Evaluating the Harper Government's Sentencing Policy: Kate Puddister (University of Guelph) Abstract: During the Harper era (2006-2015), the federal government actively pursued criminal justice reform. Many of its efforts concerned sentencing policy reform, with the implementation of truth in sentencing, increased severity of penalties, elimination of the “faint hope” clause, and the expansion of mandatory minimums. Early analysis suggests that the Harper government’s approach to sentencing policy represents a dramatic break with the previous approach to sentencing policy and one that represents a sharp turn towards increased punitiveness (Comack, Fabre and Burgher 2015, Doob and Webster 2016, Webster and Doob 2015). The Harper government’s flurry of activity in sentencing policy can be contrasted with Canada’s declining crime rate and stable rates of incarceration, that predate the Harper government’s time in office and continue to this date. This incongruence between government focus and measureable impact is puzzling at first glance. The consistency in incarceration rates suggests that early evaluations overstate the effect of the Harper government’s approach to sentencing policy or that criminal justice actors (namely judges in sentencing) have found a way to mitigate the effect of these policies on the system. This paper explains the institutional changes to sentencing policy implemented by the Harper government. Evaluating the nature of the policy reforms, this paper examines the effects on the criminal justice system and assesses if the policy choices of the Harper government demonstrate a true break in its approach to criminal justice policy.
The Changing Character of Canadian Intergovernmental Relations in Social Policy: The Case of Childcare: Peter Graefe (McMaster University) Abstract: Work on Canadian intergovernmental relations in childcare is often about how federalism stymies the creation of robust Canada-wide policies. This paper takes a different approach in asking what the evolution of intergovernmental relations in childcare field can tell us about the changing nature of federal social policy leadership and of provincial efforts to sustain policy autonomy. In particular, the paper will consider the decade and a half of intergovernmental relations leading up to the 2017 Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework, including the series of early childhood agreements that marked the tail end of the Chrétien-Martin Liberal regime, the cancellation of the childcare accords under the Harper Conservatives, and increased investment in a number of provinces. Of particular interest is the extent to which the provinces, individually or collectively, took steps during the Harper era to constrain or shape the post-2015 federal commitments, and the changing balance of federal-provincial power from 2005 to 2017.
Agenda Management and Policy Change in German Education: Conrad King (University of British Columbia) Abstract: What makes the status quo so powerful when creating policy? Under normal political conditions, policy remains consistent with an existing policy framework and is adaptive to a stable external environment. Yet there are episodes when the risks, costs or problems associated with preserving the status quo exceed those of reform. Compulsory education in Germany is an interesting case study for the power of the status quo. It has been highly resilient due to venerable national traditions, well-entrenched educational bureaucracies, and influential vested interests. Furthermore, German education policy has been highly change-resistant because it is a subnational jurisdiction – there is not one education system, but sixteen. Meaningful national-level policy change required the sixteen Länder to coordinate reform, seeming to destine (or doom) the national level to lowest common denominator outcomes. Recent education policies, however, display a more puzzling outcome: Germany significantly changed its national evaluative policy instruments between 2001 and 2005, coinciding with a very public ‘PISA shock’ after poor results on international comparative assessments (such as the OECD’s PISA tests). Why did Germany, despite low reform capacity and significant distance from international policy models, manage to affect significant educational policy change? I argue that the federated nature of the German knowledge regime – and not international pressure -- was the sufficient condition for a significant yet not entirely transformative policy change. These findings are supported by the process tracing of education policy in Germany between 1995 and 2005, alongside 33 semi-structured interviews with experts and policymakers.