________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 10 . . . . January 21, 2000

cover The Ugly Canadian: The Rise and Fall of a Caring Society.

Barbara Murphy.
Winnipeg, MB: J. Gordon Shillingford Publishing Inc., 1999.
149 pp., pbk., $17.95.
ISBN 1-896239-45-5.

Subject Headings:
Canada-Social policy-History-20th century.
Canada-Social policy-Public opinion.
Canada-Social policy-Moral and ethical aspects.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Alexander Gregor.

*** /4

Canadians have enjoyed defining themselves, in presumed contrast to the United States, as the caring society, in which "the healthy should be responsible for the sick and the fortunate for the unfortunate." In an engaging and well-written study, Barbara Murphy examines how the caring society emerged during this century, and how, in the last twenty-five years or so, that same society reverted to a selfishness that, in its present form, can only be described as ugly. The author, a public policy consultant, social services administrator, and university lecturer, has a solid command of the saga she describes. She traces the rise and fall of Canada's welfare system, public pension programs, and health and hospitalization insurance schemes, and comes to the alarming conclusion that their truncation during the last three decades can be attributed primarily to changes in public attitude to the values of the ordinary Canadian. Governments create and change the policies and programs, but Murphy makes a good case that they do so in response to perceived public opinion. With effective use of secondary and primary material, and the use of well-chosen quotations, she argues that governments, provincial and federal, were pushed into the welfare state by the public; conversely, a change in that public sentiment during these latter years allowed governments to cut away the metaphorical safety-net. That change, Murphy argues, reflects a metamorphosis from a public that saw itself as citizens, to one that sees itself now as taxpayers a metamorphosis characterized and rationalized by a convenient reversion to earlier notions about the individual being responsible for his or her own misfortune. Although the book is well argued, it would have been useful to know whether the same meanness of spirit has translated into private charity and volunteerism, or if it has been limited to government programs. Some international comparison might also have been illuminating.

Murphy's study provides an excellent basis for debate and discussion of Canadian society during the Twentieth Century, and would be readily applicable at either the senior school or the postsecondary level. It provides as well an important body of insight for the general citizen.


Alexander D. Gregor is a professor in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364