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Welfare reform in Alberta and British Columbia : a comparative case study Nash, Adrienne J.

Abstract

This thesis is a comparative case study of welfare reform in Alberta and British Columbia in the 1990s. It explores the predominant pressures on the social assistance systems emanating from the provincial, national and international arenas. It further identifies and compares the policy response of each province to these pressures and the consequences of the reforms for the respective governments and social assistance communities. Lastly, it attempts to account for the major similarities and differences between the two reformed welfare policies. This thesis argues that while Alberta's and British Columbia's welfare reforms share a number of notable similarities, they reflect fundamentally different models of welfare provision: Alberta's reforms follow a market-enforcement model while British Columbia's approximate a market-performance model. The similarities between the two policies are best accounted for as reactions to parallel pressures on the two welfare programs, specifically, rising welfare caseloads and program costs as well as the changing debate around the merits of government social assistance programs. Conversely, the differences between the two policies reflect the salience of distinctive pressures on each welfare system. In Alberta reform was driven by the influence of Alberta Family and Social Services Minister Mike Cardinal and the example of American welfare reforms while in BC the reforms were initiated on account of federal policy transformations and public perceptions of fraud. Finally, this thesis suggests that the specific models of welfare provision chosen in each case reflect the influence of each provinces' unique political context. The political ideology of the governing party in both provinces was a significant factor in determining the orientation of the reformed welfare policy. In Alberta the adoption of a market-enforcement model was further facilitated by the province's longstanding political culture while in British Columbia the influence of interest groups contributed to the creation of a social assistance policy closely resembling a market-performance model.

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