Canada’s Social Union


The Canadian Health and Social Transfer (CHST) — block funding — was established in 1995 to serve as the replacement for federal/provincial cost-sharing arrangements regarding social spending in Canada. One of the first orders of business was to provide for the prioritized disadvantaged groups that had been identified as requiring continued federal assistance.

Negotiations with provincial social service ministers produced the expanded child tax credit, which took account of priority number one (disability is number two) and allowed low-income parents to offset a large portion of their child care expenses, while supposedly freeing up dollars for provincially initiated programs aimed at assisting children in poverty.

But what about enforcement? Will such freed-up resources really go to their intended target? That question is just one of the knots in the amazing cat’s cradle comprising the current discussion around Canada’s social union. It is hoped this article will illuminate, rather than merely further confuse.

The following gives some idea of what the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) sees as important aspects of the discussion. Besides setting out our position, it describes what we understand as the problems that need to be solved, the hurdles to overcome, if the notion of a social union is to have any meaning for Canadians with one or more disabilities.

Developing Shared Principles:
In establishing the CHST, governments were, to quote the actual legislation, to develop, through mutual consent, a set of shared principles and objectives. If the very opposite is all that has ever happened before — secret, bilateral negotiations with no consensus, how is such a solution expected to work now? (Recall the recent Labour Market Agreements, a series of signed, bilateral contracts negotiated with little or no community input. That is the usual way things get done in the world of federal/provincial/territorial affairs.)

The Concept of Citizenship:
The concept of citizenship that Canadians with disabilities want the feds to protect incorporates access to the economic, cultural and social life of our country. But to the federal government, citizenship rights extend no further than mobility and access to the electoral process. How can we exchange their constricted conception for a true understanding of what citizenship actually means: having a job, living free of poverty?

Forestalling Separate Services:
Separate services for persons with disabilities, which we have spent the last two decades trying to dislodge, are making a reappearance into official favour. Furthermore, they are having an effect on the definition of broad social policy by their very existence. How can this phenomenon of policy formulation by default be re-routed, and ultimately forestalled?

Responding to Citizenship Needs:
We must work to ensure a strong central government that recognizes and responds to the citizenship needs of all Canadians. This does not mean that we are opposed to asymmetrical federalism. Our community understands all too well that treating everyone the same does not result in equality.

Protecting Rights:
If, as appears more and more likely, no future unilateral federal action will be accepted by the provinces, what will eventually happen to the fundamental citizenship and equality rights of people with disabilities? Won’t areas in which provinces have no interest become the items that get only perfunctory treatment, if not simply scrapped, during negotiations?

National Standards Needed:
Pan-Canadian, justiciable (challengeable in court) national standards are required by the citizenry with disabilities. So is a “National Security Act’ which would enshrine the rights lost with the demise of the ’Canadian Assistance Plan”, and which would include the right of freedom from discrimination. The Court Challenges Program must be expanded to meet the need to combat provincial, as well as federal, breaches of guarantees to citizens with disabilities as provided for in Canada’s constitution.

(Mel Graham is the Communications Officer of Council for Canadians with Disabilities (CCD). For more information, call (204) 947-0303 (voice/TTY) or e-mail:


One of this country’s most distinguished disability advocates, former CCD Chairperson Francine Arsenault, has been granted an honourary Doctorate of Laws degree by Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. The ceremony took place at Queens on October 30.

Francine’s roles of educator, social animator and volunteer par excellence take in a lifetime of accomplishments ranging from the close-to-home — Perth Road Village Church — to self-empowerment projects of people with disabilities in places as far removed from her rural Kingston, Ontario, home as the Caribbean and Indonesia.

The honourary doctorate recognizes Francine’s work as a dedicated internationalist, serving in a number of elected positions with both Council of Canadians with Disabilities and Queens University’s International Centre for the Advancement of Community-Based Rehabilitation (ICABAR).

TEL: (204) 947-0303
FAX: (204) 942-4625


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