Social programs in Canada

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Social programs in Canada (French: programmes sociaux) include all Canadian government programs designed to give assistance to citizens outside of what the market provides. The Canadian social safety net includes a broad spectrum of programs, many of which are run by the provinces and territories. Canada also has a wide range of government transfer payments to individuals, which totaled $176.6 billion in 2009—this cost only includes social programs that administer funds to individuals; programs such as medicare and public education are additional costs.[1]



In Canada, the entirety of the social provisions of government are called social programs (French: programmes sociaux), as opposed to social welfare in European/British parlance.

Like in the United States, welfare in Canada 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 or l'aide sociale.) In Canadian slang, welfare is also sometimes referred to as "the dole" (also common amongst Britain and other Commonwealth countries) or "pogey". Before the Second World War, such programs were generally known as "relief".


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[edit]

Low-income support[edit]

All provinces maintain a low-income-support program known by names such as "social assistance", "income support", "income assistance" and "welfare assistance"; popularly they are known as welfare (French: le bien-être social or l'aide sociale).[3] Like in the United States, welfare in Canada colloquially refers to direct payments to low-income individuals only, and not to healthcare and education spending.[2] Moreover, in Canadian slang, welfare is also sometimes referred to as 'the dole' or 'pogey'.

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. This program 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.[citation needed]


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.

Children and families[edit]

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]


Each province is responsible for disability welfare:

Regional aid[edit]

The government has several agencies dedicated to developing specific regions.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Government transfer payments to persons Archived 4 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine, Statistics Canada, 8 November 2007. Retrieved 4 December 2007.
  2. ^ a b "National Standards and Social Programs: What the Federal Government Can Do (BP379e)". Archived from the original on 5 January 2016. 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]
  5. ^ "On disability assistance - Province of British Columbia".
  6. ^ "Ontario Disability Support Program".
  7. ^ "Aide sociale et solidarité sociale | Gouvernement du Québec". Archived from the original on 31 October 2018.

Further reading[edit]

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