Social Media

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Are efforts to engage in Aboriginal people in consultation and other political processes worth the effort given low First Nations voter turnout in federal elections?

by Greg Poelzer

This post is based on the author's recent co-authored article in Policy Options.

Three things to know about Aboriginal political participation:

  1. In the 2011 federal election, the general voter turnout was 61 percent; First Nations on reserve turn out was 44 per cent.

  2. Aboriginal MPs have held federal cabinet posts in both Liberal and Conservative governments (in 2011, there were three Aboriginal cabinet ministers), as well as Aboriginal MLAs have served as cabinet ministers in all four Western provincial governments.

  3. Aboriginal self-government, modern treaties, and court defined obligation of the Crown regarding the duty to consult with First Nations before resource development can take place means Aboriginal political engagement with provincial and federal governments will become an increasingly important issue.

Three myths about Aboriginal political life:

Myth #1: Aboriginal communities are socially dysfunctional, have limited social capital and, therefore, have weak civic society.  

Reality: This is important because civil society and social capital are strongly tied to political engagement.  However, our study of Northern Saskatchewan suggests that close to 80 percent of Aboriginal northerners shared or gave away traditional foods with community members (moose meat and berries); 40 percent reported volunteering for a band event.  These very high levels of civic activity indicate strong Aboriginal social capital.

Myth #2: Aboriginal people don’t vote and are politically apathetic.

Reality: In our study in Northern Saskatchewan, self-reported voting in Band elections was 77 per cent; 31 percent said they had attended a band council meeting; 23 percent reported contacting a government office about an issue in the past year.  These rates of political engagement are far higher than the general population.

Myth #3: Aboriginal people only support political parties on the left.

Reality: Although across Canada, Aboriginal people overall vote more for NDP and Liberals candidates, Aboriginal voters cast votes for all the major political parties and run as candidates for all the major political parties.  In the last federal election, of the seven Aboriginal elected MPs, five were Conservatives. In past parliaments, the Liberals and NDP have elected several Aboriginal MPs to their caucuses. It is worth the effort for all political parties to engage Aboriginal voters.

Greg Poelzer is Executive Chair and Founding Director of the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development and a member of the Department of Political Studies and the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan. He is the lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Northern Governance. Greg’s research focuses on northern policy and Aboriginal-state relations. His first book, Arctic Front: Defending Canada in the Far North (2008), was awarded (with his co-authors) the Donner Prize for excellence and innovation in Canadian public policy writing. His second co-authored book, with UBC Press, From Treaty Peoples to Treaty Nation: A Road Map for All Canadians, is forthcoming, Spring 2015. 

Thursday, 22 January 2015

How much do you really know about child care in Canada?

by Jennifer Robson

Three things to know about child care in Canada:

1.    Most but not all families use child care.  Among those with preschool-aged children, about 60% of families rely on some form of child care, whether a daycare centre, homecare, a nanny, a relative or other options.

2.    The Child Care Expenses Deduction lets parents deduct child care costs from their income for both federal and provincial income taxes.  The ceiling on the deduction is about to be increased by $1,000, the first increase since 1998 but still not enough to keep up with inflation.

3.    The Universal Child Care Benefit is a federal monthly taxable income benefit paid to parents with children.  It was introduced after the 2006 election, and after cancelling the 2005 federal-provincial agreements on child care. The UCCB is about to be increased by $60 per month for kids under 6.  It’s paid at a flat rate per child, regardless of family income or actual child care costs.  Based on 2011 tax data, $1 out of every $4 of UCCB goes to a parent with less than $100 a week in income but it’s almost certain these families had another primary breadwinner.

Three myths about child care in Canada:

Myth #1: There are only enough licensed child care spaces for 1 in 5 Canadian children.

Reality:  That estimate counts only centre-based spaces and leaves out licensed home care.  For children ages 1-4 years (the peak daycare years), outside Quebec, the ratio of kids to spaces is 2.9:1, not 5:1.[1]  If we believe that the 40% of families who aren’t using any child care are doing so by preference, then the ratio drops even further to 1.7:1.

Myth #2: We need federal policy to create quality, affordable child care spaces.

Reality:  Child care and early learning are areas of provincial jurisdiction.  Provincial legislation governs the licensing and regulation of child care. Provincial and/or local governments are also in charge of child care subsidies and publicly-operated child care centres.  Federal funding, through both the block Canada Social Transfer and the National Child Benefit Governance and Accountability Framework, does contribute to a range of early learning and care programs in all provinces and territories.

Myth #3: The Quebec model is a success to build on across the country.

Reality:  Quebec’s universal child care program has been found to increase maternal employment and government income tax revenues, but it hasn't improved school-readiness for children, and seems to have had some decidedly mixed impacts on other indicators of child development and parental well-being.

Jennifer Robson is an Assistant Professor at Kroeger College, Carleton University.   She teaches courses on public policy, politics and research methods. Her research interests include tax policy, household financial behavior and poverty in Canada.

[1] Author’s calculations based on Census data and data in “Public Investments in Early Childhood Education and Care in Canada 2012”, published by Employment and Social Development Canada.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

What do we mean by universal medicare coverage?

by Gregory P. Marchildon

The three factors that determine universal health coverage:

1.     The first factor is the extent of the population covered. Ideally, a universal system should include all citizens of a country or, in the case of Canada, all provincial residents.

2.     The second factor is the extent to which access is not impaired by direct costs – those user fees and other costs that are imposed at the point of delivery. Full financial coverage is commonly termed first-dollar coverage because all costs are prepaid in advance through taxes or social security contributions.

3.     The third factor is the size of the basket of health services that is universally covered, a determination that is constrained by cost and shaped by the unique historical developments. Universal coverage of health care in Canada is best described as deep (first-dollar coverage) but narrow because it is limited to hospital and medical care services which are deemed to be medically necessary.

Three myths about the universal health coverage (popularly known as medicare) in Canada:

Myth #1: “Registered Indians” as defined under the Indian Act receive medicare services from the federal government and are not defined as provincial residents for the purposes of provincial medicare programs.

The reality is that all provincial governments must provide medicare services to all Aboriginal residents including those defined as registered Indians. However, non-insured services are bifurcated such that the federal government provides coverage for non-universal health services for registered Indians.

Myth #2: Medicare in Canada has never had user fees.

The reality is that modest user fees were prevalent in a few provinces until 1984 when the federal government introduced the Canada Health Act and discouraged provincial governments from permitting user fees.

Myth #3: Provincial governments cannot opt out of the universal provision of insured services as defined under the Canada Health Act.

The reality is that any provincial government could deny universal health coverage to its residents tomorrow. While the province could lose its cash share of the Canada Health Transfer, the federal government does not have the constitutional or legal right to stop the provincial government.

Gregory P. Marchildon is former Deputy Minister to the Premier and Cabinet Secretary in the Government of Saskatchewan and Executive Director of the federal Royal Commission on the Future of Health Care in Canada. Currently, he is Canada Research Chair and Professor in the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the Universities of Regina and Saskatchewan.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Do Clerks' reports have an impact?

by Peter Ryan

In 2012, Patrice Dutil and I examined the first sixteen Clerk of the Privy Council reports in two ways, first by summarizing their main themes, and second, by subjecting the reports to automated digital humanities textual analyses. Our aim was to discern the emphases of the reports and to demonstrate how the Clerk of the Privy Council had used its power of narrative as a leadership tool.

Three things to know about the Clerk of the Privy Council:

  1. As deputy minister to the prime minister, the clerk is the first advisor to the government on both policy substance and implementation. Their annual report to the prime minister was mandated in 1990 as a part of the Public Service Employment Act.
  2. The clerk is the chief executive of the Privy Council Office, the most powerful central agency of government.
  3. The clerk is also the Secretary to Cabinet and charged with ensuring that the consensus of Cabinet is captured and conveyed to the administration that reports to her or him. For indeed, as “Head of the Public Service,” the clerk also commands the public service.

Three myths about the Clerk of the Privy Council and their annual reports:

Myth #1: The Annual Report of the Clerk of the Privy Council is an effective communications device that shows leadership.

Reality: This research demonstrated that the reports were highly repetitious, poor in rhetoric, and not likely to be engaging. The reports did have different priorities and emphases that changed slowly over time, but were often not clearly differentiated by each leader. Overall, the reports presented a clear lack of creativity in terms of their vocabulary, which was demonstrated empirically through the automated textual analysis. We concluded that the clerk’s bureaucratic writing has its own genre unto itself.  

Myth #2: The Annual Report of the Clerk of the Privy Council can be used as an indicator of what the priorities of the public service are.

Reality: If changes were occurring in the federal public service from 1991 to 2007, then one would be ill advised to turn to the first sixteen Clerk of the Privy Council Annual Reports to find them. The priorities for each report and clerk were difficult to discern using both a close reading and the automated methods. The research demonstrated that government has its own slower pace of change as compared to the private sector.  The Clerk of the Privy Council Annual Reports were demonstrated to be decontextualized from current events, missing important discussions on women’s issues, Aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, child care, health care, and even major international players like Africa, Asia, China, and India. The detachment is perhaps the most visible in that Canada’s biggest partners, the United States and the United Kingdom, were only each mentioned twice in the first sixteen reports under six different clerks.

Myth #3: The Annual Report of the Clerk of the Privy Council has fulfilled its mandate.

Reality: The report has not fulfilled its mandate in the sample examined, especially compared with similar reports coming out of comparable agencies in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Overall, our hope with this research project was to better understand how this key document of public administration is developed and used, and then offer some challenges to its present design in terms of helping to guide what the document could become. Indeed, some changes have been noted in the reports under Wayne Wouters, and future research could compare the changes made to understand how the Harper majority may be changing the federal public administration.

Dr. Peter Ryan: Peter Ryan is an instructor for the Bachelor of Communication Studies program and an instructional designer in the eLearning Office at MacEwan University, in Edmonton, Alberta.

Dr. Patrice Dutil: Patrice Dutil is a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, in Toronto, Ontario.