September 10, 1997
The Right Honourable Prime Minister
House of Commons
Dear Prime Minister:
Re: Priorities for the 36th Parliament
On the occasion of your government's new mandate, which will be marked this month by the Speech from the Throne, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the Canadian Council on Social Development's recommended priorities.
As you may know, the Canadian Council on Social Development is a national, non-profit, membership-based organization dedicated to promoting social and economic security for all Canadians. Our main product is information, and our main activity is research, focussing on such concerns as income security, employment, poverty and child and family well-being. Our members include a wide range of individuals and organizations including social and health service agencies; municipal governments; labour organization s; teachers associations; women's groups; United Ways; YMCAs; religious organizations; and charitable foundations.
In consultation with our members, the CCSD Board of Directors has identified two key priorities for the 36th Parliament, which are elaborated on in the attached statement:
- expand job opportunities and improve income security; and
- improve the well-being of our children.
To support the process of setting national socio-economic priorities and to provide a more complete picture of progress in Canada, the CCSD also urges the federal government to establish a national social indicators framework to complement the current system of national economic indicators.
The CCSD believes these issues to be critical to our collective future. We will be arranging meetings with selected ministers in your cabinet to discuss our areas of concern and interest.
With best regards,
The Honourable Allan Rock, Minister of Health
The Honourable Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice
The Honourable Pierre Pettigrew, Minister of Human Resources
The Honourable Sheila Copps, Minister of Heritage
Members of the Cabinet Committee on the Social Union
MESSAGE TO THE 36TH PARLIAMENT
FROM THE CANADIAN COUNCIL ON SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
THE ROLE OF THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
The CCSD's priorities for the 36th Parliament are guided by a vision based on long-standing Council principles. In its simplest form, the CCSD believes that we all share in the responsibility for our collective well-being as a nation. Flowing from this principle, we also believe that it is in the national collective interest that:
inequities between individuals and regions of the country are minimized;
the life prospects of children are not limited by the income of their parents;
all individuals have the opportunity to support themselves and to influence the decisions that affect their life; and
those who do not have the means to support themselves receive the supports they need to actively participate in society.
While governments cannot be expected to solve all problems, they remain the most important instrument for protecting and expressing the national collective interest. Democratically elected leaders and the government institutions they oversee mediate various societal interests that would otherwise be sorted out in the private market. It is the role of government and not the private market to ensure the collective well-being of Canadians. For this reason, the CCSD believes that it is important to maintain a strong public sector in Canada.
Underpinning a strong public sector is a strong central government. In a federation of diverse regions – economically, socially and culturally – a strong central government is required to provide both a vision of those common interests shared by all regions, and leadership and the means for achieving them. Canadians look to the federal government to maintain a system of equitable taxation and mechanisms for income and wealth redistribution so that all regions and members of society will benefit from their participation in the country. This spirit of collective responsibility serves as one of the fundamental ties that bind us together as a nation.
It is within this vision that the Canadian Council on Social Development outlines its recommended priorities for the federal government in the next Parliament.
EXPAND JOB OPPORTUNITIES AND INCOME SECURITY
Recent employment figures have lead many to conclude that the Canadian economy has turned a corner. Consumers are spending again, businesses are expanding and economists are predicting several years of sustained economic growth. There is no doubt that this is good news. And, there is no doubt that jobs are being created. But the CCSD is concerned about the quality of jobs that are surfacing in the emerging economy, and whether or not most Canadians are likely to have access to new work opportunities that will assure them a reasonable standard of living.
The labour market that has emerged from the recession of the early 1990s is providing both tremendous opportunity and insecurity. There is little doubt that the 6.6 million workers over the age of 25 with university or college degrees are likely to do well in the economy of the late 1990s and the new century, as the proportion of knowledge-based industries grows. But another 2.4 million workers over age 25 years have not even completed high school. For them, the new economy is producing a much less desirable scenario.
Despite recent employment gains, close to one and a half million Canadians in the labour force are looking for but cannot find work. Approximately one-third of these people have less than a high school education. And approximately 800,000 more Canadians are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work – another significant sign of problems in the labour market. Youth are particularly hard hit. More than 17 per cent of young people under the age of 25 are officially unemployed. The current labour market has little to offer these individuals, and the future offers little more.
Having a job is important, but in the labour market of the 1990s and beyond, for many it is still not enough. There are nearly one million families today who are working poor. Their incomes remain below Statistics Canada's low income cut-offs despite a full year's earnings by either one or two spouses in the labour market. This should come as no surprise when one considers that provincial minimum wages have fallen in real terms by an average of 26 per cent since 1976.
The growing prevalence of part-time and temporary jobs in recent years is also contributing to the decline in economic security for many low-income families and the rise in the rate of child poverty.
The federal government must take action to address Canada's high level of unemployment and to improve the economic security of Canadians earning low wages and working in part-time and temporary jobs.
Provide public funds and support for job creation initiatives.
The federal government should allocate resources to be used by voluntary organizations to provide community-based services (such as those for families with children and the elderly), while creating new jobs. The federal government should provide a combination of project funding and wage subsidies for these organizations, in addition to "in-kind" support such as executive exchanges.
The federal government should also provide seed funding for local community development corporations, co-operatives, and micro-lending for small business and entrepreneurs.
Expand employment opportunities by encouraging working-time reduction and flexible work arrangements.
Provide incentives for employers to reduce overtime. The federal government should start by eliminating the earnings ceiling for the employer portion of Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan contributions. The current maximum insurable/pensionable earnings ceilings serve as an incentive for employers to schedule overtime for existing employees rather than hire new workers (because the employer stops paying contributions once an employee's earnings reach the maximum ceiling).
Offer federal employees extended family leave and unpaid sabbaticals without career or financial penalty. Provide incentives such as tax credits for other employers to do the same.
Revise federal retirement programs such as the Canada Pension Plan and the Seniors Benefit (still to be implemented) to encourage flexible retirement transitions and to open-up job opportunities for younger workers.
Improve the social and economic security of part-time, temporary and low-wage workers.
The federal government should encourage provincial governments to follow its lead in pro-rating benefits and wages for part-time and temporary workers employed by government departments and agencies. This equal treatment of part-time and temporary workers should be extended to the private sector in both federally and provincially- regulated industries.
The federal government should extend coverage of Employment Insurance and protections under the Canadian Labour Code to temporary or contract workers. Many of these individuals are inappropriately classified as self-employed, or work for periods of time that are too short for them to qualify for the protections available to other workers.
Improve the social and economic security of low-wage workers by showing leadership on initiatives to improve their access to basic health services not currently covered publicly (such as dental and vision care, pharmaceutical drugs).
Improve access to higher education so that more Canadians can obtain emerging knowledge sector jobs.
Since higher levels of education are key to success in the emerging knowledge economy, the federal government should take steps to expand access to higher education across the country. The federal government should put in place a student debt reduction strategy through the Canada Student Loans program as recommended by groups such as the Canadian Federation of Students, and continue to enhance tax supports for students. The federal government should also work with the provinces to establish greater interprovincial mobility of education credits and a national agreement on university and college tuition levels.
IMPROVE THE WELL-BEING OF CANADA'S CHILDREN
Our future prosperity as a nation is very much dependent on the health and well-being of our children. By ensuring that children today have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter and clothing, a clean environment, quality education, health and social services, safe communities, and positive and nurturing family environments, we can improve the likelihood that Canada will experience social and economic prosperity in the future.
The equation is simple. A well-nurtured, healthy, educated child today equals a healthy and productive adult tomorrow. We must strive to ensure that all children have the opportunity to reach their potential, and to grow into adults who contribute to, and benefit from society.
Recognizing that the well-being of children is highly dependent on the social and economic security of their parents, it is important that families receive the support they need to provide for their children. Along with others, in our research the Council has demonstrated both the benefits of investing in supports for families with children, and the costs associated with providing insufficient assistance to families.
In cooperation with the provinces and territories, the federal government should develop a comprehensive National Children's Agenda.
During the 1997 federal election, the Liberal Party promised to double the previously announced increase of $850 million for the federal Child Tax Benefit (soon to become the Canada Child Tax Benefit). The government should follow through with this promise, and outline a schedule of additional commitments to substantially reduce child poverty.
As a result of increased federal funding for the Child Tax Benefit, provincial and territorial governments will yield considerable savings through reduced social assistance costs for children. To help guide the spending of these freed-up dollars, the federal government has indicated its interest in negotiating a "re-investment framework" with the provinces and territories.
The CCSD is calling on the federal government to engage in a transparent negotiation process with its provincial and territorial partners (including consultation with the public and relevant stakeholder groups), to achieve comparable levels of services and benefits for families with children across the country.
Some provinces have already demonstrated the type of potential re-investments that could be made to assist families with children. For example, BC Benefits provides an income supplement for low-income (working and non-working) families with children in the province of British Columbia, along with in-kind benefits such as vision and dental care. Saskatchewan has announced a similar initiative to coincide with the introduction of the Canada Child Tax Benefit in 1998. The CCSD recommends that the British Columbia and Saskatchewan approaches be used as examples for spending under the re-investment framework.
Although the CCSD applauds the above-described measures being taken to support low-income families with children, we believe that such measures should form only a part of a more comprehensive strategy to support all families with children. The recently announced family policy in Quebec provides an excellent example of such a strategy. Under the Quebec family policy, all families with children in the province receive universal income support for their children through the tax system. In addition, universally accessible and affordable child care and early childhood education is being phased in over the coming years. And, additional income and service supports are available for low-income families with children as in some of the other provinces.
As part of a more comprehensive National Child Benefits System, the federal government should provide tax recognition to all families with children in Canada. Canada stands apart from most other OECD countries that already recognize the societal value and personal costs associated with raising children through their tax structures.
The federal government should also work with the provinces and territories to widen access to community-based pre-natal and early childhood development support programs. This includes providing increased support for successful programs such as the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program, the Community Action Program for Children, and Aboriginal Head Start.
The effectiveness of maternity and parental leave coverage through the Employment Insurance (EI) program has been eroded through consecutive eligibility and benefit changes in recent years. Support was particularly undermined by the most recent set of changes announced in 1996. To ensure that all families in Canada have access to sufficient maternity and parental leave, the federal government should work with the provinces and territories to implement a separate national maternity/parental leave program.
The role of employers in supporting families with children should not be forgotten. The federal government should provide strong leadership and incentives to encourage employers to implement family-friendly policies such as on-site child care, family leave and flexible work arrangements, without penalty.
MEASURE CANADA'S PROGRESS
As we continue to debate the future of our evolving social and economic union in Canada, it is important to identify our collective priorities. To support this process of national priority-setting, policy-makers and the public require information on how we are doing as a nation. In short, this means closely monitoring and reporting on social and economic progress in Canada.
At present, the priority-setting and policy-making process is dominated by only one side of the progress equation – the economic side. Measures of economic progress such as the Gross Domestic Product, the Consumer Price Index, the value of the Canadian dollar, and the Toronto Stock Exchange 300 Index are reported on regularly in the media. Many consider these to be legitimate indicators of economic progress or success. If these indicators are heading in the right direction, it is generally assumed that all is well in the nation, but this is often not the case.
The benefits of short-term economic progress are not always shared in a way that improves the lives of the general population. For example, rising profits do not necessarily lead to increased job creation, and rising stock markets do not necessarily translate into tangible benefits to the average person on the street. In fact, the opposite can often be true. Companies may increase their profits by cutting jobs, or by replacing secure full-time jobs with insecure part-time or temporary jobs. By focussing solely on these indicators of short-term economic gain, we lose sight of the fact that strong social conditions form the platform upon which a solid and sustainable economy is built. Over the long term, economic progress simply cannot be built upon an unhealthy, poorly-educated, insecure, discouraged and socially-fragmented population.
Aside from the widespread reporting of the unemployment rate – which is both a social and economic indicator – the level of attention and legitimacy accorded to social indicators remains insignificant. There is a growing consensus in Canada that a reliable set of social indicators is needed to inform public debate and policy. The CCSD has been doing its part to move this agenda forward by bringing leading Canadian and international thinkers together to discuss the development of social indicators, and by initiating a major research report called The Progress of Canada's Children, which is intended to track children's health and well-being. We believe that work in this area must be continued and expanded upon.
We are encouraged by the level of interest in social indicators at the provincial level, and by new initiatives that are currently underway. For example, the Province of Alberta has already released its second annual Measuring Up report which establishes goals for a number of social and economic progress indicators in the province, and British Columbia ‘s recent Report on the Health of British Columbians tracks the health and well-being of the residents of that province. Hopefully other provinces will follow the lead of Alberta and British Columbia and produce similar reports of their own.
The federal government must play a strong leadership role in improving the understanding of social progress in Canada. The CCSD urges the federal government to push forward the establishment of social indicators by establishing a national social indicators framework, and by establishing several nationally recognized social indicators. The following are the steps that should be taken to put in place a national social indicators framework.
Design an annual National Social Report
The federal government should produce a national social report. This annual report should identify specific targets – or benchmarks– to measure progress in areas identified as national social priorities. (If the battle against the federal deficit is any indication, the process of setting annual realistic targets is an important step towards ensuring real progress in a given area of policy.)
The public and interested groups should be invited to assist in establishing the parameters for the national social report.
Put in place a monitoring and evaluation process.
Establish an open process of monitoring and evaluating progress towards stated benchmarks or goals. This process should involve the participation and input of non-governmental organizations and the public.
Widely disseminate information about Canada's social progress.
Once established, the annual report and summary information regarding the indicators and their target benchmarks should be made widely available to the public to improve broader public understanding and government accountability. This report could be treated in a fashion similar to that of the Auditor General's report.
Choose useful social indicators.
The following is a suggested list of important social areas that could be dealt with in a national social report: school readiness; literacy; education performance; access to health services; infant health; population health; environmental quality; public safety; unemployment and under-employment (including involuntary temporary and part-time workers); income equality; and, poverty (including child poverty). Data is currently available to support indicators for each of these areas, although improvements should be made in some cases so that the information is available on a more frequent basis.
Despite the growing sense of cautious optimism among Canadians as we emerge from a difficult period of economic restructuring and deficit reduction, Canada will have to work hard to ensure prosperity in the coming years. For this reason, the CCSD is calling upon the federal government to take a strong leadership role in dealing with the social and economic challenges that we face as a nation. The Council also urges the federal government to consult with Canadians in establishing directions for the future. We have started here by providing input of our own into this process of national consultation and priority-setting.
Among our recommendations, the CCSD has presented a number of ways to revamp our social and economic programs and tax policies to ensure that all Canadians can support their families and share in our future prosperity. We have also suggested ways to monitor and report on national social progress to complement the existing comprehensive system of economic indicators which currently drive public policy and debate. The CCSD has made these recommendations based on the belief that through a sharing of national economic and social progress, all Canadians will benefit.
Canadian Council on Social Development. Backgrounder - Integrating Children's Benefits: What Will Result? (Ottawa: CCSD, 1997).
Canadian Council on Social Development. Position Paper - The CCSD's Response to the 1997 Federal Budget (Ottawa: CCSD, 1997).
Canadian Council on Social Development. The Progress of Canada's Children (Ottawa: CCSD, 1996)
Canadian Council on Social Development. Measuring Well-being: Proceedings from a Symposium on Social Indicators (Ottawa: CCSD, 1996)
Lochhead, Clarence and Shalla, Vivian. "Delivering the goods: income distribution and the precarious middle class" in Perception (Ottawa: CCSD, 1996, Vol 20, No. 1).
National Forum on Family Security. Family Security in Insecure Times, Vol. I, II and III (Ottawa: CCSD, 1992, 1996).
Ross, David, Scott, Katherine, and Kelly, Mark. Child Poverty: What are the Consequences? (Ottawa: CCSD, 1996).
Schellenberg, Grant and Clark, Christopher. Temporary Employment in Canada: Patterns, Profiles and Policy Considerations (Ottawa: CCSD, 1996).
Schellenberg, Grant and Ross, David. Left Poor by the Market: A look at family poverty and earnings (Ottawa: CCSD, 1997)
Schellenberg, Grant. The Changing Nature of Part-time Work (Ottawa: CCSD, forthcoming).