Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Justin Trudeau Should Not Glibly Dismiss Universal Programs

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Justin Trudeau Should Not Glibly Dismiss Universal Programs

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Justin Trudeau should not glibly dismiss universal programs


An editorial from the Toronto Star, published March 9:

Consider a number of the major criticisms leveled in the wake of the Trudeau government's third budget and a common theme emerges.

In their oft-touted effort to "help the middle class and those who aspire to join it," the Liberals appear to be constrained by an unwavering commitment, whether grounded in ideology or politics, to targeted programs even where universal alternatives seem to make the most sense.

The budget's investments in gender equity were most welcome, for instance, for both moral and economic reasons, yet there is truth in the criticism that no policy would have done as much for Canadian women, and for the economy, as a universal daycare plan.

The establishment of an advisory panel to devise a pharmacare program, meanwhile, was the budget's most ambitious signal, but hopes were deflated somewhat by Finance Minister Bill Morneau's insistence in the days after that the plan would not be universal, but merely another patch in our threadbare patchwork.

There are understandable reasons to balk at the prospect of creating new universal programs. The start-up costs can be daunting and if Ottawa is to share the burden with the provinces, as it must, then it will have to wade into the forbidding fed-prov morass.

Still, at least in the case of pharmacare, and arguably for daycare, too, the evidence is clear that both the public and the economics support a universal program. So why the opposition?

At a meeting with the Star's editorial board just before his 2015 electoral victory, Trudeau explained his reluctance regarding universal programs with a parable. When he was a child, his father presented a cake to him and his brothers and divided it into three equal pieces, one for each of them. This division struck Justin as unfair. The oldest, he was bigger than his siblings and so required more energy.

In policy terms, Pierre's distribution of the cake was regressive, not according to need. And so it is with universal programs, the allegory implied - a national daycare program, for instance, would help those who need no help, an unwise and unjust allocation of resources. (This argument could, of course, be used against medicare, too.)

Trudeau has consistently argued that a means-based approach, in the manner of, say, supplementary drug coverage for low-income people, would be fairer and more fiscally responsible.

It's a cute story, but not exactly a sound basis for public policy.

Universal programs are not about providing the same service to every citizen. A universal approach to cake would guarantee Justin and everyone else access to the cake they need, when and if they need it. Targeted programs can't do that. …

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