Social democracy transformed democratic politics in the 20th century. As the political framework for a welfare state based on social and economic rights, the programs it inspired lifted millions in Europe and North America out of poverty. Believing that markets should be regulated and put in the service of social aims, social democrats fought for state investments in the common good and for the idea of citizenship that included not only political and civil rights but also social and economic rights.
Here in Canada, social programs at the core of our identity - Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, and accessible education at all levels - can trace their origins to social democracy.
During the 1980s and 1990s, here in Canada and abroad, the social democratic project came under attack. The programs it had put in place were slowly stripped away, or cancelled altogether, as an over-zealous adherence to free market ideas gained in strength. Today, governments around the world are continuing with austerity budgets and slashing the framework of the social democratic state. As a result, we are seeing an alarming increase of inequality, environmental degradation and a dangerous rise of the radical right.
Has social democracy run its course? Or can social democracy be renewed to meet new challenges?