Registered Savings Plans and the Making of Middle Class Canada: Toward a Performative Theory of Tax Policy

24 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2016 Last revised: 17 May 2016

See all articles by Lisa Philipps

Lisa Philipps

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: April 6, 2016


Politicians across Canada’s political spectrum strive to position themselves as defenders of the middle class, and tax policy is a prime vehicle for making this pitch. Any tax reform proposal can be examined critically to evaluate its likely distributional impacts and how well these map onto specific definitions of the middle class. This Article attempts, however, a different project. Drawing on the ideas of Judith Butler, it analyzes instead how tax policy produces middle-class identity through the very process of claiming to advance middle-class interests. The case study for this purpose is the rise of tax incentives for saving as a prominent feature of Canadian personal tax policy over the two decades from 1995 to 2015, culminating in the debate over the Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA) in the 2015 federal election campaign. I suggest that the presentation, design, and language of these registered savings plans have shaped the content of middle-class identity, including the behaviors, expectations, and aspirations that condition membership in this identity group. Looking at this performative quality of tax policy helps to explain the remarkable surge and continued salience of savings tax incentives as a governmental response to economic insecurity and precarity, even in the face of mounting evidence that they are ineffective or inadequate solutions to these problems.

Keywords: tax law, tax policy, personal taxation, household saving, consumption tax, TFSA, RESP, RRSP, neoliberalism, middle class, inequality, Judith Butler, performativity, identity, class, gender

JEL Classification: K34

Suggested Citation

Philipps, Lisa, Registered Savings Plans and the Making of Middle Class Canada: Toward a Performative Theory of Tax Policy (April 6, 2016). Fordham Law Review, Vol. 84, No. 6, 2016, Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 47/2016, Available at SSRN:

Lisa Philipps (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics