy Redesign: Debating the new social architecture

In Canada, as in the European Union, the discussion is less about the details of reforming the “old” social security system (though that is happening too: e.g. health and pensions). Rather the debate centres on the appropriate principles for redesigning the social policy regime.

For some, the difference between the old and new social architectures is that between “passive” support vs. “activation” or, from “welfare” to “workfare”.

Yet there is an important gender dimension to this shift and it is this which constitutes the focus of my presentation.

the old social policy architecture focus on the male breadwinner
In earlier decades, social policies in North America and Western Europe supported the male breadwinner, so he could provide for his family

It protected against the risks he faced: unemployment, illness, injury, old age.


there was a “maternalist” side:

women were supported as providers of unpaid care in the household.

Examples: joint taxation; spousal allowance clauses in public and corporate social insurance programs; child/family benefits.

In the absence of a breadwinner, mothers of school-age children were often exempted from the need to seek paid work

The old social policy architecture: focus on the male breadwinner
working mothers the ignored step sisters
Working mothers: the ignored step-sisters
  • There were always some mothers who stayed in the labour force. On the whole, however, working mothers did not get the degree of support accorded their housewife sisters.
  • In most Western countries, governments ignored their child care needs, leaving it to families to make informal arrangements or for local charities to step in.
    • In a few countries, like France, governments did establish crèches for those who needed them and some countries pioneered maternal leave schemes.
canadian social policy then

Canadian Social Policy then:

From Workmen’s Compensation to unemployment insurance, the focus is on the needs of the working man. Mothers are assumed to be at home, supported by their husband’s wages (amplified by tax deductions for dependents) and his social insurance.

From 1944-1992, however, there was a modest universal family allowance (per child), paid to the mother.

The provinces started to provide allowances for lone mothers between the Wars. In 1966, the federal government begins to contribute 50% under the Canada Assistance Plan (CAP). Even then, the provinces retained considerable latitude, allowing important interprovincial regime differences to persist (Boychuk, 1998).

working mothers in postwar canada
Working Mothers in postwar Canada
  • Temporary federal funding for child care during World War II. Ended after the war’s conclusion. Only Ontario enacted childcare legislation. 1966 CAP reopened the door to federal funding but few provinces take it up – at least initially.
  • 1950-57 married women need to work extra time to be eligible for Unemployment Insurance (Porter, 2003).
  • ILO convention n right to maternity leave (12 weeks, with pay) but as late as the 1960s, only 4 provinces have introduced the right to (unpaid) leave.
things have been changing in canada as elsewhere in the oecd countries
Things have been changing, in Canada as elsewhere in the OECD countries
  • Ageing: as more people live longer, there are more frail elderly to care for;
  • Declining fertility: people are having fewer children, later, or none at all;
  • Changing families: lone parents and divorce;
  • Growth of non-standard employment: temporary work, part time work, self-employment. This contributes to
  • Polarisation of incomes: low wages especially among younger workers
across the oecd two policy concerns demography and poverty
1: will there be enough economically active people to support the elderly and other dependents?

An important part of the answer

The mobilisation of “untapped resources,” especially women

2: Reducing high poverty rates:

Falling average wages and unstable employment means it takes two salaries to keep a family out of poverty

Rising rates of lone-parent families (with high probability of being poor)

An important part of the answer “activation” of lone parents as well as women generally (recommended by the OECD, etc.)

Across the OECD, two policy concerns: demography and poverty
these two policy concerns have produced
The “activation” agenda (carrots and/or sticks) - aimed at getting lone moms off social assistance and into the labour force.

“making work pay” - by removing disincentives to low wage jobs; providing training/job-readiness etc

child care (of some sort)

A reconciliation agenda

maternity/parental leaves, of a reasonable length;

public support for non-parental child care

flexible work times for parents of young children

part time work as a “bridge”

other forms of care leave (with or without pay) to care for a relative who is sick or dying.

These two policy concerns have produced
third policy concern investing in human capital
Third policy concern: Investing in human capital
  • To succeed in the so-called knowledge-based economy, people are said to need the capacity for life-long learning.
  • National competitiveness is also said to rely on the presence of a high-quality labour force.
  • Investment in early child education is increasingly touted as the first step toward life long learning.
  • Reconciliation measures thus form part of the broader “social investment” paradigm (Jenson, 2002).
four blueprints for reconciling work and family life
Four blueprints for reconciling work and family life
  • There are, however, different blueprints for responding to the new situation:
  • Neo-Familial
  • Neo-Liberal
  • Third Way Liberal
  • Egalitarian
the neo familial blueprint
The Neo-Familial Blueprint

“Modernise” gender difference:

  • the female caregiver role now temporary and partial
  • Lone parents’ right to care limited to early years (0-pre-school start);
  • Availability of long term “parental” leave, also 0- pre-school.
    • But low amount usually means it appeals primarily to working class women.
    • Support for higher income families to hire nannies or use family-based care, that is, cared for in home
  • Part-time preschool, short part time work for mothers (the “1 and 1/4 earner model”)

Examples: France, Austria

the neo liberal blueprint
The Neo-Liberal Blueprint

Gender sameness, without gender or class equality.

  • Lone mothers required to seek work within a few months to a year after giving birth.
    • They may receive subsidies for child care but concerns about quality
  • Short parental leave (to “preserve” human capital).
  • Private responsibility (families and employers) for arranging child care and flex-time arrangements.
  • Child care affordable for the majority because of low wages paid to care givers.
  • Examples: the US.*
third way liberalism
Third Way Liberalism

Gender sameness, with equal opportunity over the life-cycle

  • Lone mothers are to be induced to return to work, using a mixture of carrots and sticks.
  • Flexibility for women.
    • Part time work as a “bridge”, but under parity (wages and conditions) with full time. I and 1/2 earner household the norm.
  • paid parental leave - for a maximum of one year.
    • No quota for fathers necessary; leave remains largely maternal leave
  • Subsidised child care focuses on the demand side (information, subsidies to parents). “Benchmarking” for quality assurance.
  • Examples: Blair’s UK; Canada?
the egalitarian blueprint
The Egalitarian Blueprint

equitable sharing of domestic child care between parents; children have the right to early childhood education and care.

  • Additional supports for lone parent, wage-earners.
  • Universally accessible and affordable quality child care services
  • Care is provided by skilled caregivers, the value of their skills is recognised by equitable wages, good working conditions and in-service opportunities for further training.
  • Provision is made for democratic control, including a strong element of parental and community voice.
  • Examples: Sweden, Denmark
social policy redesign in canada following the 3rd way blueprint the national child benefit ncb
Social Policy Redesign in Canada - Following the 3rd Way Blueprint? The National Child Benefit (NCB)
  • The NCB and related provincial initiatives induce lone mothers off social assistance.
  • Family allowance replaced by tax benefit for low to moderate income families with children under 18. 80% of families with children < 18 receive something.
  • Plus Supplement (NCBS) to poor families with kids.
  • Provinces can reduce social assistance benefits by the amount of the NCBS, but reinvest in services for families and healthy child development.
  • Little invested in quality child care; some provinces, e.g. Ontario, rely on informal care for workfare participants.
leave policies and child care
Paid maternity (15 weeks) and parental leave (35 weeks) - but replacement rate 55%, low ceiling; 2 weeks waiting if shared and eligibility restrictions

Family supplement for NCBS recipients - but at price of family-based income testing

Compassionate Care Benefits (6 weeks), for support gravely ill family member. Same rules as parental leave.

CAP replaced by block funding (CHST)

Growth of informal care for workfare recipients in a number of provinces

$2.2 billion for Early Childhood Development - but no requirement spend on childcare

$900 million Multilateral Framework Agreement - ECLC -

Leave policies and child care
in the works a national child care system based on quad
In the works: a national child care system based on QUAD*….
  • *Quality, Universality, Accessibility, Developmental
  • “The time has come for a truly national system of early learning and child care, a system based on the 4 key principles that parents and child care experts say matter - quality, universality, accessibility and development.” Speech from the Throne, 5 October 2004
  • “Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Social Services met today and agreed on shared principles to guide the development of a new national system of early learning and child care…that would include measurable goals, shared principles, strong accountability and provincial/territorial flexibility. The agreed-upon principles include quality, universally-inclusive, accessible, anddevelopmental.” Press release, 2 November 2004
quebec leading the way
Quebec leading the way?
  • Quebec: The federal government’s idea of a new national child care plan is said to be inspired by Quebec’s system of $7 a day childcare;
  • for all children, including whose parents unemployed or on social assistance;
  • collectively bargained wages plus skill enhancement for providers.
  • Parental leave: offers more generous parental leave benefits, over a longer period, than the current federal program. Self-employed – the largest category of working poor – are covered.
  • Sharing of care: 1st 18 weeks at 70% salary for maternity leave; t weeks for the father at 70% salary; 7 weeks at 70% for either parent and final 25 weeks at 50%. (Federal: 55% for 50 weeks. No “daddy” quota).
  • Across the OECD, the basic assumptions guiding family policy are changing, from various ways of supporting the male breadwinner/female caregiver family to measures to reconcile work and family life.
  • But “reconciliation” can be achieved in different ways...
  • For the most part, Canada’s family policy is following a third way blueprint. This is evident in policies targeting lone parents, leave policies and child care policies - at least to date!
  • There is, however, a chance Canada will introduce an important egalitarian element - QUAD – inspired by the Quebec model.