Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

Understanding Universality within a Liberal Welfare Regime: The Case of Universal Social Programs in Canada

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Although Canada is known as a liberal welfare regime, universality is a key issue in that country, as several major social programs are universal in both their core principles and coverage rules. The objective of this article is to discuss the meaning of universality and related concepts before exploring the development of individual universal social programs in Canada, with a particular focus on health care and old-age pensions. More generally, the article shows how universality can exist and become resilient within a predominantly liberal welfare regime due to the complex and fragmented nature of modern social policy systems, in which policy types vary from policy area to policy area, and even from program to program within the same policy area. The broader analysis of health care and old-age pensions as policy areas illustrates this general claim. This analysis looks at the historical development and the politics of provincial universal health coverage since the late 1950s and at the evolution of the federal Old Age Security program since its creation in the early 1950s. The main argument of this article is that universality as a set of principles remains stronger in health care than in pensions yet key challenges remain in each of these policy areas. Another contention is that there are multiple and contested universalisms in social policy.

Keywords:  Canada; health care; liberal welfare regime; old-age pensions; social policy; universality



© Daniel Béland, Gregory P. Marchildon, Michael J. Prince. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.