Sunday, October 11, 2009

The political consquences of Means tested Social policy and making early childhood education Pay off Politically

Under Martin and Chretien the Liberals abandoned universality in favor of means tested programs. This pleased Stephen Harper. "Universality has been severely reduced: it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy…These achievements are due in part to the Reform Party" Dion continued in this vein and today Michael Igantieff also does. By turning every social program on offer into a form of welfare, the ability of the Liberals to offer anything other than tax cuts is very limited. It goes without saying that means tested social programs do not win elections; the populace is not going to get excited about paying for a service that only a small percentage of the public can use. Without returning to the concept of the universality the Liberals are destined to become virtually indistinguishable from the Conservatives on all but social issues and Ignatieff seems hell bent on changing that.

Of course, the one exception to such a dispiriting turn is the Liberals early childhood proposal. However, even here there are major problems. First and foremost, it is unclear as to what the Liberals are offering. The goal of the program was ostensibly to work with the provinces to set up an early childhood education program for children under 6. However, to the average voter this amounted to little more than a vague promise to provide more daycare -- which the Liberals said early childhood education was not --- at sometime in the future; they could not figure out what this would mean for their lives. To add insult to injury, Liberals willingness to consider different deals for different provinces has muddied things all the more.

If the Liberals reintroduce such a program in the future, they need to present it in a form in which voters can understand. This is what they should do. They should promise to provide all day preschool and kindergarten for every 4 and 5 year old in Canada.


Anonymous said...

Where you a Dion supporter?

Koby said...


Why would I be?

Anonymous said...

Except that education is a provincial responsibility, and the federal gov cannot simply make policy there. They need the agreement of the provinces in order to do that. The feds can give money or tax breaks to individuals, but cannot offer any programs without having the provinces agree.

This was the problem the last time - they could provide money to the provinces, but could no tell the provinces how to spend it besides "on early child education"


Tomm said...


This post is more than a little profound. It is quite possibly a key to the foundational elements of a Liberal platform.

Create univeral programs. Don't attach any strings during the sales pitch. We all saw how reintroducing the baby bonus was a huge hit and in fact was able to easily replace, for the voting public, the urban daycare promise. People saw the Ken Dryden promise as a bloated means tested, focussed program that ultimately would never be for them. I think it's the "trust" thing. That also explains the surprising gut reaction to the beer and popcorn comment.

Anyway, your post was excellent.

Koby said...

Thanks Tomm. I really do think the Liberals need to rethink the direction they have been going and get back to what made them the big red machine not only in terms of elections but also in terms of branding.