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 t create the right conditions for full employment, they were obligated to compensate people who could t 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 deunced 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 Faculte de science politique et de droit at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. Richard Howard has been translating books from the French, chiefly in the social sciences, for over three decades.