I had the privilege of serving as minister of community and social services, and was notionally in charge of Ontario’s broken and Byzantine system of social assistance. One program for those with disabilities (ODSP) and one for those in dire straits with nowhere else to turn (Ontario Works).

As with every minister before me, I was charged with “fixing” social assistance. I was told that our programs were too expensive and did little to transform people’s lives. I attended countless briefings, met with a slew of stakeholders and received several expert reports. And, although there was much thoughtful work, the magic bullet never appeared. In fact, when I saw reports prepared for previous ministers, I discovered many of the same ideas repeated over and over again.

Why is reform so difficult?

Mainly because we can’t agree on the purpose of social assistance.