New watchdog to analyze public policy

January 08, 2004, vol. 29, no. 1
By Diane Luckow

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A B.C. watchdog will record and analyze the impact of recent and future public policy changes implemented by the B.C. government.

Simon Fraser University and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) are jointly launching a five-year research project to examine how changes to social policy are affecting the economic security of the vulnerable.

SFU political science and women's studies professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen and Seth Klein of the CCPA are co-investigators and will oversee an alliance of 20 research collaborators from four B.C. universities and 23 community organizations.

Other researchers from SFU are Habiba Zaman, Dan Cohn, Stephen McBride, Arlene McLaren, Jane Pulkingham, Olena Hankivsky, and Michael Hayes.

The project, called Re-defining Public Services in British Columbia: Challenges to Economic Security and Alternative Policies, is funded by a $1 million research grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

Cohen says the researchers will be monitoring changes to employment standards, income assistance and community healthcare.

She points out that some recent public policy changes, such as amendments to labor legislation allowing children between 12 and 15 to work without a special government permit and the two-year cutoff period for those on social assistance, are unlike anything seen elsewhere in Canada.

Without the grant, she says, “It's unlikely that these changes would be monitored, particularly as they involve vulnerable populations.”

“Our main objective is to understand the effects of these changes,” she says. “Public policies aren't all good or all bad but it is important to be sure that the benefits outweigh the costs, particularly as they affect the most vulnerable people.”

In its first phase, the three-phase project will document what has happened and establish benchmarks.

In the second phase it will examine the impact on groups such as youth, recent immigrants, the disabled, the aged and single parents to determine whether the changes have achieved the government's goals and have improved circumstances for these groups.

In the third phase, researchers will establish criteria for good public policy in order to meet the needs of these vulnerable groups.

“We're out to protect people,” says Cohen, “to see what the impact is on these groups facing dramatic public policy changes.”

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