Editorial/éditorial

By McKeen, Wendy | Canadian Review of Social Policy, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Editorial/éditorial


McKeen, Wendy, Canadian Review of Social Policy


For this special issue of the Canadian Review of Social Policy/Revue canadienne de la politique sociale, we invited both key experts and new scholars to tackle the topic of social policy and the Harper government. The resulting papers address a range of policy issues and areas, including childcare, employment insurance, health services for First Nations communities, and women's inequitable status. Together they provide new, important, and timely analyses of how social policy has changed under the Harper regime and what that means for equality, social justice, and democracy.

The first three articles reflect on the implications of the social, economic and political agendas being shaped and reinforced by the Harper government. Michael Prince's article, "Prime Minister as Moral Crusader - Stephen Harper's Punitive Turn in Social Policy Making," argues that the Harper government's social policy emerges from a social order preoccupied with issues of criminality, national security, and law and order - as Prince puts it, "the political idea of fear." Prince sees Harper and his party as moral crusaders, operating out of conviction, producing and imposing new rules linked to morality, crime, and safety, and attempting to use the welfare state as a form of social control to regulate human behaviour and shape how people connect with each other. Social issues are framed as criminal issues and the Harper government is more interested in surveillance and punishment than in supporting families and communities or extending social security.

Tammy Findlay, in her article, "Child Care and the Harper Agenda: Transforming Canada's Social Policy Regime," contributes her insight that the social and moral order being fashioned under the Harper government is profoundly gendered. She argues that the changes to child care policy made by the Harper government have reinforced a familialist orientation in social policy and fostered residualism and exclusion by giving preferential treatment to the male breadwinner/female caregiver family form, and giving more to those with more, and less to those with less. She argues that these effects were furthered through Harper's embrace of "open federalism," and that the cuts to advocacy organizations and "the Harper Chill Effect" have suppressed dissent and stifled oppositional voices in a deeply gendered way.

Ann Porter turns to the connections between social policy restructuring and neoliberalism, and examines the trends within the context of post-2008 austerity politics in her article," Austerity, Social Program Restructuring and the Erosion of Democracy: Examining the 2012 Employment Insurance Reforms." She finds that the changes to Employment Insurance (EI) with the 2012 austerity budget went beyond cost-cutting to entail the centralization of state control, changes in decision-making structures and administrative processes, and a more aggressive role of the state in relation to the unemployed. She concludes that the EI changes link in significant ways to austerity, social program restructuring and the establishment of a new, more anti-democratic and authoritarian phase of neoliberalism, one linked to an economic growth strategy and based on low-wage labour.

Rounding out this issue are two papers that focus on particular policy areas. Ginette Thomas's paper, "The Conservative Government and the Re-emergence of Tuberculosis in First Nations and Inuit Communities", explores an issue that has had little public visibility to date - that of the disproportionately high rates of tuberculosis within First Nations' and Inuit communities and the limited willingness of the Harper government to address the problem. As Thomas argues, the Harper government has adopted a narrow interpretation of its responsibilities for the health of Aboriginal peoples, falling back on the limited scope specified under the Constitution Act and adopting a "payer of last resort" approach. The latter fails to fix the inadequate patchwork health system or address the social determinants of health that underlie higher rates of tuberculosis, nor does it provide national standards for treatment for tuberculosis. …

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