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Varieties of Liberalism: Canadian Social Policy from the ‘Golden Age’ to the Present


Address for correspondence: Rianne Mahon, Institute of Political Economy, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Ottawa, K1S 5B6, Canada. Email:


The dominant welfare regimes approach, like the historical-institutionalism on which it draws, predicts path-dependent responses to contemporary challenges. According to this, Canada's social policy regime clearly belongs to the (mainly Anglo-American) ‘liberal’ family, where markets and families retain a key role, supplemented by modest state supports. Yet, as some have recognized, there are important differences among liberal regimes and within a particular welfare regime over time. There are, in other words, ‘varieties of liberalism’. This article argues, moreover, that in the contemporary period Canadian welfare reform has been characterized by warring principles for redesign. While some have sought to deepen the postwar social project, the main trends have been neo-liberal restructuring and, more recently, policies inspired by ‘inclusive liberalism’, though less deeply than under Blair's government in the UK. The continued existence of such alternatives suggests the need for a more nuanced conception of path-dependent change, consistent with recent revisionist trends in historical-institutionalism.