Triage: Three Canadian reports worth reading

In a week filled with reports just released and materials just discovered, the task of choosing just three for weekend reading was especially challenging.  (Those not covered here will likely find themselves in future entries.)  However, there are three rich reports for your reading pleasure.

The first is the recent summary of the 13th annual benchmarking report by the Conference Board of Canada, ranking Canada’s socio-economic performance against that of peer countries. Entitled How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada, the report assesses Canada on several dimensions: economy, innovation, environment, education and skills, health, and society. [Note: You will have to register for free access to this document.]

The report shows that the United Kingdom has moved from 16th out of 17 countries in terms of child poverty rates; by 2009, it had moved to 9th place,  the same position Canada holds on overall social performance.  However, the report also shows that inequality and poverty rates have increased in Canada from 1995 to 2005; in fact, the Conference Board reports that poverty among children, working age adults and seniors rose in that period, by approximately three percentage points in each case.

The fullest details of this report are available on-line, with analysis on each theme released as it becomes available.

The second recommended report is the from the Quality of Life surveys conducted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the organization representing local governments and the cities they represent in the federal policy arena. Known for its emphasis on local fiscal capacity, physical infrastructure, urban safety and recently housing, this year the organization has issued a report entitled Mending Canada’s frayed social safety net: The role of municipal governments.

From the President’s opening message, the findings of the report are clear:

“As Canada slowly recovers from the recent recession and governments contemplate balancing their budgets, this report makes clear the human cost of allowing the traditional social safety net to fray while ignoring the growing demands on our cities’ social infrastructure.

From their position on the front line, municipal governments cannot turn away from need in their communities. Other governments have a choice: to retreat still further, exacerbating current trends, or acknowledge that all governments must share in helping Canadians and their communities through difficult times. Much depends on their choices.”

Like the Conference Board report’s assessment of the most significant social problem as poverty, the FCM report identifies  growing populations among vulnerable groups, persistent poverty even during the previous period of economic growth, and what it calls the “erosion of traditional social policy tools”, to result in fraying social safety net facing increasing demands on limited municipal resources. The report, again like the Conference Board report, points to increasing poverty and inequality in Canada, especially in comparison to other OECD members.  The charts comparing urban communities to each other, while showing changes over time within cities, demonstrate that while the percentage of families receiving social assistance has declined in most cities from 2000 to 2005, the percentage of working poor families has increased, suggesting that poverty hasn’t changed; only the source of low incomes has shifted.  The charts also demonstrate that with the notable exceptions of Regina, Saskatoon and Halifax, welfare incomes as a percentage of income needed to meet basic needs have declined from 2000 to 2005.

Other charts provide dramatic visual representations of the disproportionate disadvantage (poverty, unemployment, and so on) faced by particular groups in virtually every city in Canada, notably recent immigrants, people with disabilities and Aboriginal peoples.

A second major section of the report considers municipal social infrastructure, including social housing, emergency shelters, public transit, child care, and recreation services, again demonstrating the inability for these services to keep pace with rising demand.

Finally, the third recommended read is of a different nature, and comes from the Preston Manning Centre, a source of research and training materials explicitly focused on conservative approaches and solutions in public policy.  Entitled the Manning Centre Barometer, it is described as “an annual look at Canadians’ attitudes towards values and policies generally ascribed to Conservatives.”

A 56-slide presentation earlier this month was divided into three parts: perception of Canadians of values “typically associated with conservatives;” perceptions of specific conservative policies; and how “the political centre is becoming more conservative and the potential fault lines associated with this shift.”

In the first part, support for values ranged from 89% strongly agreeing that nothing is more important than family, to 8% strongly agreeing that people who are poor have no-one to blame but themselves.

Some of the results were very close: for example, according to this presentation, 44% of respondents thought the government should play a minor role in “reducing differences in income levels between those with high and low earnings,” 38% thought government should play a major role, and only 18% though government should play no role.  In a later slide, this is summarized as “most do not want government to do more to reduce income inequality.”

At the same time, almost 85% of respondents thought government should play a major role in managing the economy, and only 1% thought it should play no role at all.

The presentation identified the centre as the most popular position on the political scale and proceeds to compare centrists and conservatives with some interesting observations under the heading of “commonalities”: 51% of centrists and 58% of conservatives think government should have a major role in promoting/preserving Canada’s official languages; while 84% of centrists and 63% of conservatives agree that Canada’s health care system should not include private hospitals. Also, 80% of centrists and 72% of conservatives agree that government should do more to support embryonic stem cell research.

While many of the findings were surprising to me, readers may find others not cited here as most interesting.  Please leave comments on this one!

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