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From welfare to workfare

From Welfare to Workfare










There's an old joke that goes something like... Where do you hide a welfare recipient's cheque, where he'll never find it? Under his work boots. When Mike Harris was campaigning for the Progressive conservative party in 1994 he promised a "common sense revolution". This mixed with the huge unpopularity of Bob Ray's policies, made him a favourite for the upcoming election. With this new "common sense revolution", came Ontario Works, or workfare. (a program designed to help recipients find their cheques) The workfare topic was a huge issue to voters, and will effect not only the thousands of Ontario welfare recipients but every Ontarioan in one way or another. When the election was close, Mike Harris often called workfare his "hand up" on the other candidates, (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, Nov. 17, 1995, 846), arguing that the current welfare system is just "hand outs".

The decision on behalf of the conservative party to introduce Ontario Works in Ontario is an interesting one, with respect to traditional, and modern day Conservative party beliefs. This issue will be discussed in depth further into the essay, but much research and (case) study went into the prospects of workfare by the Tories.

To better understand workfare, one must understand the basics and reasoning of welfare. John Romanyshyn wrote "Free men living in a community of free and equal men is the democratic ideal", (Armitage, 59) which describes the ideals of welfare. Welfare is a liberal and/or democratic program and policy and is intended to allow equal opportunities of success to all. Other welfare goals include giving temporary assistance for people who are living below the poverty line and are basically implemented by using the insurance principle: pay premiums when you're able in order to reap benefits when you are unable.

These are principles consistent with the liberal democracy point of view. Nowhere does welfare help the community or society. (Conservative beliefs) Welfare should help people in their time of need until they get back on their feet. This was becoming less and less the case in the late eighties and early nineties, when welfare abuse became such a major issue. According to the Progressive Conservatives, this gave way to workfare.


As earlier stated, the subject of workfare was first introduced in the 1994 campaign of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. After the election of Mike Harris and the PC party a committee was set up by the Minister of Community and Social Services, the Honourable David Tsubouchi, comprised of MPP's to study how the promised of workfare should be executed. Communities and MPP's of all parties were encouraged to give their suggestions on how to better implicate workfare. (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, March 28, 1996, pg. 1966.)

Ontario Works policy direction taken by the Ontario Progressive Conservative Government

Workfare is intended to put "able-bodied welfare recipients to work in exchange for their welfare benefits". (Legislative Assembly of Ontario, March 29, 1996, pg. 1650) Here are some main points of Ontario Works program:

• handicapped, elderly, injured, full time students, and single parents with young children will be excluded from mandatory workfare.

• recipients will be required to work, or volunteer, seventeen hours per week, in order to receive assistance.

• municipal social services will work directly with charity and community organizations for volunteer and employment services.

The main intention of workfare is to help the welfare recipient become self-sufficient and ultimately get him/her employment. The full plans were introduced in the Ontario legislature on June 18, 1996 by the honourable David Tsubouchi, when he discussed the three major ways that Ontario Works will be a success.

1) Contracting out job agencies: These agencies will be paid two hundred dollars up front to find the recipient a job. If employment for the recipient is not found, the two hundred dollars must be paid back. The agency can then receive two more payments; one after three months employed, and one after six months employed. The agency can only receive a maximum of twelve hundred dollars per recipient.

2) Welfare recipient entrepreneurs: Many of the welfare recipients today have bright ideas of starting their own businesses. Ontario works will hook the recipients up with other agencies specializing in entrepreneurship. If the recipient's business is established, the agency will be paid accordingly.

3) Ontario Works will provide recipients with access to tools necessary in getting a job in the nineties. ie. Computers, printers, fax machines, etc. This will also include basic education and training as necessary.

(The above cited from the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, June 18, 1996.)

Ontario Works has been started gradually, with 20 municipalities in summer '96, after more experienced, more communities will be affected by the fall, and eventually, Ontario Works will be implemented province wide by 1998. The PC government is extremely positive about the program, and is confident about it's success despite the other strong downsides to the plan.


The progressive conservative party has changed considerably. From conservative thought of the old English Church to dealing with today's issues, such as video lottery gambling. Traditional Conservatism believes that "Society should be viewed as a moral community with shared views, values and beliefs". (class notes, lectures) Conservatives believe in family values, and nurturing, etc. Therefore, welfare is right up their alley. Helping single mothers, and family's with income until better times.

Classical conservative thought is also thought to have a gradual change with extreme caution. If today's conservative party wants to survive, they need to sacrifice some of that extreme caution, and show new ideas. Ontario has problems, and needs them resolved. Mike Harris and the Torries believe workfare is the answer to a number of problems. Workfare may be a drastic change, (especially for a conservative government), but this change is not to be regarded as "kicking the welfare abusers off their butts". Instead the Ontario Works program is thought of as improving on the welfare system and improving communities around Ontario by returning to traditional Conservative views of the community as a "whole".

How can workfare help the community? Workfare helps the community by putting welfare recipients to work not only in the private sector, but also the public sector. ie. community. (http://www. gov. news/ owack. html) It is the Conservative political thought that a Conservative government believes in families and communities as vital for the wellbeing of society. (class lectures) The Tories are working with community groups such as local Kiwanis, and Lions clubs, which help hundreds of communities province wide, to provide employment and volunteer opportunities to welfare recipients.

The PC's feel that Ontario Works will give welfare recipients the experience and tools to help them find employment, and in the process help the environment and the community. Ontario works requires either seventeen hours a week of employment, or seventeen hours a week of volunteer service. This is where the community groups as earlier mentioned will benefit. Some examples of volunteer work the Tories believe can help the communities are eg.

• cleaning up garage and old logs from area rivers and streams to help ensure the future survival of fish and wildlife.

• develop and maintain snowmobile trails in the area.

• help out at charity events, perhaps a drop-in centre for seniors or helping at a breakfast program at local schools.

The other main issue is the economic reasons. The cost of welfare for provincial governments in the nineties, has ballooned to over forty billion dollars. The focus point in every Canadian election seems to be balancing the budget and/or cutting costs. One of the biggest and best ideas for the Tories to cut costs, is Ontario Works. If the main objective in workfare is to stop the dependency cycle of relying on welfare, having thousands of these welfare recipients find jobs will take a huge chunk out of the welfare cost in the budget.

Take the Regional Municipality of Waterloo for example. (includes Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge). With a population of approx. 370,000, approx. 10,015 people are currently receiving General Welfare Assistance (GWA) Of the 10,015 recipients, 7,705 people are considered employable. That means that over seventy-five percent of recipients are considered employable. In the month of February, 1996, over $5,447,872 was paid out to all recipients. Best case scenario: All 7,705 find jobs and no longer need GWA; a saving of over four million dollars, in one month, in one municipality of the province. It should in theory be quite a bit cheaper for the government, but as you'll see later in the cons of workfare, it can be extremely costly to implement such a program. (The above was taken from MCSS News releases, http://www. gov. on. c news/ owgack.html, 8/1/96)


There are a few huge benefits of workfare, but there seem to be many more negatives. For every supporter of workfare there are dozens that condemn it from every political party and way of life. Take the liberal point of view for example. They believe in leaving the people to manage their own estate. (class lectures) They believe that governments should let the public live, with as little involvement possible from the state. There was obvious conflict when the Tories come to power and force this burden on welfare recipients. That's not the only burden on workfare recipients; workfare candidates are forced to accept training and/or job placements if offered. (Monitor, July/August 1996) (Anything forced upon society is not the liberal point of view) On top of it all, working welfare recipients don't even get paid for their seventeen hours a week. Because of these reasons, the largest problem facing welfare are the employment problems.

The biggest downside to workfare, is how it will affect the private sector jobs. Companies are forced with the dilemma of hiring new employees at full pay, or getting as many free labourers for seventeen hours a week each from Ontario Works welfare recipients. This has many liberal MPP's, unions, and workers up in arms over workfare. The liberals argue that the best cure for unemployment is employment. (Monitor, July/August 1996). After the Harris government took power, he scrapped Jobs Ontario, which was one of the few NDP projects that was working, and plan on implementing Ontario Works as a "make-shift substitute".

Another problem is the training of the recipients. As earlier mentioned, candidates could be forced to pick up garbage in forests, and/or make snowmobile trails. Does this sort of training actually prepare them for the real world? One of the goals of workfare is to stop the dependency of welfare by putting these people to work, and ultimately making them self- sufficient. Instead of being self sufficient the workers continue to get cheques from the government, and not the private sector. (An administrative nightmare, 4) That is definitely not self sufficiency.

The money-saving is not as the Tories planned. Critics state that from past experience, it always ends up costing more than anticipated. As previously described, the government sponsors job agencies to help welfare recipients. This costs a great deal of money, along with the many other civil servants needed for the further responsibilities of the Ontario works program in society.

Case history should also be taken into consideration before deciding to implement workfare in Ontario. Workfare has been tried in many states, and other provinces in Canada. New Zealand is famous for its social reform and penny pinching governments, but in all previous attempts at workfare is a failure. (Workfare Watch Bulletin, June 11, 1996) The main reason for the program's unsuccessfullness is the tremendous economic burden and not resolving the "deeper" issue of unemployment first.

Critics of Ontario Works state that seventy percent of people on welfare are single mothers and more than forty percent of the people affected by welfare are children. It is simply unhealthy for single mothers in society to be worrying about mowing lawns and cleaning up garbage in a forest, with little children at home. (Nicole DeKort, www. jdkthor. interlog. com) Workfare will affect the people that need the welfare assistance. It may give a wake up call to the one or two percent abusing the system, but it hinders the most needworthy recipients of welfare.


Workfare is an interesting and modern issue. Mike Harris and the provincial Progressive Conservative party swear by workfare, yet its success is sceptical. It is unlike traditional Conservative Party thoughts to implement such a drastic change in the province. The change though is one back to Conservative beliefs. Helping communities by making employable welfare recipients volunteer and work in and for the community. At the same time, workfare helps give these individuals the tools, education, and training necessary to be self-sufficient in the workforce of the nineties.

It may look good on paper, but the workfare program will likely cost a great deal more than anticipated by the Tories. Liberal and Democratic opposition are strongly opposed to workfare because of their party beliefs that no single person should be forced to do something, and should be entitled to live their live as they please. By far the greatest downside of workfare is on you and I, the working public. Our jobs may be replaced by a seventeen hour per week welfare recipient that doesn't get paid. This has unions up in arms. Do "make-shift jobs" help welfare recipients break the dependency cycle on welfare? These answers and more will soon be answered after the results are in from the first wave of welfare reform in Ontario.


Armitage, Andrew. (1988). Social Welfare in Canada. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

Canadian Council on Social Development. (1975). Social Services in Canada: An Introduction. Ottawa. The Canadian Council on Social Development press.

Crane, John. (1994). Directions for Social Welfare in Canada. D.W. Frieson & Sons.

Hansard. Ontario Legislative Assembly of Ontario. (1995-1996). Office of the hansard. (various dates specified in essay)

C. McCormack (personal communication, Nov. 7, 1996)

...Workfare Watch News ("CCPA Monitor," July/August 1996)

...Backgrounder ("Community of Social Services home page", "", Queen's Printer for Ontario, 1996)

Henderson, Gord (Apr. 9, 1996) Give Tories' workfare plan a chance in Ontario. Windsor Star.

...Ontario Works makes ("Community of Social Services home page", "http://www. gov. on. ca", 1996)

Workfare Watch ("bulletin posted on Internet", "www. worldchat. com/ public/ tab/ wrkfrw/ bul1.htm") (various dates specified in essay)

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