August 2014

1. Message from the President

2. In Memoriam Raymond Boudon (1934-2013): Simon Langlois, MSRC

3. What's New About the New Inequality?: John Myles, FRSC

4. Un Sénat canadien désuet : avoir copié le mauvais modèle: Réjean Pelletier, MSRC

1. Message from the President

Simon LangloisHere is the Academy of Social Sciences’ first newsletter and it will be published three times a year. It will contain general information as well as short feature articles written by our members. The purpose of this newsletter will therefore be two-fold: both informative on current affairs and relevant in terms of scientific popularization. If you have news to share or if you would like to write a short article about your research, do not hesitate to send it to me directly. I will be the editor of the newsletter until the next Annual General Meeting (AGM) in November 2014, when a new editor will be selected.

Death of Roderick Macdonald
We learned about Roderick Macdonald’s death when we were going to press with this first issue of the newsletter. We mourn his passing because he was one of our most eminent members. During his mandate as President of the Royal Society, he consolidated the new governance put forward by Gilles Paquet and he undertook a number of noteworthy initiatives, in particular the creation of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, which will welcome its inaugural members in November 2014. We regret his premature passing.

Committee for the Selection of New Fellows
At our Academy’s next AGM, I will propose a change to the Committee for the Selection of New Fellows. I believe there should be three-year mandates and that a third of the membership should be renewed every year by ensuring good representation across the disciplines. If you have any comments or suggestions, please share them with me.

Awards, Medals and Distinctions
Our Academy grants few medals, awards and distinctions. We must therefore work to create new ones. We have already selected the theme of social justice as the theme of a new medal. Members have also suggested creating a medal in law, one in education and one in administration. These are good suggestions.

However, we need to find a sponsor or generous donor in order to create an endowment of $150,000 to fund each medal permanently and on a long-term basis. Payment could be spread out over several years. If you can suggest any sponsors, please get in touch with me.

Expert Panel on Inequalities and Social Cohesion in Canada
The creation of an Expert Panel on the theme of “Inequalities and social cohesion in Canada” was suggested by our members and a proposal on this will be developed so that it may be submitted to the Royal Society’s Ad Hoc Committee chaired by David Layzell this summer. A decision should be made by fall and David would be responsible for recruiting the members who will participate. This is a great project that will increase our Academy’s visibility as well as being highly relevant in Canada at this time.

Québec City in November 2014
Québec City is changing and undergoing significant economic vitality. It’s no longer just the “Vieille Capitale” or a quiet town of government employees. So come (re)discover it from November 20 to 23, 2014, by attending the next Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Royal Society of Canada. The “castle life” [Château Frontenac] awaits you at a reasonable price…

I look forward to meeting you and until then, have a great summer!

Simon Langlois
President of the Academy of Social Sciences

2. In Memoriam Raymond Boudon (1934-2013): Simon Langlois, MSRC

Simon LangloisThe French sociologist Raymond Boudon died on April 10th 2013 at the age of seventy-nine in Paris. Boudon was a foreign fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences of the Royal Society of Canada. With his passing, sociology is bereft of one of its finest thinkers and practitioners and the author of a considerable and original body of work. Most notably, we owe Boudon the accomplishment of having restored the individual in the analysis of social phenomena in the tradition of Max Weber, but also, more surprisingly, in the tradition of Émile Durkheim since he proposed an original re-reading of the latter’s work challenging the conventional holistic and determinist interpretation.

Boudon elaborated the concept of individual rationality in the explanation of social and economic phenomena. Being critical of rational choice theory, Boudon distinguished several types of rationalities, such as the rationality of values, an idea that has spurred new avenues of sociological research. According to him, values are not arbitrary and relative but rather soundly founded on shared good reasons (les bonnes raisons) providing a standard by which some values may be considered preferable to others, such as gender equality. From this idea he composed a radical critique of cultural relativism, notably in Renouveler la démocratie, Éloge du sens commun, which led to advocating a kind of sociology in which ethical and axiological choices should be rationally explained.

His last works on individual and collective beliefs may be considered milestones in sociology. Why do individuals believe what they believe? How to explain the success of certain theories, which, with hindsight, have revealed themselves false or of limited external validity? Why do people participate in totalitarian regimes and why were certain 20th century intellectuals so prone to ignore the atrocities committed under them? Why do certain people participate wholeheartedly in social movements while others do not participate at all? These are just some of the bold and highly pertinent questions he came to address in his later career.

Contrary to a common critique he has received, the individual as defined by Boudon is not an atom abstracted from time and space, but rather a person whose actions and decisions are firmly rooted in context, an important concept in his sociological approach. For this reason, the choices of a socially embedded actor are not optimal, nor always satisfying. Boudon has also made an important contribution with his concept of effets pervers to describe a type of consequences which although unintended by individual actors nonetheless collectively arise from their actions, like the debasement of university diplomas or the aggravation of economic crises.

Boudon leaves us a rich heritage of books that have aged well since his goal was to construct a solid scientific corpus based on what he called des savoirs fondés, that is knowledge based on empirically verifiable observations and theories that do not refer to what he called in French a “boîte noire”. The clearest expression of this goal is to be found in La sociologie comme science (2010), a book that may be considered his legacy and in which the reader will also find an autobiographical essay.

Boudon proposed interpretative schemas for social phenomena, such as social mobility and the inequality of education, and he build indispensable models to explain social change for the understanding of social reality. Boudon’s social actor behaves in a particular historical period, in particular structures, and in a particular context. In other words, Boudon’s sociology offers the proper theoretical tools to explain what Alexis de Tocqueville – an author he held in high esteem and those thoughts he helped incorporate in the sociological canon – called les faits anciens et généraux with les faits particuliers et récents.

Raymond Boudon did not attempt to establish a school of thought, or as we say in the jargon faire école, nor did he wish to establish himself as a maître-à-penser, contrary to other renowned sociologists of his generation. He did however build a solid body of work while in charge of an important research chair, le Groupe d’étude des méthodes de l’analyse sociologique de la Sorbonne (GEMAS), and while at the helm of L’Année sociologique. His works have had a great influence in the social sciences and have inspired a great number of essays and shall surely continue to do so.

Boudon co-founded the collection Sociologies in 1977 at Les Presses Universitaires de France, often referred to as the blue collection, which boasts over 150 titles. This sociology collection is undoubtedly the most important in French speaking countries and probably the most important in the world. While it can be easily overlooked, the plural form used in the title of the collection is a telltale sign of his open-mindedness. One will not only find in this collection a prised selection of works on the history of sociological thought, but also pioneering studies on social relations, such as social inequality, social movements and social conflict, etc.

The liber amicorum offered to  Boudon contains 83 contributions on his works or inspired by them : Mohamed Cherkaoui & Peter Hamilton (eds), Raymond Boudon. A Life in Sociology, Volumes 1, 2, 3, 4 Oxford (UK), The Bardwell Press, 2009. Among the contributors are many Canadians (many are members of the royal Society of Canada): Mario Bunge (McGill), Robert Brym (University of Toronto), Denis Szabo (Université de Montréal), Robert Leroux (Université d’Ottawa), Simon Langlois (Université Laval).
During his career, Raymond Boudon was visiting professor in different Canadian universities. He came twice to Laval University (Québec) and he was set to receive there an honorary doctorate in June 2013 during the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Faculté des sciences sociales. His illness prevented him from returning to Québec – and to Tadoussac, a lovely village on the North shore of the St-Lawrence he enjoyed to visit many times with his wife Rosemarie – a situation over which he expressed regret.

3. What's New About the New Inequality?: John Myles, FRSC

John MylesThe surge in income inequality has become a hot topic in the media as well as the academe of late. As the OECD reported in May, Canada has been on the leading edge of this development, estimating that Canada’s top 1% has captured 37% of total income growth during the past three decades.   Thus far, however, the topic has generated little reaction from Canada’s political elites. There was scarcely a mention of the topic during Ontario’s recent election campaign, the province experiencing the sharpest increase in income inequality. Ottawa has been mostly silent. Why is that? 

Stephen Harper or the spread of neo-liberal ideology may be part of your answer. Keith Banting and I, however, have recently argued that Canada’s policy drift on redistribution issues has deeper institutional and historical roots.  We highlight changes at the level of our political parties, the balance of power between business and labour, the decline of civil society organizations that speak for the disadvantaged, and changes in the institutional environment in which political combat takes place.  Here, I want to shift attention from these background conditions that have reshaped Canadian politics to some of the foreground conditions. 

Policy Frames and the Parameters of the New Inequality   

My first point is that the inequality surge of the past couple of decades is new; new in the sense that as Paul Starr writes:  “According to the received wisdom of the mid-twentieth century, the recent increase in inequality was not supposed to happen.”   At least not this way. The rich have been getting richer but the poor have not been getting poorer. Driven by rising incomes at the very top, inequality has been rising but poverty rates have been declining or, at worst, have remained stable.

Among policy elites whose lives spanned the postwar decades, this sort of inequality surge is an historical anomaly, an historical “surprise.” Examining the data for the postwar decades, both theory and practise led to the conclusion that the concentration of income and wealth at the top associated with the Gilded Age or the Roaring Twenties was gone forever.  According to Michael Veal’s estimates, the income share of the top 1 percent peaked in Canada at 18 percent about 1930, fell rapidly to about 10 percent in 1945 and continued drifting down to about 8 percent in 1985.

Instead, attention turned to the minority of the population who could be statistically identified as the “poor”. Since the 1960s, Canadian policy-makers have created a well-developed set of tools to measure and manage low-income levels among different populations.    In contrast, policy-makers have no comparable policy frame for managing the surge in high-income levels.   Searching for much desired, if illusory,  productivity gains, policy elites have been cutting marginal tax rates at the top for three decades and find it difficult to reverse direction now.  Now, all political parties, including those on the left, construct their platforms to avoid being labeled as “tax-and-spenders.”  
The Empirics of the New Inequality

The “new inequality” is new in a second sense.  While in retrospect we can track its development back to the late 1970s, good evidence for the new inequality is only about a decade old.  Moreover, it is still possible to tell somewhat different stories about inequality trends depending on the data source and the time frame in question. The result is an ongoing battle among pundits in the media between the inequality deniers and the inequality Cassandras.

With the suppression of the mandatory long form Census in 2011, Canada is left with two main sources of income data.  The most well known come from Statistics Canada’s national income surveys – the SCF/SLID series – that date back to the 1960s.  They are useful for many things but because they have comparatively small samples and are not mandatory, they are not very useful for telling us what is going on among small populations such as the top 1 percent of income earners. For the top 1% or even the top decile, we have to turn to administrative tax records (the LAD) that have only been used widely for about a decade. 

I begin with the SCF/SLID series.  Just remember that if you’re in the top 1 percent, this isn’t about you. 

Based on the Gini coefficient, the most commonly used measure of income inequality, the SCF/SLID series yield three main conclusions about trends in income inequality.

•    Inequality in market incomes from earnings and investments began rising in the early 1980s, surged ahead over the entire 1990s, and then leveled off in the 2000s. The Gini coefficient rose from .37 to .44 – a huge change in a measure that is difficult to move.

•    Strikingly, however, transfers and taxes completely offset this rise until roughly 1994.  Until that point the welfare state was doing its job and there was little change in disposable income inequality (i.e. income after taxes and transfers) up to that point.

•    In the mid-nineties, aided and abetted by cuts to UI and social assistance, the tax-transfer system “ran out of gas.”  The result was a sharp rise in inequality in post-tax/transfer incomes and the Gini index for disposable incomes rose from about .29 to .32 by the end of the decade.  Since then, inequality levels as measured by the SCF/SLID series have remained essentially flat.

So if we look at trends over the full three decades and especially since 1990, the inequality Cassandras have a case to make:  inequality in market incomes has undoubtedly risen a lot since 1980 and since the mid-90s the welfare state has not being taking up the slack.  On the other hand, the inequality deniers have reason to argue that we can stop worrying: the trend has undoubtedly abated since 2000. 

The response of the Cassandra’s, however, is to remind us that with SCF/SLID data we are ignoring most of the action above the 90th percentile. So let’s turn to taxation data.   The story is a simple one recently told by Thomas Lemieux and Craig Riddell.   They show that virtually all of the income gains in Canada between 1982 and 2010 have gone to the top 10 percent.  Incomes in the bottom 90 percent have scarcely moved while incomes in the top 1 percent grew by 100% or more over this period.

Does this end the debate?  Not quite.  The deniers still have an important arrow left in their quiver – trends in the poverty rate.  If we concede that most of the income gains have been going to the top, what’s been happening at the bottom? Here you get a choice between two series published by Statistics Canada, the traditional LICO  (or Low-Income Cut-Off) that has been used since the 1960s or the LIM (the Low Income Measure) that is of more recent vintage.  Both use living standards in the “middle” of the distribution to benchmark poverty but answer somewhat different questions.

The LICO uses a fixed reference point – in this case 1992 – and asks whether living standards at the bottom have changed since that time. By the LICO standard, Canada’s poverty rate has been falling since 1996 and the downward trend continued through the 2000s reaching its lowest point ever (about 9%) in 2010.

The LIM uses a moving reference point and simply asks what percentage of the population have incomes less than 50% of the median income in the year of observation. The LIM benchmark indicates that the poverty rate has remained more or less constant over three decades at about 13%.   Historical constancy in the LIM simply means that incomes in the bottom and the middle have largely been moving in tandem.


In his monumental Capitalism in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty demonstrates that in fact there is nothing new about the recent inequality surge.  If we zoom out in time, we can see that the postwar lows in income inequality – from the 50s to the 80s -- were an historical anomaly, accounted for by two world wars and the Great Depression. According to Piketty, we’re now back to business as usual in the capitalist world, back to the high concentration of income and wealth of the Gilded Age, La Belle Epoque and the Roaring Twenties.

The income trends of the last several decades were observed in the now distant past but not in the lifetimes of our current political elites. For the policy elites whose lives spanned the postwar decades, the recent inequality surge is an historical “surprise” not easily absorbed within existing policy frames and established routines. A poverty surge would provide a potential trigger for action.  Just what to do about surging incomes at the top creates a political conundrum. Even if they quietly disagree with the anti-tax agenda, they fear electoral retaliation if they defect from the agenda.

Piketty argues that politics can arrest the spiral but, since the trend is a global one, he concludes, it requires a global political response: a global tax on wealth combined with higher rates of tax on the largest incomes.  Given our inability to generate a global response to global warming, Piketty’s sceptics are numerous.

4. Un Sénat canadien désuet : avoir copié le mauvais modèle: Réjean Pelletier, MSRC

Réjean PelletierLa Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 établit, dans son préambule, que l’union fédérale canadienne aurait «une constitution reposant sur les mêmes principes que celle du Royaume-Uni». En réalité, la future fédération canadienne n’a pas seulement emprunté les grands principes du parlementarisme britannique, comme la responsabilité ministérielle qui était déjà acquise depuis 1848, mais aussi ses institutions politiques telles que la monarchie, une Chambre haute et une Chambre basse, institutions déjà en place également dans les colonies britanniques de l’époque.

Le problème vient justement du fait que les constituants ont copié trop servilement le mauvais modèle en ce qui a trait au Sénat canadien, soit celui de la Chambre des lords britannique. Comme le soulignait John A. Macdonald en février 1865, «nous avons décidé que la chambre haute suivrait le modèle britannique autant que les circonstances pourraient le permettre» (cité dans Ajzenstat et al., 2004 : 88), ce qui explique le caractère suranné et vieillot du Sénat actuel.

Les constituants ont voulu que le Sénat soit d’abord et avant tout une Chambre de révision de la législation adoptée par la Chambre des communes. C’était là – et c’est encore – son rôle premier et certainement le plus important : servir de contrepoids à la Chambre basse. Le Sénat devait analyser la législation d’une façon sereine et réfléchie et agir comme modérateur de la Chambre des communes (second sober thought).

Ce qui ressort clairement des interventions de plusieurs députés et conseillers législatifs de l’époque, c’est que la Chambre haute est conçue comme un élément modérateur, comme un frein aux ardeurs trop démocratiques de la Chambre basse éventuellement soumise aux pressions et aux passions de la «populace». Cela pourrait amener la Chambre des communes à adopter des lois «intempestives ou pernicieuses», pour reprendre les termes alors utilisés par John A. Macdonald. Le conservateur George-Étienne Cartier estime lui aussi qu’il doit exister un pouvoir de résistance à l’élément démocratique pour que les institutions puissent demeurer stables. L’idée de représenter et défendre les intérêts des entités fédérées, en conformité avec le principe de participation qui est un élément fondamental du fédéralisme, ne ressort nullement des discussions tenues à Québec en 1864 puisque les constituants avaient les yeux rivés sur le modèle britannique, modèle unitaire et non pas fédéral.

Les constituants auraient pu s’inspirer du modèle américain de fédéralisme. Mais les États-Unis ont plutôt servi de repoussoir pour faire accepter l’union des colonies britanniques en Amérique du Nord afin de mieux contrer la menace américaine. Si on s’en est inspiré, ce fut plutôt pour corriger le modèle américain en accordant plus de pouvoirs au niveau central et, de ce fait, assurer une plus grande centralisation au fédéralisme canadien.

La seule touche à caractère fédéral du Sénat repose sur la représentation égalitaire des régions (et non pas des provinces) afin de satisfaire les provinces moins populeuses des Maritimes ainsi que le Québec, en contrepartie de l’élection selon la population à la Chambre des communes.

Un débat qui a aussi monopolisé et divisé plusieurs députés et conseillers législatifs de l’époque a trait à la nomination ou à l’élection des membres du futur Sénat. Presque tous les délégués des colonies de l’Atlantique se sont prononcés contre l’élection, fidèles en cela au processus de nomination toujours en vigueur dans cette région. Les délégués du Canada-Uni étaient divisés sur cette question, même si les membres du Conseil législatif y étaient élus depuis 1856. Finalement, les délégués se sont ralliés au processus de nomination. Afin de bien marquer le caractère fédéral du nouveau pays, ils auraient pu se tourner vers les États-Unis où prévalait, à l’époque, l’élection des sénateurs par les législatures des États. Mais le fédéralisme américain n’a pas été une source d’inspiration pour les constituants, sinon pour le critiquer ou vouloir le corriger, alors que les constituants australiens s’en sont inspirés pour leur Sénat, tout en y apportant des innovations.

Même si John A. Macdonald, leader des conservateurs, avait fait partie de ceux qui avaient introduit le principe électif en 1856, il justifiait sa nouvelle position en soulignant que la «seule façon d’appliquer le système anglais à la chambre haute consiste à conférer à la couronne le pouvoir d’en nommer les membres» (Ibid. : 88). Quant à George Brown, leader des réformistes, sa position n’avait pas changé puisqu’il était persuadé que « deux chambres électives sont incompatibles avec le bon fonctionnement du système parlementaire anglais (Ibid. : 93).
Au total, en voulant «copier» le système parlementaire anglais, les délégués à la Conférence de Québec ont fait appel au modèle de la Chambre des lords pour caractériser le futur Sénat canadien : un Sénat dont les membres sont nommés par la couronne; un Sénat qui, dans son analyse de la législation, agit comme élément modérateur de la Chambre des communes; un Sénat, toutefois, qui est divisé en régions égales pour contrebalancer la représentation selon la population à la Chambre basse.

Ce modèle du XIXe siècle a survécu jusqu’à ce jour sans modifications, si ce n’est de l’augmentation du nombre de sénateurs et du remplacement de la nomination à vie par un âge de la retraite fixé à 75 ans. Pour le reste, il est demeuré figé dans sa conception initiale qui n’avait rien de démocratique et qui ne respectait pas – sinon par la division du pays en régions égales – l’esprit du fédéralisme. En copiant servilement le modèle britannique, les constituants ont oublié que l’on créait aussi un nouveau pays à caractère fédéral.

Le principal problème, en copiant le mauvais modèle, tient au fait que le Sénat n’est pas vraiment une chambre de représentation des entités fédérées au niveau central permettant aux provinces de participer réellement à la prise de décision à ce niveau, en conformité avec le principe de participation. À cet égard, le Sénat souffre d’un double déficit : un déficit de légitimité parce que les sénateurs ne sont pas élus, mais nommés à toutes fins utiles par le premier ministre fédéral en place, sans consultation de ses homologues provinciaux; un déficit de représentation parce que les sénateurs ne représentent pas leur province d’origine, mais plutôt le parti politique auquel ils sont affiliés par suite de leur nomination. Se posent alors deux grandes questions à la base de toute réforme du Sénat: comment corriger ce double déficit? Qui représenter lorsqu’on parle de représentation des provinces?

Pour répondre à ces questions, les autorités politiques peuvent adopter trois positions différentes: le statu quo qui a été la voie privilégiée jusqu’à récemment, l’abolition que préconise depuis longtemps le NPD ou une profonde modification du Sénat, ce qui ne peut se faire qu’avec la participation des provinces. Mais personne ne veut ouvrir le dossier constitutionnel. Depuis le double échec des Accords du lac Meech et de Charlottetown, les acteurs politiques sont atteints d’une véritable sclérose constitutionnelle. C’est donc un dossier à suivre, mais qui risque de s’enliser puisque le pays demeure toujours fragmenté et divisé sur la révision de la constitution.

Référence : Ajzenstat, Janet, Paul Romney, Ian Gentles et William D. Gairdner (dir.) (2004), Débats sur la fondation du Canada, Québec, Les Presses de l’Université Laval.