Thursday, May 31, 2012

Liberal Values in Quebec

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In Claude Ryan’s manifesto, Liberal Values in Contemporary Quebec, he describes concerns and progress through the years of the Quebec liberal government. Ryan outlines ways in which they have addressed (or, very infrequently, plan to address) these issues in his essay. Explored here will be two of the central contexts of social welfare�feminism and an aging population ( as illustrated in Armitage’s Social Welfare in Canada ) and how they are reflected, attended to, and cause conflict in Ryan’s views of Liberal values in modern day Quebec.

In a dissertation dissecting a paper on liberal values and social welfare, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what constitutes a feminist issue. All fundamental problems in society, one might argue, are gendered and deal with oppression and therefore fall under the umbrella of feminist issues. Ryan does, however, seems to be appealing to the feminist readers when he discusses in his essay the increased amount of women in universities, citing free primary and secondary education as well as subsidized tuition and access to financial assistance as the main reasons why (6). He also stresses the rights enjoyed by women, stating that the “Liberal Party was the principal architect of the changes which led to the recognition of the equality of men and women” (). Ryan goes on to describe women’s suffrage, the current laws making men and women equal partners in marriage as well as the recognition of same-sex civil unions, all laws serving to protect women’s rights in society. The author also credits the Quebec Liberal party for adopting the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which protects citizens from discrimination based on sex, age, race, etc. which benefits all people in society, particularly those at risk of marginalization like women and the elderly (). He also stresses the right of every individual to “ health services, free….education, to help from the government when an individual is in dire need,….to various assistance measures for housing, to a guaranteed pension for seniors...”(6)

Providing affordable housing for low-income families, or income supplements to those whose rents were higher than average, are measures the government in Quebec has taken to assure that disadvantaged people have access to housing. However, Ryan states that “the principal provides of housing facilities should be in the private sector” (7). While Ryan states that public housing increases the divide between privileged and underprivileged people, history has shown that any measure at privatization in social services with regard to housing is detrimental to those in true need. Landlords in this system may discriminate against tenants in need, such as seniors and single parents.

Ryan also addresses the needs of women and those of the elderly when he discusses the support of the government for income security programs. For the elderly, Ryan points to the Quebec Pension Plan as the main source of financial assistance to seniors. He notes that each worker contributes to the Plan in their lifetime and thus receives income support post-retirement. (7) He doesn’t discuss though the effect on the QPP of the increasing size of the retired population due to the aging baby boomers, and whether or not the government program will be able to support them all, and further, whether it will be able to support future generations of retirees. Ryan also fails to question the bias against women of a system that compensates workers according to number of years in the workforce ( proportional to the amount paid into the QPP), neglecting to account for women who must leave paid labour positions to raise children. How will women who take time out of the paid workforce be fairly compensated?

Ryan delves at length to government income security program for underprivileged individuals and families. He claims that the current government, through reform of this program, has achieved two goals. First, that the Liberal Government has increased the benefits received by needy families. Second, that disadvantaged families including children too young for school have received special attention increased payments, which would be of particular interest to single mothers. (7) Ryan goes to state that the Liberal government has “…cut off many beneficiaries who were not eligible for financial assistance…” (7). It is difficult to see by this statement whether these reforms have truly benefited the public after all, when he is vague about the reformed qualifications for receiving income assistance in the first place. Perhaps these stricter qualifications also serve to discriminate against the very populations that the reforms claim to assist. Further, Ryan does not discuss how the elderly receiving an insufficient pension might be assisted through the income supplement program.

The maintenance of the population in Quebec is a serious problem. Birth rates are low, and with the increasing number of elderly and deceased among the baby boomer era, the province must encourage family growth and immigration if it hopes to maintain the current population. Ryan points to several initiatives of the Liberal government that aim to achieve this end. Examples include providing tax breaks, financial support and birth allowances to families with young children, aiming to increase the resident population, and providing a welcoming environment to immigrants without whom the population would be decreasing each year. By subsidizing day care, the province hopes to ease the financial burden on families, thus encouraging growth.

Very few solutions to social problems are proposed Ryan’s manifesto. Overall, the author is trying to applaud the Liberal government for it’s achievements thus far, ignoring the fact that many of the target population for these programs are falling through the cracks. He fails to propose how our healthcare system will adapt to serve the needs of the growing aging population, among many things. One suggestion he does make, however, that is very intriguing is that the Liberal government adopt elements of proportional representation to better reflect the population and diversity in the National Assembly (Ryan, 11). Proportional representation systems often increase the number of women and minorities to a given body, thereby serving to give them voice in government (Sodaro, 10).

There are many conflicts between ideals represented in Ryan’s Liberal Values in Contemporary Quebec and the context in which the government must act; the most prominent of these is the clash between the need to place more funding into public social services and the government and public resistance to increased taxation. Ryan writes of the reforms instituted during the Bouchard and Landry governments

The reduction of the assistance given to welfare recipients who were unable to join the work force, the savage deinstitutionalization of patients in psychiatric hospitals, the deterioration of services offered for students with learning difficulties in our schools�these are some of the measures whose negative effects will be felt well into the future. (7)

While Ryan condemns these program cuts of previous governments, he makes no indication that any attempts are being made to repair the damage. He also discusses cuts that the Liberal government has made and points out that “the sectors of education and healthcare received special consideration”.(1) While this may be true, it’s obvious by the wording of this statement that cuts were indeed made to core social services. When we reflect on rising prices and cost of living, even maintaining the budget for social services at this point is depriving those in need of the care they deserve. Money that should be flowing into these programs has only two sources in Ryan’s opinion�“ taxation and borrowing “ (1). He also states that “taxation has reached the saturation point”(1) yet suggests no practical solution to finding funding, preferring to instead praise the Liberal party for it’s so called program support and pointing out the difficulties with solutions proposed by other parties.

Claude Ryan’s essay, Liberal Values in Contemporary Quebec outlines ways in which the Quebec Liberal Party has used liberal values to steer their policy making and budgetary focus. While the Liberal Party may have an impressive record for creating laws and programs to support the most vulnerable portion of the population, there is little being done now to allow these same programs to evolve and adapt to fit the contexts of social welfare outlined here, feminism and an aging core population. Perhaps instead of researching the past and applauding achievements made then and there, it would have been more useful of Ryan to focus his propaganda on the future of the Liberal Party and their vision of social welfare as it applies to today’s and future generations of voters.

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