In December 2017, the Quebec government released the Government Action Plan to Foster Economic Inclusion and Social Participation, (1) its third action plan as provided for by the 2002 Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion. This plan was presented as a first step toward a guaranteed minimum income as promised by the Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity, Francois Blais. (2) It represents the first significant investment in welfare benefits and the fight against poverty since the adoption of the 2002 law, except for the improvement in child benefits adopted in 2004.
As I write, Bill 173, which would implement the part of the Plan that increases benefits for people with severe employment constraints, is being debated in the National Assembly. Under Bill 173, there will be a "guaranteed minimum income" of $18,029 (2017 dollars) by 2023 for a single person who has a severely limited capacity for employment and has received social solidarity benefits for five and a half of the last six years. According to the government, this corresponds to the market basket measure (MBM) of low income established by Statistics Canada. (3) The guaranteed minimum income is expected to reach 84,000 individuals by 2023, of whom 93.2 per cent are single and most of the rest belong to couples without children. Disposable income for a couple where both members have limited capacity will increase from $18,912 to $26,400. Women represent 46.2 per cent of potential beneficiaries and men 53.8 per cent.
The Action Plan includes 43 measures in all and will cost nearly $3 billion over the next six years. Beneficiaries of the last-resort financial assistance program (people who have no employment constraints or only temporary constraints) will receive an increase of $540 a year by 2021. Those people who have severe employment limits but who don't meet the criterion of having received social solidarity benefits for five and a half years will get an increase of $1,236 by 2021. Beginning in February 2018, benefits were increased by $73 a month for people with severe limits and by $15 a month for other beneficiaries. (4) Since federal and Quebec child benefits are considered sufficient to cover the needs of children, single parents get the same welfare benefits as individuals without children and couples receive the same amount whether or not they have children (see box p.54).
Other significant measures proposed in the Action Plan include $242.7 million for more social housing, $105.6 million for better access to child care and prekindergarten classes for four-year-olds, and additional money for local and regional governments and community groups working to combat poverty.
This article is the first of two parts. Here I look in detail at the evolution of antipoverty policy in Quebec up to the current and future stages of the Action Plan. In Part 2, to be published in the Winter/Spring 2019 issue of Inroads, I focus on complementary measures designed to encourage labour force participation and compare these policies with those of other provinces. I will also update the discussion of future stages of the plan in light of the results of the October 1 Quebec election
The evolution of social security in Canada
Since the beginning of public support to the indigent in 16th-century Europe, policymakers and charitable groups have distinguished between those who are "deserving" and those who are not. (5) To a large extent, this distinction has to do with whether people, initially men for the most part, are able to work. The first public welfare plans were targeted to people presumed unable to work: the blind, the disabled, war veterans, victims of industrial accidents and, beginning in 1927, the elderly. Allowances for Needy Mothers - single mothers or those with disabled husbands - were first instituted in 1920 in British Columbia, but not until 1937 in Quebec. In contrast to men, single mothers had to produce a certificate of morality, generally from their parish priest, to be considered "deserving"; unmarried mothers and widows with a bad reputation were not eligible, and divorce was nonexistent.
As early as 1909 in Quebec and 1914 in Ontario, workers' compensation plans were adopted, in large part to protect employers from expensive litigation following industrial accidents. For workers, these insurance plans meant they no longer had to prove that they were not responsible for the accident.
During the Great Depression, massive unemployment led municipalities, with some support from provincial governments, to provide direct support to able-bodied men and their families. After a failed attempt in 1935, a 1940 constitutional amendment gave the federal government the specific right to establish an unemployment insurance...