3 page Canadian Social Policy Essay Paper

Canadian Social Policy

The title of the article by Gerard Boismenu and Peter Graefe provides a strong hint as to the intended message and impact of this piece. “Tool Belt” reads like something is being forced into position rather than by legislative cooperation, or that something needs mechanical manipulation; and “Attempts to Rebuild Social Policy Leadership,” suggest that there is no current leadership (Boismenu, et al., 2004, p. 71). In addition, a phrase in the first sentence offers the reader the sense that this paper is going to take the Canadian government to task: “unilateral action” in reference to any government policy reads as arbitrary, undemocratic, and is not what parliamentary leadership is supposed to be about.

And as the reader continues through this scholarly piece, the initial clues become strongly worded (yet for the most part quasi-diplomatic) narrative in opposition to government policies. The salient arguments that Boismenu and colleague are very effective at making — specifically related to health policy, child policy, and employment issues — is that the federal government: a) is not cooperative with provinces; rather, it is “regularly circumventing” provinces; b) systems that were effective in the past in terms of government / province relationships are “unusable”; c) the federal government has cut back its funding for health, education and other needs from 25% (in the 1980s) to about 15%, hence the government’s actions reflect a “retreat from leadership” (Boismenu, 73).

Strengths: There clearly are strengths within the strategy put forward by Boismenu and Graefe in this narrative. Rather than simply attacking the federal government for failing to involve the provinces in matters that pertain to the funding of health, children’s issues and employment, the authors point out that institutions were created at the federal level to create a more cooperative and collaborative relationship, but those institutions are being bypassed, tossed in the trash, or reinvented with bias against provinces. The 1999 Social Union Framework Agreement (SUFA), for example, was a “capstone” because it was an agreement that supposedly required the federal government to consult with — and gain the “consent of” — the six provinces prior to using spending authority in any nation-wide format (Boismenu, 74). However, the collaborative system of SUFA has been shot down due to the federal government’s “unilateral reflex” and this leaves the provinces without the cooperation they expected or the funding they need (Boismenu, 74).

Another strength of this article is its narrative style; nowhere will a reader discover the word “arrogant” or “indifferent” albeit that is obviously the behavioral path the federal government is following. Boismenu and Graefe tell it like it is on page 75; notwithstanding the noise from the “provincial outcry” the truth — from those backing federal unilateralism — is that the provinces are too weak-kneed (and lacking in legitimacy) to challenge the federal government’s leverage.

When on page 76 the authors accuse the federal government of using unilateral, undemocratic action as both a tool for putting pressure on the provinces and as a way to “legitimize” its claim to leadership, that is a powerful argument, well presented. Asserting that government uses the tool of undemocratic administration (unilateralism) to prove it’s power, leadership and authority is presenting harsh condemnation through the use of literarily amiable narrative. That style helps make this article potent. Instead of narratively screaming “Unfair!” Or “Corrupt!” Or “Arrogant!” from the sidelines, the authors use a velvet hammer. To use Franklin D. Roosevelt’s phrase, the authors are speaking softly but their message carries a big stick.

Throughout the article, the authors embrace the concept of “tools” — as was foreshadowed in the article’s headline — and in every case, it is the federal government using tools like hammers to pound out its message of authority and control. There are too many “tool” allusions to mention in this paper, but two classic tools are presented on pages 77-78. The first mentioned is the tool of paperwork, basically of big brother’s bureaucratic harassment: provinces will receive some monies but they may only spend federal funds in “certain broad envelopes” and must report on every dime spent in order to justify receiving the resources. The second tool on page 77-78 is the federal government’s investment in “specialized” institutes and foundations (think tanks poised to make the government look good) that are expected to come up with expertise on which specific policies should be pursued (Boismenu, 77).

By establishing think tanks that are essentially extensions of the government, purportedly fresh ideas and scientific theories can be produced in order to justify and extend the current administration’s policies and philosophies. The specialists in these institutions are then “knowledge producers” and the government can say it is listening to experts — and who knows how to run things and solve problems than experts? Certainly outside experts know better than politicians, or so the argument goes. Again, the authors are editorially professional in their description of this new tool for controlling the agenda. They insist that the think tanks are designed not to set up needed programs, but rather to deflect federal-provincial “interactions” into new fields that are totally under the control of the federal government (78).

In every field alluded to in this paper, children’s issues, health and labor, the federal government’s polices — notwithstanding the authors’ care in description and tone — are presented as pushy and condescending. In terms of leadership vis-a-vis labor issues, the answer is no, the feds will not provide more funding for job training; but yes, the feds will transfer existing federal monies over to provinces for their own provincial job training. There’s just one catch: the feds will have planning and oversight authority (Boismenu, 84). Big brother will be in charge.

As to strengths of this piece, Boismenu / Graefe offer as many narrative strengths as the federal government of Canada has weaknesses when it comes to collaboration and cooperation with the provinces. The purpose of the article was to provide specific examples with reference to needs of the people juxtaposed with the out-of-balance relationship between the provinces and the federal government. Clearly the power in Canada is not in the hands of the people and provinces. As Boismenu / Graefe poignantly observe on page 84, when it comes to sharing funds with provinces for job training, the feds were willing to “steer” the boat while the provinces “rowed.”

Works Cited

Boismenu, Gerard, and Graefe, Peter. (2004). The New Federal Tool Belt: Attempts to Rebuild

Social Policy Leadership. Canadian Public Policy, XXX (1), 71-86.

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