CCPA and SFU win prestigious research grant

Project involving university and community researchers to study economic security in BC
December 9, 2003

(Vancouver) The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (BC) and Simon Fraser University are launching a five-year project that will study changes to provincial public policies that impact the economic security of British Columbians. The project, which involves an alliance of 20 academic collaborators from four BC universities and 23 community organizations, will examine how changes to policy areas such as social assistance, employment standards and community health affect economic wellbeing. In particular, the project is concerned with the impact of these changes on vulnerable populations.

The joint project is called Re-defining Public Services in British Columbia: Challenges to Economic Security & Alternative Possibilities. It will be funded primarily by a five-year research grant totaling $1 million. This prestigious grant was announced today by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) under its Community-University Research Alliance program. SSHRC is an arms-length federal agency that promotes and supports research and training in the social sciences and humanities. Its grants are awarded through a competitive peer review process.

The CCPA and SFU are undertaking the project because the scope of recent provincial policy changes has national and international relevance, and makes BC an example for the study of social policy reform and the redefinition of public services.

In addition to bringing together more than 40 academic and community partners, the project will provide training opportunities for at least 23 university students, and will result in the publication of numerous studies, both from the CCPA and in academic journals, over the next five years.

Redefining Public Services in BC

A significant transformation is underway in the delivery and governance of public services in British Columbia (BC). The government is both limiting and reorganizing its functions and capacities in ways that have the potential to adversely impact economic security. This transformation involves three interrelated processes: a reduction in the size and scope of government in the provision of social programs and regulation of labour standards; changes in the institutions responsible for delivering public services, as the provincial government's role in the direct management of programs is reduced; and changes in the rules and practices by which social programs are delivered and through which government is held accountable to the public.

Most of the changes are promoted on the grounds of increasing economic competitiveness and improving public services. The government contends its policy innovations will lead to increased employment and thus improved earnings. However, the reforms have also been criticized by both community groups and international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Labour Organization. These groups argue that the changes undermine the social safety net and threaten economic security, especially for economically vulnerable populations such as women, aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, seniors, youth, and new immigrants.

Understanding how policy reforms affect economic security is clearly of great practical importance. To the extent that restructuring has positive effects, it can serve as a model for other jurisdictions. If it has a negative impact, it will be important for policy-makers and community groups to have information that facilitates problem solving and the promotion of feasible, evidence-based alternatives. To date, however, both evidence to evaluate how current policy changes are affecting economic security in BC and theoretically informed analysis of these changes have been limited. The specific purpose of this CURA is therefore four-fold: to document and analyze the impacts of reforms on the economic security of vulnerable groups; to situate BC's government restructuring against what is happening in other jurisdictions; to develop models for the governance and delivery of public programs that effectively respond to and meet the needs of all citizens, including the most vulnerable and marginalized; and to share these findings and recommendations with policy-makers, community organizations, and academics in BC and nationally. These objectives were developed collaboratively with community groups, and the research program to be undertaken by this CURA responds directly to many of their dominant concerns in the face of dramatic policy changes.

Any broad-based project of this nature must investigate a wide range of policies and requires the synergies and range of expertise that can only come from a diverse, meaningful and viable community-university alliance. The research agenda is divided into three streams exploring economic security in relation to employment standards and barriers to labour market participation, welfare and social policy reform, and the restructuring of community-based health-care. While these are distinct policy domains, many of the reforms share an underlying logic, and they also have the potential to converge and compound effects. Numerous projects therefore cross stream boundaries to investigate the cumulative and interlocking effects of policy changes for vulnerable populations. The kinds of reforms currently underway in BC are consistent with aspects of larger Canadian and international trends, but they are also, in some cases, unprecedented in Canada. Therefore, what is happening in BC has national and international relevance. Understanding the nature of reforms in BC can contribute to larger theoretical debates about how welfare states are currently being reshaped and inform policy development and evaluation in ways that will benefit communities, policy-makers, and academics, and contribute to the training of a new generation of researchers.

Community-University Research Alliance
Re-defining Public Services in British Columbia: Challenges to Economic Security & Alternative Possibilities

Project Team

Lead Organizations:

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - BC Office & Simon Fraser University

Co-Directors and Principal Investigators:

Marjorie Griffin Cohen (Women's Studies and Political Science, SFU) & Seth Klein (CCPA-BC)

Academic and Community Co-investigators:

Fay Blaney (Aboriginal Women's Action Network); Gwen Brodsky (Poverty and Human Rights Project); Paul Bowles (Economics, UNBC); Shauna Butterwick (Education, UBC); Marcy Cohen (Hospital Employees' Union); Daniel Cohn (Political Science, SFU); Cecilia Diocson (Philippine Women's Centre of BC); David Fairey (Trade Union Research Bureau); Colleen Fuller (REACH Health Clinic); Sylvia Fuller (CCPA-BC); Michael Goldberg (Social Planning and Research Council of BC); David Green (Economics, UBC); Olena Hankivsky (Women's Studies, SFU); Steve Kerstetter (First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition); Fiona MacPhail (Economics, UNBC); Stephen McBride (Political Science, SFU); Margaret McGregor (Medicine, UBC and Mid Main Health Clinic); Arlene McLaren (Sociology, SFU); Lesley Moore (End Legislated Poverty); Marina Morrow (Women's Studies, UBC); Aleck Ostry (Health Care and Epidemiology, UBC); Jane Pulkingham (Sociology, SFU); Marge Reitsma-Street (Human and Social Development, UVIC); Graham Riches (Social Work, UBC); Bruce Wallace (Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group); Margot Young (Law, UBC); and Habiba Zaman (Women's Studies, SFU).

Academic and Community Advisors:

Mike Dumler (Canadian Union of Public Employees); Tom Durning (Tenants Rights Action Coalition); Dodie Goldney (BC Coalition of Women's Centres); Susan Harney (Coalition of Childcare Advocates of BC); Michael Hayes (Geography, SFU); Terrie Hendrickson (BC Health Coalition); Clyde Hertzman (Health Care and Epidemiology, UBC); Joyce Jones (BC Seniors' Network); Kim McGrail (Health Services and Policy Research, UBC); Tom McGregor (BC Coalition of People with Disabilities); Glen McInnis (BC Federation of Labour); Alex Michalos (UNBC & Prince George Community Planning Council); Eyob Naizghi (MOSAIC & Working Group on Poverty); John Restakis (Canadian Cooperative Association, BC Region); Mary Rowles (BC Government and Services Employees' Union); Patricia Weir (BC Nurses' Union).

University Partners:

Simon Fraser University (Women's Studies, Political Science, Sociology & Anthropology)
University of British Columbia (Economics, Health Care and Epidemiology, Health Services and Policy Research, Law, Medicine)
University of Northern BC (Economics)
University of Victoria (Human and Social Development)

Community Partner Organizations:

Aboriginal Women's Action Network BC Coalition of People with Disabilities
BC Coalition of Women's Centres
BC Federation of Labour
BC Government and Services Employees' Union
BC Health Coalition
BC Nurses' Union
Canadian Cooperative Association BC Region
Canadian Union of Public Employees - BC Division
Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC
Community Planning Council of Prince George
End Legislated Poverty
First Call: BC Child & Youth Advocacy Coalition
Hospital Employees' Union
Philippine Women Centre
Reach Community Health Centre
Seniors Network BC
Social Planning and Research Council of BC
Tenants Rights Action Coalition
The Poverty and Human Rights Project
Trade Union Research Bureau
Vancouver Island Public Interest Research Group
Working Group on Poverty