Social Policy and Practice in Canada is a history book, which deals with the birth and the evolution of the Welfare State in Canada since pre-confederation times. It aims at narrating but also analyzing the social policy, defined as a set of non-market decisions, public and private, that determine the distribution of wealth to individuals and families and the degree of availability of human services to all members of society (page 3) . The author, Alvin Finkel, is an historian. He is the author of several books and articles, notably about Canadian Labour and Welfare State. In this book, he presents and explains the slow development of Welfare State in Canada from the aboriginal occupation to today. The main tackled theme is the shift in people's expectations concerning government intervention and its impact on the role of the state.
[...] The social system of the Natives appears as very efficient and generous: “this wild man who first welcomed the newcomer is the only perfect socialist or communist in the world” (page 18). Then is the time of New France, which basically copies the French model of that time, the feudal system. The families are expected to provide the necessary “care for the infirm and the destitute among their relatives” (page 27). The Church also plays a significant role, notably for education and health. [...]
[...] There were in charge of the charitable undertakings before the Welfare State and later, there were the centre of different social debates (notably concerning Child Care, family allowances And if eventually social programmes have favoured the status of women, it was definitely not the aim as we can see with family allowances: government hoped to restrain the wage demands of male breadwinners, it also hoped to create a monopoly for men over most jobs in the labour force” (page 131). [...]
[...] As a whole, Social Policy and Practice in Canada remains a very rich book. The author is pretty successful in showing the huge impact of social policy on the Canadian society. He makes the history of Welfare State very clear. The choice of the picture on the cover is very relevant. It perfectly illustrates one of the main messages of the book: at the beginning of the welfare state, a financial aid from the government was not something obvious and poor people did not want to rely on it. [...]
[...] The historian makes the link between access to social policy and race: “race played an important role in determining who received services from both private and state sources” (page 57). Here, not only the Natives are concerned but basically all the “visible” minorities, and notably black people. Of course, Alvin Finkel adds a class analysis of social policy. He could not avoid writing about class in such a book and his analysis is very pertinent. First, we can note that people who needed the most were not systematically the ones who benefited the most from social programmes. [...]
[...] The author also highlights a big problem in social policies, which is that people who make them are not people who need them, and it explains why they are not always appropriate and efficient. The first part of the book, which is chronological, is very interesting because we can fully measure the huge difference of mentality concerning social policy in different time periods. The Western reader can make a new point of view on the aboriginal society, which was, in the domain of social policy, much more advanced than the colonial society. [...]
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