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Reducing Poverty

World Events

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the merits of both the American and British social security systems continued to be discussed within the Canadian government. After the 1957 study commissioned by the Diefenbaker government revealed the problems involved in adopting a social security system similar to the American one, Britain's introduction of a contributory pension plan in 1959 drew particular interest from Canadians.

Despite the popularity of the American and British examples, by the end of the 1950s Canada fell behind many industrialized countries in terms of its social security provisions. By the mid-1960s, almost all Western European countries had introduced contributory, earnings-related pensions, and many included survivor and disability benefits, coverage for self-employed people, and payment adjustments to counter inflation.

In 1960, Canada was spending substantially less on pensions than many industrialized countries. (Keith G. Banting "Institutional Conservatism: Federalism and Pension Reform," in J.S. Ismael, ed., Canadian Social Welfare Policy; Federal and Provincial Dimensions (Kingston, 1985) p. 51). This can be partly explained by the fact that the percentage of seniors in Canadian society was lower at this time than in most Western European countries, in large part because Canada lost far fewer people in the Second World War. However, the benefits available to seniors and disabled people in Canada were also lower than those offered elsewhere.

The growing belief among many Canadians, by the 1960s, that the entire population should be entitled to basic economic security did not develop in isolation. This view of social security was brought to prominence in the international arena in this period through the efforts of the International Labour Organization.

Following the drafting of the 1948 International Labour Organization Convention calling for recognition of the right to organize, the International Labour Organization worked with the United Nations for many years to develop a Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This replaced the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1966. In addition to basic human rights, Articles 9 and 10 of the new Covenant declared access to social security and assistance to be a universal right for both individuals and families. These international initiatives lent support to those in Canada who fought for the Canada Pension Plan and subsequent social welfare legislation.