The Ugly Canadian: The Rise and Fall of a Caring Society – MURPHY (CSS)

MURPHY, Barbara. The Ugly Canadian: The Rise and Fall of a Caring Society. Winnipeg, Manitoba: J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc, 1999. 152p. Resenha de: CLIFTON, Rodney. Canadian Social Studies, v.35, n.1, 2000.

This book is about the historical development of social welfare programs in Canada. In Barbara Murphy’s view, social activists through a long and tortured struggle have pieced ‘the caring society’ together. The book outlines, rather briefly, the struggle that these activists have had in developing the specific programs: programs to help injured workers, widows, and orphans, old age pensioners, and the unemployed, programs for family allowances, health care, and proposed programs for national pension schemes.
In the final two chapters Barbara Murphy examines the decline in welfare support during the 1990s. These two chapters provide the insight that readers need to understand the title of the book, The Ugly Canadian. She argues that Canadians have turned ugly because the substantial support that was previously given to the increasingly pervasive social welfare programs has been slowing down, leveling off, and in some cases declining.

She derides Canadians for turning against the progressive social welfare policies that were implemented in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. In her mind, Canadians are ugly because they have lost their compassion for their fellow citizens. One could, however, turn the argument around: Canadians are, on the whole, generous and compassionate people who have provided social services to millions of needy and destitute people for many years. Social programs in Canada are better developed and financed than those in most other countries.

Grudgingly, Barbara Murphy recognizes that the expansion of these programs was built on increasing taxes and borrowing money. She does not examine the fact that in the second half of the 20th Century, governments had been taking a growing share of the national income in taxes and using a considerable amount to pay for increasingly expensive welfare programs. She does not seem to recognize that there is a limit to the amount of taxes that can be extracted from citizens.

In addition, Ms. Murphy refuses to acknowledge that the development of these programs probably adversely affected the mediating institutions (such as churches, ethnic organizations, service clubs) that previously provided support to people who were suffering. Likewise, she does not acknowledge that increasing the support for people also, in many cases, increased their dependency on the state. Finally, a telling flaw in Murphy’s argument is that her proposal is anti-democratic. Without going through the normal democratic process, she would, if she had the power, increasingly tax Canadians to finance ever-expanding social welfare programmes.

If you want to read a book by an activist who clearly, but briefly, outlines the history of social programs in Canada, this book is for you. If you want to read a well-balanced assessment of these programs, both their strengths and weaknesses, this book is not for you. If you want to have a basic understanding of the history of social welfare, albeit largely from newspaper reports and editorials, then read chapters 1 through 7. Teachers who are teaching about social welfare programs in Canada could use this book as background reading. High school students could also use it, but they would need substantial guidance in understanding how the welfare programs have expanded over the last 40 years and the costs associated with this expansion. This book is very readable, but it is also very ideological.

Rodney A. Clifton – University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.

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