Canadian governments spend over 60% of their revenue on social policy and programs. Some social programs are well thought-out, and help make Canada a better place to live.
Other programs are based more on ideological bias than well-planned intent. Many services have been captured by their providers, many are inefficient at best, and some do more harm than good in the long run.
I believe that social policy is, or at least should be, a behavioural science. Public spending on social policy should be an investment in better outcomes for both citizens and society, and social programs should work with the market economy, not against it.
This site will lead you to some of my writings aimed at influencing thinking on social policy in Canada. Scroll down for a bit more information about my background. to get started.
I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan in 1974 with a Master’s Degree. I found a junior research job with the Government of Saskatchewan, working my way up to policy roles in the Social Services Department. Working inside an organization that ran, among other services, a traditional welfare program gave me the opportunity to think at length about what was wrong with this approach to income support, and how it might be transformed into something better.
In the early 1990s Saskatchewan faced extreme budget pressures, but there was also appetite in some quarters for better social value from income support programs. I was tasked with work on welfare alternatives, which eventually led to a role in negotiating the National Child Benefit and a design role in provincial companion programs. These were mainly aimed at changing parents’ work behaviour, and were credited with a role in a precipitous and very welcome decline in single parent dependency.
By this time I understood that the behavioural principles at play in child benefit reform were more widely applicable. Through most of the 2000s myself and my colleagues developed active social policy applications in housing, employment services, disability and other areas. Some of these ideas became policy, but the political will for reform was waning. Since a change of government in 2007, Saskatchewan has unfortunately reverted to passive program models, especially in welfare and disability policy.
Canada’s social policy is a very mixed bag, with some good elements, and others that are misconceived. A great deal of money is being spent, much of it, in my view, quite badly. My interest is to contribute analysis that might, over the long term, build support for positive change. If you can help me do this, or I can help you, get in touch!
COVID income support programs have revived calls from some advocates for a guaranteed income plan for adult Canadians. This idea is deeply impractical from a financial point of view. It would also undermine the economic prosperity that allows Canada to protect vulnerable groups like seniors and children. Instead of expanding welfare, governments should increase supports to low-income earners.
In 2009 the Saskatchewan government introduced a new welfare program, SAID, aimed at severely and permanently disabled individuals SAID has already expanded well beyond its intended target group, and costs nearly as much as the entire pre-SAID welfare bill. It attracts people away from work, and its built-in disincentives make it nearly impossible for beneficiaries to ever take a job. SAID appears to be shifting the entire welfare paradigm, with long-term consequences for people with disabilities and the Saskatchewan public. A better disability policy for Saskatchewan is possible.
Governments have abdicated responsibility for formulating Aboriginal policy and for carrying out balanced and rigorous analysis of past policies and programs. As a result, one-sided advocacy views have gained currency on historical issues such as residential schools and Aboriginal adoption. These issues merit re-examination to make sure that we draw accurate lessons from history.