Social programs in Canada

Social programs in Canada include all government programs designed to give assistance to citizens outside what the market provides. The Canadian social safety net covers a broad spectrum of programs, and because Canada is a federation, many are run by the provinces. Canada has a wide range of government transfer payments to individuals, which totaled $176.6 billion in 2009.[1] Only social programs that direct funds to individuals are included in that cost; programs such as medicare and public education are additional costs.


In Canada, the entirety of the social provisions of government are called "social programs" (French: programmes sociaux), rather than "social welfare" as in European and British usage. "Welfare" in Canada, like in the United States, colloquially refers to direct payments to low-income individuals only, and not to healthcare and education spending.[2] It is rarely used as the name of any specific program, however, because of its negative connotations. (In French it is commonly known as 'le bien-être social'). In slang, welfare is also sometimes referred to as "the dole" (slang, as in British usage) or "Pogey".


Generally speaking before the Great Depression most social services were provided by religious charities and other private groups. Changing government policy between the 1930s and 1960s saw the emergence of a welfare state, similar to many Western European countries. Most programs from that era are still in use, although many were scaled back during the 1990s as government priorities shifted towards reducing budget deficits that were reaching levels deemed too high.


All provinces in Canada provide universal, publicly funded healthcare to Canadian citizens, permanent residents and certain temporary residents, with their costs partially subsidized by the federal government. Approximately 70% of expenditures for health care in Canada come from public sources, with the rest paid privately (both through private insurance, and through out-of-pocket payments). The extent of public financing varies considerably across services. For example, approximately 99% of physician services, and 90% of hospital care, are paid by publicly funded sources, whereas almost all dental care and most prescription drug cost are paid for privately. Most physicians are self-employed private entities which enjoy coverage under each province's respective healthcare plans.Compared to other single-payer health systems in the world, Canada is unusual in banning the purchase of private insurance or care for any services that are listed. This is meant to prevent what is described as "two-tier healthcare", which would allow the rich to "jump the queue". However, in 2005 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General) that the ban on private care could be unconstitutional if it caused unreasonable delays for patients.


In Canada, provinces and territories are responsible for their elementary and secondary schools. Education is compulsory up to the age of 16 in most provinces, 17 and 18 in others. Both elementary and secondary education is provided at a nominal cost. Private education is available, but its comparatively high costs and the relative quality of public education result in it being less popular than in the United States or Britain. Post-secondary schooling is not free, but is subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. Financial assistance is available through student loans and bursaries.


Canadian mortgages are insured by the federal Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation and most provinces have ministries in charge of regulating the housing market. It was created in the 1940s and in Quebec in 1958.

Low-income support

All provinces maintain a program of this sort known by names such as "social assistance", "income support", "income assistance" and "welfare assistance"; popularly they are known as welfare.[3] The purpose of these programs is to alleviate extreme poverty by providing a monthly payment to people with little or no income. The rules for eligibility and the amount given vary widely between the provinces. The welfare program for low income families exists in all provinces. It was created in the 1940s and in Quebec in 1958. The original plan was for Ottawa to pay half of the financial support for families and the other half paid by each of the provinces.


Most Canadian seniors are eligible for Old Age Security, a taxable monthly social security payment. In addition, most former workers can receive Canada Pension Plan or Quebec Pension Plan benefits based on their contributions during their careers. As well many people have a private pension through their employer, although that is becoming less common, and many people take advantage of a government tax-shelter for investments called a Registered Retirement Savings Plan or may save money privately.

Regional aid

The government has several agencies dedicated to developing specific regions.

Children and families

Usually each province has a department or ministry in charge of child welfare and dealing with adoption, foster care, etc. As of 2007 the federal government also offers the Universal Child Care Benefit to subsidize the cost of daycare spots or other forms of childcare.[4]


The provinces are each responsible for disability welfare.

See also


also Social Security (United States)
also Swedish welfare and Social security in Sweden


  1. ^ Government transfer payments to persons Archived 4 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Statistics Canada, 8 November 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2007.
  2. ^ "National Standards and Social Programs: What the Federal Government Can Do (BP379e)". Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  3. ^ Gilles Séguin. "Welfare". Canadian Social Research. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  4. ^ "eTA Canada Visa Application — Apply for ESTA Online in Visa Waiver".

Further reading

External links

Mowat Centre

The Mowat Centre is an independent Canadian public policy think tank associated with the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. It was established in 2009 with support from the government of Ontario, and published its first report in February 2010. It is named after Ontario's longest-serving Premier, Sir Oliver Mowat.

Multiculturalism in Canada

A policy of multiculturalism was officially adopted by the Government of Canada under Pierre Trudeau during the 1970s and 1980s. The Canadian federal government has been described as the instigator of multiculturalism as an ideology because of its public emphasis on the social importance of immigration. The 1960s Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism is often referred to as the origin of modern political awareness of multiculturalism.Canadians have used the term "multiculturalism" in different ways: descriptively (as a sociological fact), prescriptively (as ideology) or politically (as policy). In the first sense "multiculturalism" is a description of the many different religious traditions and cultural influences that in their unity and coexistence result in a unique Canadian cultural mosaic. The nation consists of people from a multitude of racial, religious and cultural backgrounds and is open to cultural pluralism. Canada has experienced different waves of immigration since the nineteenth century, and by the 1980s almost 40 percent of the population were of neither British nor French origins (the two largest groups, and among the oldest). In the past, the relationship between the British and the French has been given a lot of importance in Canada's history. By the early twenty-first century, people from outside British and French heritage composed the majority of the population, with an increasing percentage of individuals who identify themselves as "visible minorities".

Multiculturalism is reflected in the law through the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1988 and section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is administered by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The Broadcasting Act of 1991 asserts the Canadian broadcasting system should reflect the diversity of cultures in the country. Despite the official policies, a small segment of the Canadian population are critical of the concept(s) of a cultural mosaic and implementation(s) of multiculturalism legislation. Quebec's ideology differs from that of the other provinces in that its official policies focus on interculturalism.

Ontario Disability Support Program

The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is a means-tested government-funded

last resort income support paid for qualifying residents in the province of Ontario, Canada, who are above the age of 18 and have a disability. ODSP and Ontario Works (OW) are the two main components of Ontario's social assistance system. Like most social programs in Canada, the program is funded by the government of the province. The Ministry of Community and Social Services is responsible for ODSP and OW.This is unlike Social Security Disability in the United States which is a federally funded program under the umbrella of an Old Age Pension but provides similar benefits—regardless of the state of residence.

The ODSP is defined by provincial legislation, the ODSP Act, and its supporting regulations. It is managed through policy directives.Unlike Ontario Works, ODSP does not require recipients to undertake employment-related activities like job searching, or vocational training. This is determined through a subjective evaluation of four criteria that are defined within the ODSP Act:

The disability is continuous or recurrent;

It is expected to last for a year or more;

The disability significantly limits their ability to work, look after themselves, or get out in the community; and

It has been verified by an approved health professional.For recipients wishing to work, an optional component provides employment support funding, such as referral to a specialized employment counsellor.ODSP is meant to replace the income lost due to the recipient's disability making them unable to work enough to gain self-sufficiency and thus has a higher rate of assistance and asset limits than Ontario Works does.

Power of the purse

The power of the purse is the ability of one group to manipulate and control the actions of another group by withholding funding, or putting stipulations on the use of funds. The power of the purse can be used positively (e.g. awarding extra funding to programs that reach certain benchmarks) or negatively (e.g. removing funding for a department or program, effectively eliminating it). The power of the purse is most often utilized by forces within a government that do not have direct executive power, but have control over budgets and taxation.

Social security

Social security is "any government system that provides monetary assistance to people with an inadequate or no income." In the United States, this is usually called welfare or a social safety net, especially when talking about Canada and European countries.

Social security is asserted in Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

In simple terms, the signatories agree that the society in which a person lives should help them to develop and to make the most of all the advantages (culture, work, social welfare) which are offered to them in the country.Social security may also refer to the action programs of an organization intended to promote the welfare of the population through assistance measures guaranteeing access to sufficient resources for food and shelter and to promote health and well-being for the population at large and potentially vulnerable segments such as children, the elderly, the sick and the unemployed. Services providing social security are often called social services.

Terminology in this area is somewhat different in the United States from in the rest of the English-speaking world. The general term for an action program in support of the well being of poor people in the United States is welfare program, and the general term for all such programs is simply welfare. In American society, the term welfare arguably has negative connotations. In the United States, the term Social Security refers to the US social insurance program for all retired and disabled people. Elsewhere the term is used in a much broader sense, referring to the economic security society offers when people are faced with certain risks. In its 1952 Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (nr. 102), the International Labour Organization (ILO) defined the traditional contingencies covered by social security as including:

Survival beyond a prescribed age, to be covered by old age pensions;

The loss of support suffered by a widowed person or child as the result of the death of the breadwinner (survivor’s benefit);

Responsibility for the maintenance of children (family benefit);

The treatment of any morbid condition (including pregnancy), whatever its cause (medical care);

A suspension of earnings due to pregnancy and confinement and their consequences (maternity benefit);

A suspension of earnings due to an inability to obtain suitable employment for protected persons who are capable of, and available for, work (unemployment benefits);

A suspension of earnings due to an incapacity for work resulting from a morbid condition (sickness leave benefit);

A permanent or persistent inability to engage in any gainful activity (disability benefits);

The costs and losses involved in medical care, sickness leave, invalidity and death of the breadwinner due to an occupational accident or disease (employment injuries).People who cannot reach a guaranteed social minimum for other reasons may be eligible for social assistance (or welfare, in American English).

Modern authors often consider the ILO approach too narrow. In their view, social security is not limited to the provision of cash transfers, but also aims at security of work, health, and social participation; and new social risks (single parenthood, the reconciliation of work and family life) should be included in the list as well.Social security may refer to:

social insurance, where people receive benefits or services in recognition of contributions to an insurance program. These services typically include provision for retirement pensions, disability insurance, survivor benefits and unemployment insurance.

services provided by government or designated agencies responsible for social security provision. In different countries, that may include medical care, financial support during unemployment, sickness, or retirement, health and safety at work, aspects of social work and even industrial relations.

basic security irrespective of participation in specific insurance programs where eligibility may otherwise be an issue. For instance, assistance given to newly arrived refugees for basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, education, money, and medical care.A report published by the ILO in 2014 estimated that only 27% of the world's population has access to comprehensive social security.


Welfare is a type of government support for the citizens of that society. Welfare may be provided to people of any income level, as with social security (and is then often called a social safety net), but it is usually intended to ensure that the poor can meet their basic human needs such as food and shelter. Welfare attempts to provide poor people with a minimal level of well-being, usually either a free- or a subsidized-supply of certain goods and social services, such as healthcare, education, and vocational training.A welfare state is a political system wherein the State assumes responsibility for the health, education, and welfare of society. The system of social security in a welfare state provides social services, such as universal medical care, unemployment insurance for workers, financial aid, free post-secondary education for students, subsidized public housing, and pensions (sickness, incapacity, old-age), etc. In 1952, with the Social Security (Minimum Standards) Convention (nr. 102), the International Labour Organization (ILO) formally defined the social contingencies covered by social security.

The first welfare state was Imperial Germany (1871–1918), where the Bismarck government introduced social security in the late 19th century. In the early 20th century, Great Britain introduced social security around 1913, and adopted the welfare state with the National Insurance Act 1946, during the Attlee government (1945–51). In the countries of western Europe, Scandinavia, and Australasia, social welfare is mainly provided by the government out of the national tax revenues, and to a lesser extent by non-government organizations (NGOs), and charities (social and religious).

Welfare in North America
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