Established in 1940 in response to the Great Depression, the original goal of Canada’s system of unemployment insurance was to ensure the protection of income to the unemployed. Joblessness was viewed as a social problem and the jobless as its unfortunate victims. If governments could not create the right conditions for full employment, they were obligated to compensate people who could not find work. While unemployment insurance expanded over several decades to the benefit of the rights of the unemployed, the mid-1970s saw the first stirrings of a counterattack as the federal government’s Keynesian strategy came under siege. Neo-liberalists denounced unemployment insurance and other aspects of the welfare state as inflationary and unproductive. Employment was increasingly thought to be a personal responsibility and the handling of the unemployed was to reflect a free-market approach. This regressive movement culminated in the 1990s counter-reforms, heralding a major policy shift. The number of unemployed with access to benefits was halved during that time.
Georges Campeau spent many years defending the rights of the jobless as an activist lawyer. He is currently a professor of social law in the Faculté de science politique et de droit at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Richard Howard has been translating books from the French, chiefly in the social sciences, for over three decades.
Campeau’s book is without question a useful survey of the history of employment insurance in Canada. For those interested in the legislation itself, Campeau offers a detailed and esoteric look at its adoption and development over the years. For those interested in the constitutional skirmish that has been fought through the years over employment insurance, Campeau also charts out how that battle has progressed over time ... In sum, anyone with an interest in labour law, and in particular the past, present and future of employment insurance in Canada, would likely find From UI to EI an interesting perspective and an informative read.
Campeau’s detailed account is concise, thorough and easy to follow.