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Caledon

Relentless Incrementalism: Deconstructing and Reconstructing Canadian Income Security Policy

Published on 01/09/2001

This report is a comprehensive analysis of recent and ongoing changes to Canadian income security policy. The paper argues that economic factors are a necessary but not sufficient explanation for the shift from a ‘universalist’ to ‘post-welfare state’ in Canada that began in the late 1970s, gathered steam in the 1980s and 1990s, and is still under way in the first decade of the 21st century. The paper focusses on changes since the mid-1980s to major income security programs, both direct and tax-delivered, which constitute the bulk of federal social spending and a substantial portion of provincial social expenditures. It analyses the ongoing transformation of income security policy in Canada by: (1) charting trends in major income security expenditures and their impact on income inequality; (2) identifying key economic, social, demographic and political forces driving the recent and unfolding reform of Canadian income security policy; (3) exploring major developments in income security policy (defined broadly as encompassing both direct and tax-delivered benefits since the mid-1980s); and (4) explaining how governments have effected such significant restructuring with relatively little political pain. Governments have pursued a strategy of what the author dubs ‘relentless incrementalism’ (of which ‘social policy by stealth’ has been a highly successful technique) to make structural reforms in income security policy, eschewing ‘big bang’ attempts at reform that have not proven successful in the past. One of the chief reasons for the relative political success of relentless incrementalism is that the changes it is imposing are poorly understood by the public and typically misrepresented and misunderstood by social groups and policy commentators on both left and right.

ISBN – 1-894598-87-3

Summary

This report is a comprehensive analysis of recent and ongoing changes to Canadian income security policy.

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