Public Policy in Canada

Issues of public policy are closely associated with issues of governmental responsibility. That is to say, that issues of public policy which fall under governmental purvey must necessarily also involve issues of governmental responsibility. On the one hand, public policy is enacted with a view toward ensuring the cohesion and sustained power of government itself; on the other hand, public policy should also be closely aligned with the preservation and maintenance of the public welfare and public good.

When issues of economics are inserted into the realm of governmental policy-making, as has been the recent case in Canadian history, the complications which arise out of the seemingly paradoxical demands of government as it pertains to public welfare, and government as it pertains to corporate or business-welfare, are considerable.

It may be suggested with conviction that roles of governmental public policy include those of producing conditions or even populations which are conducive to the maintenance of government and corporate power; however, in recent years, there has been a groundswell of enthusiasm for the idea that people, rather than governments or businesses, should be the proper focus of public policy decisions. For example, ideas of public-policy have evolved from an “emphasis on education to prepare people for their place in the state, i.

e. for their role as citizens, to an emphasis on giving individuals the tools to become more productive and independent” (Lesson 11, 2). The change in philosophical vision or in language which embraces change and places emphasis on individual, rather than corporate or collective, “happiness” is still pitted against that vision which views “the acquisition of human capital [… ] as an individual responsibility and its provision is increasingly influenced by market considerations” (Lesson 11, 5).

There is an obvious conflict between what might be viewed as a “progressive” vision of governmental influence over “market conditions” and the conservative vision of both human capital and free-enterprise which place lesser value on the individual and greater value on the corporation. In terms of Canadian public-policy, the idea of social-poverty and the governmental approach to eliminating or at least blunting the negative effects of poverty is viewed in two, contrasting ways.

The first vision includes the opinion of “realists” who argue that poverty is an endemic condition in society, and that “work and underemployment are here to stay” (Jackson, 8). Closely associated with this viewpoint is the idea that poverty is not merely an economic, but a cultural, condition: “poverty is not merely — or even primarily — an economic condition. It is also in many cases a cultural condition – it involves values [… ]

Poverty really is a question of character to a surprising extent” (Crowley, 4). The same line of reasoning which cautions not only Canadian law-makers, but Canadian citizens to recognize poverty as a complex set of challenges rather than a simple question of economic equality, results in the belief that “The state is not equipped to solve the problems that cause pathological poverty” (Crowley, 4).

To someone who is sympathetic to the idea of, say, a public-welfare policy such as wage-supplements, such a viewpoint could easily be construed as a “cop-out” adn a hypocritical one at that since the same business-oriented voices which often decry the intervention of government in issues of poverty, are the same voices which argue for the government protection of and sanction of their businesses and profits.

What may seem, then, like a very complex and multifaceted debate is in fact, complex and multifaceted; however, the debate could also be drawn simplistically in such a way as to show the opposing sides as one which views poverty as a result of worker-exploitation and which favors government action to redress the exploitative policies of business, and the other viewpoint, which views poverty as an endemic cultural and social “problem” which government is powerless to prevent or fully redress.