Until the 1990s social policy played an integrative role in Canada, providing a counter-narrative to claims that federalism and diversity undermine the potential of social policy. Today, however, the Canadian model is under strain, reflecting changes in both the welfare state and the immigration-citizenship-multiculturalism regime.
Federalism and the Welfare State in a Multicultural World illustrates that there are clear trends that, if unchecked, may exacerbate rather than overcome important social cleavages. The editors argue that we are at a crucial moment to re-evaluate the role of social policy in a federal state and a multicultural society, and if federalism and diversity challenge traditional models of the nation-building function of social policy, they also open up new pathways for social policy to overcome social divisions. Complacency about, or naive celebration of, the Canadian model is unwarranted, but it is premature to conclude that the model is irredeemably broken, or that all the developments are centrifugal rather than centripetal.
Social policy is integral to mitigating divisions of class, region, language, race, and ethnicity, and its underlying values of solidarity and risk-sharing also make it a critical mechanism for nation-building. Whether social policy actually accomplishes these goals is variable and contested. The essays in this volume provide some timely answers.