Are Low-Income Savers Still in the Lurch? TFSAs at 10 Years

The introduction of Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs) in 2009 transformed how Canadians save. One of the main reasons for creating TFSAs was to provide a tax-assisted savings instrument for low-income Canadians to enable them to improve their retirement income. Now, 10 years later, many low-income savers are still not using TFSAs in ways that would allow them to benefit fully from the government transfer programs intended for them in retirement, such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement. Consequently, intended benefits from TFSAs are going untapped. Improving public education and financial literacy may be part of the solution to this problem, but built-in policy nudges and tax adjustments will be more effective.

Moving Toward a New and Improved Senate

The Senate of Canada has changed significantly as a result of the 2014 decision by Justin Trudeau, then leader of the Liberal party, to remove Liberal senators from the parliamentary caucus; and by his introduction, as prime minister, of a new procedure for the selection of senators. The Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments now proposes candidates from pools of interested Canadians who have applied. Almost all those appointed since March 2016 have joined the Independent Senators Group (ISG), which now has 58 members in the 105-seat second chamber.

The Senate has not been completely transformed, but enough change has occurred to allow us to contrast what author Paul Thomas refers to as the “old, partisan, government-controlled” Senate with a “new, non-partisan, independent Senate.” When it was a highly partisan body composed almost entirely of Liberal and Conservative senators, the Senate was constrained in the performance of its three main constitutional roles of representing regions, providing sober second thought on bills and upholding the rights of minorities. The “new” Senate has demonstrated a greater willingness to propose amendments to government legislation, but so far has stopped short of an actual veto. Whether intended or not, the Trudeau changes have meant that the Senate has become a curb on prime ministerial power and the use of majority power in the House of Commons.

Although the ISG has become the dominant presence in the Senate, it is not a caucus that takes direction from the government. The traditional clash between organized government and opposition sides has waned but not disappeared entirely because Conservative senators continue to act as an opposition. In addition, spontaneous coalitions in opposition to elements of certain government bills have emerged within the ISG.

The new Senate operates on the basis of a dispersed, horizontal and shared form of leadership that depends on “soft power” techniques such as consultation, persuasion and negotiation. The leadership skills of the Government Representative and his two deputies have become key to advancing Senate business. Senate rules, procedures and resource allocations have been gradually modified to reflect the new realities. As a result, a new institutional culture that is more collegial and constructive than the often-adversarial culture of the past is developing.

Thomas concludes that further changes are needed to carry forward the present renewal. These include the establishment of a business committee to plan and organize the work of the Senate and the development of a set of criteria, perhaps enshrined in the Senate’s rules, to guide it in determining whether to delay, amend or defeat a government bill.

Improving Advance Medical Directives: Lessons from Quebec

Policies for end-of-life care in Canada are changing and will come under greater scrutiny as aging baby boomers confront these issues. One complex question is how to ensure individuals wishes, values and beliefs are truly reflected in advance medical directives (AMDs) or other types of advance care planning.

There are significant benefits to using AMD regimes to register individuals’ preferences with respect to the health care they want to receive (or not) should they become incapacitated.  People often have strong views about end-of-life care and about whom they would like to have speaking or making decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so. Yet those who do not articulate these wishes to health care professionals, family, friends and caregivers in advance may end up receiving unwanted procedures, and having their loved ones subjected to stressful conflict in a time of crisis.

In 2015, Quebec made significant changes to its AMD regime: it created a process that allows Quebecers aged 18 and older to state on a pre-established form their wishes about accepting or refusing specific medical interventions if they ever become incapable of giving consent. The scope of AMDs is limited to five types of interventions in specific clinical situations – cardiopulmonary resuscitation, ventilator-assisted respiration, dialysis, force-feeding and hydration and artificial feeding and hydration – near the end of life or in cases of severe, irreversible loss of cognitive functions. This process is different than the one also available to Quebecers who wish to delegate end-of-life choices to a proxy decision-maker through a document called a protection mandate — although, in the case of the five treatments specified in the AMDs, the AMDs take precedence over any instructions expressed in a protection mandate.

The questionnaire reduces advance medical care decisions to an apparently simple set of choices. But providing consent in advance is complex because medical practice traditionally relies on “informed consent,” which means that patients should be fully informed of the risks and benefits of proposed care in their given circumstances before they authorize or refuse a medical intervention. With AMDs, however, not all the information relevant to the decision is at hand at the time when the directives are signed.

Moreover, under Quebec’s AMD regime the onus to be properly informed is entirely on the individuals completing the form. They are responsible for getting any additional information they might need to understand the full implications of the options available and to make informed medical decisions. There is no requirement that such decisions be informed or guided by health care professionals, nor does the system automatically provide the resources people require to understand the options, alternatives and consequences of care choices they are about to make.

Fundamentally, people should be given the opportunity to state, in an explicit and meaningful way, their preferences relating to end-of-life care in general. This entails allowing people to express the values and interests that give meaning to their life and the circumstances that would justify putting an end to it. For some, physical pain and suffering could be the most important impediment to their well-being; for others, the lack of intellectual capacity or engagement would be decisive. Form-based AMDs that do not provide this additional information may result in care decisions that run contrary to an individual’s preferences.

AMD forms may fail to capture individuals’ life circumstances and values, thus limiting the range of options available to them, their family members and care providers. A regime that allows or even requires deeper and broader discussion of the various concerns and constraints that influence individuals’ choices can ensure that they get the consideration they deserve. Recent studies show that ongoing, meaningful communication between patients and physicians is central to ensuring the integrity and validity of the directives, even though such a process can be a challenge to put in place.

Sometimes, when patients are no longer competent to have this discussion, it can be useful to rely on family members or substitute decision-makers to get insights on the patients’ values and life history or any changes in their wishes. However, once a patient has a signed and registered AMD form, the Quebec legal regime simply assumes that the care choices on the form remain valid. This leaves very little flexibility for family members who have a different understanding of a patient’s wishes. British Columbia, in contrast, provides a greater role for a proxy decision-maker even with an AMD in place.

Quebec’s AMD regime for end-of-life care decisions has some key shortcomings. It relies too much on individuals to do their own research; the process is more or less limited to signing a form; and it does not allow room for people to express what they value. These issues are of great consequence, and they need to be addressed to maintain public support for these regimes and to prepare patients, families and health professionals for the end-of-life decisions they may have to face.

What to do?

Quebec must incorporate a broader, more values-based and more collaborative approach in its AMD process so that people can more meaningfully express their wishes and preferences for end-of-life care. The information recently added to the Government of Quebec’s DMA-related site (including the short section inviting reflection on values) is a small, but insufficient step in the right direction. People who wish to fill out AMD forms should first discuss the options with a doctor or other medical professional who can provide important information. As part of a comprehensive AMD regime, these discussions could consist of clear, simple, plain-language interactive computer tools that can assess individuals’ comprehension and guide them through the process; telephone support provided by physicians; or face-to-face meetings.

An improved AMD process should also leave room for broader, more flexible expression of personal wishes (for instance, the possibility of being kept alive artificially, for a limited period of time, to provide family members more time at the patient’s bedside). It could also allow the integration of a proxy decision-maker for some decisions related to AMDs.

Renewal of the Canadian Senate: Where to from Here?

In November 2015, the government led by Justin Trudeau announced a new, nonpartisan process to select candidates for Senate appointments. Most of the senators appointed since March 2016 under the new process have joined the Independent Senators Group, and by mid-2018 the group held almost half the Senate’s seats. To take stock of these developments and related internal changes, the Institute for Research on Public Policy convened a round table in Ottawa on September 27, 2018. This report summarizes the presentations and discussion at that event.

According to participants’ comments, there was general support for the claim that the Senate is performing its legislative review function even more effectively than in the past. This is reflected in more sustained interaction with the House of Commons, ministers and senior departmental officials. Some concerns were expressed about the large increase since 2015 in the number of registered communications between lobbyists and senators. It was observed that despite proposing more amendments to government bills than previously, the renewed Senate is generally respecting the principle of deference to the House of Commons. Participants commented favourably on the degree to which recent Senate appointments have reflected Canada’s diversity, but they were less certain that regional representation has improved. There was a general sense that while the current renewal of the Senate represents progress, further changes are needed — particularly to reflect the move toward a second chamber organized much less along party lines than in the past. However, no one called for a return to intergovernmental negotiations on constitutional reform of the Senate.

Indigenous Self-Determination in Northern Canada and Norway

Over the last several decades, two circumpolar Indigenous peoples — the Canadian Inuit and the Norwegian Sámi — have made great strides in developing innovative governance regimes to foster greater Indigenous self-determination within their respective states. Their experience, say authors Gary N. Wilson and Per Selle, highlights two different yet complementary dimensions of Indigenous self-­determination: self-rule and shared rule. Self-rule is the notion that Indigenous communities should exercise some degree of autonomy over policy decisions at the regional and local levels. Shared rule is the idea that communities should be connected with other, non-Indigenous governments so they can influence decisions that affect them.

The Canadian part of this study reviews developments in four Inuit regions: the territory of Nunavut, the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories, Nunavik in northern Quebec and Nunatsiavut in northern Labrador. Since the 1970s the Inuit in these regions have focused on building institutions of self-rule within the context of a federal system of government, by negotiating land claims agreements and by creating regional governance institutions with varying degrees of jurisdictional authority.

In contrast, the Norwegian Sámi have made considerable progress in developing non-territory-based, shared-rule institutions at the national level, within a unitary system of government. In particular, they established a national Indigenous parliament, the Sámediggi, which represents the Sámi from all parts of the country, provides limi­ted jurisdictional authority in areas such as language, culture and education, and has close links with departments of the Norwegian government.

In recent years, both Indigenous groups have made progress toward creating a better balance between self-rule and shared rule. In Canada, an example is the creation of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, which brings together Inuit leaders and senior Canadian government representatives. A Norwegian example is the establishment of the Finnmark Estate, a land management body whose board is composed of three representatives from the Sámediggi and three from the Finnmark County Council in northern Norway.

Despite the progress in both countries, there is still work to do to. For the Inuit, this means continuing to develop regional governance institutions and creating new structures enabling Inuit representatives to interact with and influence the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The Sámi need to work toward greater regional self-rule as a complement to the institutions of shared rule at the national level.

Although the Inuit and the Sámi continue to face inertia and resistance to change from non-Indigenous governments at all levels, continuing the development of robust and effective institutions of self-rule and shared rule is critical to the success of Indigenous self-determination in Canada and in Norway.

A Digital Strategy for Canada

Canada’s future competitiveness and growth prospects are inextricably linked to our ability to seize the opportunities created by the rapidly evolving digital economy. Ottawa’s innovation agenda should be extended to pursue a broader digital policy strategy focused on three main goals: (1) promoting the rapid adoption and diffusion of digital technologies across all sectors of the economy; (2) assisting companies that have demonstrated commercial potential to grow to a global scale; and (3) promoting the creation of businesses capable of developing disruptive technologies. Ultimately, given the pace of change and the complexity of the challenges involved, the most effective way for governments to respond is through continuous innovation in their policy and regulatory frameworks.

A National Urban Policy for Canada? The Implicit Federal Agenda

Canadian cities are recognized for their quality of life, but this has been achieved without an explicit national urban policy — in part because municipalities are under provincial jurisdiction. Yet since the 2015 election, the federal government has launched several programs that play out in Canada’s biggest cities. The largest, the Trudeau government’s 12-year Investing in Canada infrastructure plan, has a budget of $180 billion. Canada is, in effect, conducting national urban policy by other means. This significant, if implicit, urban agenda could be strengthened by expanding the mandate of the regional development agencies to include city-regions, and by establishing a Canadian cities innovation fund and a national urban policy observatory.

Federalism and International Trade Policy

International trade agreements increasingly affect the jurisdictions of Canadian provinces, and the federal government cannot enforce implementation in those fields. Since the 1980s, the provinces have assumed a more active role in trade negotiations. However, Canada has no constitutional requirement for their approval of international treaties — as do Switzerland’s cantons. Nor are there formalized intergovernmental institutions such as those in Germany. To provide greater predictability, a framework agreement for ongoing federal-provincial-territorial cooperation in trade policy could be developed. Premiers could also contribute more actively if the Council of the Federation was better resourced and enabled to formulate common positions on international trade issues.

Rethinking Criminal Justice in Canada

Reforming the criminal justice system has been the subject of intense political debate in Canada in the past decade. Competing ideals related to rehabilitation, punishment and fairness have led to markedly different policy approaches and sharp disagree­ments among political parties on the best way forward.

The Government of Canada has made reviewing the criminal justice system and sen­tencing reform a top priority in justice policy. The mandate letter presented to the Minister of Justice clearly states that a review should be conducted to “ensure that we are increasing the safety of our communities, getting value for money, addressing gaps and ensuring that current provisions are aligned with the objectives of the crim­inal justice system.”

Of course, such a review cannot be conducted in a vacuum. Changes to the criminal justice system can have wide-ranging implications for the individuals who come into contact with it, as well as for their ability to access social services and other supports. Indeed, criminal justice interacts in complex ways with myriad other social systems such as health, in­come support, child care and housing. The review must take this reality into account and limit the potential for unintended and harmful consequences for offenders, victims, their families and communities.

As part of the review of the criminal justice system, four round table discussions were held — in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton. They brought together academics, community leaders, social policy experts, jurists and other actors in the criminal justice system for a focused discussion on the interaction between the criminal justice system and other social systems.

In sum, the roundtable participants suggested that the review should achieve the following:

1. Acknowledge that fundamental reform is needed.

The clearest message coming from the round tables is that the criminal justice sys­tem needs fundamental reform, which may take several steps to achieve. The review should identify reforms that can be implemented immediately in order to ease the burden on the criminal justice system and provide better support to individuals being served by it, but also acknowledge that this is a long-term process. The review should identify the end goal of the reform and situate this first stage in that longer-term process.

2. Articulate values and principles that should guide the criminal justice system in the 21st century, including how they relate to punishment and rehabilitation.

The review should consider what values should drive Canada’s criminal jus­tice system in the 21st century, and how they might differ from those of the past. These updated values, and the changes in the system’s behaviour they are expected to bring, should be clearly articulated in the resulting reform.

3. Acknowledge that individuals are a product of their surroundings and invest in preventive measures.

The review should aim to identify the “social determin­ants of justice” and prioritize non-intrusive programs to prevent negative justice outcomes. Too often there are early signs that certain individuals could potentially find their way to the criminal justice system.

4. Acknowledge that the criminal justice system has a more negative impact on certain demographic groups and address the specific needs of those groups.

As one participant put it, the criminal justice system is demonstrably not blind to iden­tity, so perhaps its treatment of individuals should also accommodate difference.

5. Acknowledge that systemic racism exists, and outline specific steps that can be taken to remedy it.

The review should document the many ways in which the criminal justice system dis­advantages certain groups — including, but not limited to, Black and Indigenous Can­adians — and devise strategies to rectify the system’s behaviour.

6. Consider increasing the use of alternative and restorative justice programs.

The review should aim to reduce incarceration rates — in general and those among specific demographic groups — by promoting alternatives. This should include an inventory of tools at the disposal of law enforcement and the courts, but also an explicit statement on the legitimacy and desirability of their use as well as appropriate funding levels to support them.

7. Reconsider the structure of the criminal justice system and the interactions of the many actors involved by putting the individual at the centre.

Too often, reforms are considered from the perspective of specific jurisdictions, which leads to proposals that are assessed based on their impact on interveners, their man­dates and responsibilities. The review should reject that conceptual frame and consid­er reforms through the lens of the individual in the criminal justice system.

8. Aim to make the criminal justice system “smaller” and create more space for social system interventions.

Rather than bringing more social services and supports into the criminal justice sys­tem, the review should aim to reduce the system’s reach and allow for more individuals and more cases to be dealt with outside it. The goal should be to reduce the number of people who are entangled in the criminal justice system.

9. Be developed and implemented in full collaboration with the provinces and territories, as well as Indigenous leaders and governments.

The interdependence of criminal justice and other social systems requires collabora­tion not just among those who work in the system, but also among governments. Meaningful, long-term progress depends on it.

10. Include real public engagement to build trust in the criminal justice system and support for the reforms.

Building public support for the reforms will be crucial, especially if includes an exam­ination of the values and principles that underpin the criminal justice system. The re­view’s success will depend on how legitimate the reforms are seen to be in the eyes of the public.

11. Consider building a learning component into the criminal justice system through additional research capacity, information sharing and ongoing adjustments to the system’s behaviour based on best practices.

The reform should look at mechanisms that would allow the criminal justice system to learn from its own experience and adapt to changing circumstances.

Facing the Facts: Reconsidering Business Innovation Policy in Canada

The federal government’s main strategy to sustain economic prosperity in coming years is through innovation. Yet for decades, successive governments have attempted to promote business innovation and failed. Indeed, Canadian businesses have managed to be successful despite their poor innovation performance. This time may be different. Globalization, technology, sustainability concerns and population aging will inevitably impose a shift to innovation as a core business strategy. Hence the need for an ambitious and comprehensive innovation policy to help promote economic growth. For this strategy to succeed, however, will require nothing less than a whole-of-government approach and a recognition that business is the primary vector of innovation in the economy.