The first step a newly elected Prime Minister takes on the road to governing is choosing the members of cabinet and giving them their marching orders. Prime Minister Trudeau set to this task with zeal when he was first elected in the autumn of 2015, and surprised many by making the mandate letters public. The CD Howe Institute asked a number of experts to draft their versions, and this post offers a slightly longer version of the mandate letter I wrote for the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development published by the Institute.
All Canadians have a right to live the life they value with dignity.
As Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, your actions should be governed by this principle, and directed to three concerns:
promoting economic well-being and ensuring that those facing challenging circumstances are able to fully participate in our society with dignity;
fostering equal opportunities and inclusion for all, regardless of family background, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation;
enhancing economic and social resilience, whether Canadians live in families or on their own.
With these in mind, I will expect you to work with your colleagues through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities.
Social policy in Canada faces three challenges having to do with income inequality, income insecurity, and the imbalance between work and family life. My presentation at the Queen’s University conference, “Social Canada Revisited,” begins by outlining three facts that illustrate these challenges:
The share of total market income going to bottom-income Canadians has fallen
Workers with steady employment suffer significant and long-lasting income losses after a layoff
Families have changed to help cushion and support middle incomes, but the family-work balance is titled
I suggest that there are precedents in the existing Employment Insurance program that can be enhanced and built upon to more fully offer Canadians the social insurance they need and want, and put forward three enhancements that will move social policy in this direction.
Enhance Working While on Claim and integrate it seamlessly with the Working Income Tax Benefit to offer steady and increased income support to lower-income Canadians in a way that mimics some versions of a Basic Income
Introduce wage insurance that would top up weekly earnings for workers with a steady employment history who have suffered a permanent layoff
Expand so-called “Special Benefits” by creating individual accounts over which individuals have complete sovereignty
In a recent column in the Globe and Mail, Tom Flanagan bemoans the fact that the premium structure of Employment Insurance is not lined up with expected benefits. As a result, provinces to the west of the Ottawa River have long paid a good deal more into the program than they receive in benefits.
The solution: a constitutional amendment allowing Quebec to run its own EI program.
Quebec and Alberta interests certainly line up on this issue: one wrestles more control over federal powers, the other sees smaller government and lower taxes.
But let’s be clear, devolution of EI responsibilities—which constitutionally rests with the Federal Government—is about this sort of politics, not at all about the underlying economics of social insurance.
There are a host of legislative changes that the Federal government can introduce to make EI more efficient without even whispering the C-word.
On April 19th 2012 I made a presentation called “Promoting the dignity and rights of children” to the Dignity for All campaign summit held in Ottawa Canada. The presentation offered three policy recommendations to the Federal government that if undertaken would improve the well-being of children and respect their rights as citizens.