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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The politics of welfare : Canada’s road to income security, 1914--1939 Schofield, Josephine Muriel


The watershed in this century's politics of welfare is the transformation in income security away from charitable towards governmental support. But in the Canadian case its origins still remain obscure. Although the shift is often pinpointed as occurring during and after World War II, the decisive battles over the propriety of a more active state role were fought between 1914 and 1939. The aims of this study are to demonstrate their significance in pioneering acceptance of the principle of social collectivism, and to shed light on the range of forces shaping the complex process of social policymaking. The case-study method is used to investigate the legacy of interwar welfare politics, viz., the development of emergency and statutory aid for select groups among the very poor. This technique has the advantage of capturing the historical dimension of the policymaking process, and filling the much-needed gaps in Canadian welfare research. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to test propositions concerning social policy innovations and developments. The existing literature identifies several factors as important: the nature of the economy, the cultural context, the structure of political institutions, and four sets of participants - militant workers, interest groups, politicians and bureaucrats. The analysis focuses upon the interaction between these determinants in shaping all the major interwar policy decisions in means-tested income maintenance. The evidence reveals that a myriad of forces shaped the origins of the Canadian welfare state, but their influence varied. Socio-economic change played a mediating role by creating the social problems requiring resolution, and generating the revenues to finance innovations. The general framework of ideas and the institutional structure also exerted a mainly indirect impact, with the former defining the values and the latter guiding the behaviour of the participants. In contrast, all the active political forces played the pivotal role of interpreting the problems and deciding the timing and content of the policy decisions. Interest group power overshadowed working-class militancy as the effective societal spur, with farmers rather than businessmen qualifying as the arch opponents of the collectivist cause. Inside government, elected, not appointed, officials dominated the social policymaking process.

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