The rise and fall of welfare time limits in BC

When the newly elected Liberal government of British Columbia announced in 2001 that it was developing policies to impose time limits to welfare, they were announcing changes that were unprecedented in Canada. In September of 2002, these changes became law and beginning in April 2004 certain classes of recipients would have their monthly benefits reduced or eliminated if they remained on income assistance for more than 24 months in a 60 month period. This legislation was the first of its kind in Canadian history and was part of a wider program of punitive welfare reforms aimed at reducing the welfare budget and welfare caseloads by thirty percent.

Welfare time limits are considered the most dramatic of measures introduced in the name of welfare reform. Welfare time limits had been a key element of the welfare reforms in the United States in the mid-1990s, but as documented in A Bad Time to be Poor1, in the US time-limited welfare was accompanied by significant spending on supporting recipients to become self supporting through employment. No comparable support accompanied time-limited welfare in BC. The changes implemented by the BC government were referred to as a “social experiment”, an experiment with unknown results on the people directly affected and also potentially broad implications for welfare systems in the rest of the country. However, before the time limits could take effect in BC, the provincial government announced legislative amendments that effectively ended their experiment.

This report documents the dynamics of the opposition to time-limited welfare which led the government to capitulate on this element of its welfare reforms. In addition to the public record, it draws extensively on over 1,000 pages of internal government materials obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

The rise and fall of welfare time limits in BC [PDF]