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New Reports--Renewing Canada's Social Architecture

Canada needs to revamp its social safety net for the 21st-century, say Canadian think tanks

A group of Canadian think tanks says many of Canada’s core social programs and policies have changed very little since they were introduced in the 1960s and no longer reflect the needs and priorities of the country. Researchers from the Mowat Centre, the Caledon Institute, the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and the Institute for Research on Public Policy have launched to release a series of research papers that look at the social architecture — the  suite of social programs and policies familiar to generations of Canadians — and offer some fresh ideas on how to introduce change and renewal.

The researchers released four papers in the series today. The main report outlines the ways our society, economy and labour markets have changed significantly in the last half century and the ways that these changes place pressure on Canada's social architecture, which was largely built in the 1960s and 1970s. Three other papers examine caregivers, housing, and skills training.

“Changing patterns in the workplace are leaving gaps in the social safety net that could not have been predicted when we last redesigned our programs,” says Noah Zon, Project Director and a Practice Lead at the Mowat Centre “When we last made major changes to our social architecture, there were fewer women in the paid workforce, and we had a labour market where someone with a high school education could get a stable well-paying job with benefits. Today we have higher rates of part time work and fewer people in jobs that deliver pensions and benefits” said Zon.

These changes have left gaps in Canada's social architecture. Only a little over one third of unemployed Canadian workers today receive Employment Insurance benefits, down from around 85 per cent as recently as 25 years ago, as requirements exclude an increasing share of workers. Fewer workers can count on defined benefit pensions and extended health benefits from their employers.

“Canada's social architecture has also failed to respond to other major social policy challenges that have emerged as significant concerns for Canadians,” says Sunil Johal, a co-author and the Policy Director of the Mowat Centre. “For example, there is very little support available for the 28 per cent of Canadians who act as caregivers for family members or friends with long-term health or disability needs. The increasing use of drugs in medical treatment presents a significant financial barrier to care for Canadians that don't have coverage.”

These various pressure points in the social architecture are explored in a series of short issue-specific reports by researchers from the partner think tanks. Each of these papers provides an introduction to the issue, looks at the drivers of change and presents some intermediate and transformative options for renewing that policy area.

View these reports online at

  • Modernizing Medicare, Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity
  • Policies in Support of Caregivers , Caledon Institute of Social Policy
  • Access to Affordable Housing, Mowat Centre
  • Employment Skills Training, Mowat Centre

The remaining reports will be released over the course of the next two months.