Social programs in Canada

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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, many of which 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 in Canada 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 Canadian slang, welfare is also sometimes referred to as "the dole" (slang, as in British usage) or "Pogey". "Dole" is also common in most Commonwealth countries.


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.

Unemployment benefits

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. Archived from the original on 4 May 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
  4. ^ Canada Revenue Agency - UCCB[dead link]