Accueil » 16-1 ( 1961) » La sécurité sociale canadienne : problèmes et perspectives

La sécurité sociale canadienne : problèmes et perspectives

Claude Morin


L'auteur, dans cette étude, se livre à un effort de réflexion critique sur les caractéristiques du régime canadien de sécurité sociale et sur les problèmes que suscitent actuellement son organisation et ses tendances.


Canadian Social Security: Problems and Perspectives

There are two orders of deficiencies in our social security system. The distinction between them is that one group of deficiencies may be looked upon as being the basic one, while the other one is in fact the consequence of the basic shortcomings. This distinction is extremely important because, for the coming years, it will be possible to bring permanent solutions to the problems of our social security only if there is some action on their deep causes.

The basic deficiencies divide themselves in two groups: those concerning the conception we have of social security and those concerning its organization.


1 ) The Nature and the Function of Social Security in Canada

In Canada there is no agreement yet on a common definition of social security. Strictly speaking, we could do without this common definition if at least there was agreement on what Canadian social security should be and if, in some way, there was available a precise notion of its nature in the Canadian context. Neither would the lack of such a definition have important consequences, if we knew the part we want social security to play in the economy of a country such as ours.

2) Relations Between Private and Public Fields

This conceptual deficiency not only limits the role of our social security system, but also gives rise to certain confusions, namely in what regards the type of relation which should exist between the public or governmental social security system and private income maintenance and health measures.

3) Social Security in Relation with a General Welfare Policy

The lack of a precise concept of the real nature of the Canadian social security system may also explain why our social security is not sufficiently integrated to a general welfare policy. In the past there has not been enough preoccupation about the relation which could exist between social security measures and, for instance, a full employment policy. This results in assigning social security with a role the importance of which sometimes becomes so considerable that it ends by putting aside all other responsibilities.

Here are two policy recommendations concerning this first group of basic shortcomings.

a) First, it is essential that the population and the government adopt a broader conception of social security no longer considering it as being only a means of income redistribution. Social security should be an integrating part of a vast welfare policy, in which the efforts toward full employment, the promotion of hygiene and better housing and the improvement of the level of education should deserve as much attention as the safeguard of a minimum standard of living.

b) In the present conditions, because of the nature, the influence and the dimension of social problems, private initiative is definitely unable, due to the weaknesses of its means, to meet all the needs. The government must therefore play a more dynamic and more progressive role in the field of social security.


The second group of basic deficiencies, those of organization, takes the form of a constant lack of a general plan in the elaboration of our social security system and can be accounted for in great part by the above noted shortcomings, as well as by the presence of the following factors.

1) Unsystematical Elaboration

First the elaboration of our social security system took place in an unsystematical way. It has been built up from a multitude of particular programs which have few or no relations between themselves despite the similarities which could unite them. Moreover, it is administrated simultaneously by diversified governmental departments at the federal as well as at the provincial level.

2) Insufficient Knowledge of the Facts

Neither has there always been an adequate knowledge of the facts, of the real needs of the population and of the financial resources and abilities of the Canadian economy facing the new obligations imposed upon it by the gradual extension of our social security system.

3) Ignorance of Consequences

In the course of the elaboration of our social security system, the consequences that it could bring about, in the long run, to the population's mentality and behavior have also been ignored.

4) Structural Deficiencies

While building a social security system, the government could not, would not or even did not want to establish communication media between itself and the population. The government has not sufficiently utilized the advice and experience of some benevolent or civic organizations.

Another structural element is missing in our social security system: those organizations and rehabilitation services whose creation should have accompanied the elaboration of certain palliative social security measures, particularly the social assistance measures.

The main policy recommendations concerning the so-called « organizational » deficiencies of our social security system are the following ones.

a) Federal and provincial governments should establish social research centers or extend their attributions and functions where they already exist. Those centers endowed with a diversified staff, made up of economists, sociologists, statisticians and social workers, could, alone or with the collaboration of universities, furnish a sizeable documentation on all the aspects of social welfare. This research effort would allow the governments to work out a rational policy in which all the significant elements would be taken into consideration.

b) The government should, as soon as the necessary information will have been gathered, prepare a general plan for the short and the long run. It would then be possible to decide which orientation Canadian social security would take from now on. It would be known which groups are still to be protected more adequately against the risks of social life. The method of action to be chosen in order to carry into effect all the improvements planned would also appear more clearly.

c) It is imperative, while improving our palliative social security system, to set up rehabilitation services where they are missing and to increase the attributions of those already existing. Those services could take many forms depending upon the land of problems to be taken care of. They could be established independently or become a part of the services provided by hospitals or social agencies.

d) The government, at any of its levels, should consider the consultation of organizations representative of the population or of given fields of welfare as prerequisite and normal process in the elaboration and working out of new measures.

e) The public should constantly be kept informed of the financial burdens which governments have to assume with any increase in social security grants or with any widening of its present coverage. They should also know more than they do now about the inflationary tendencies likely to result from any sudden growth of public welfare provisions.


The consequences of the two groups of deficiencies mentioned above constitute what we may call the current problems of the Canadian social security system. They are easier to detect than the basic shortcomings.

1) An Incomplete System

Our social security system is incomplete. It is so because its programs are not diversified neither numerous enough and because they are not always adequate.

The needs of the population are insufficiently covered. The amounts granted in virtue of many income maintenance and social assistance programs provide most of the time only for a minimum level of subsistence and are revised only occasionnally and in a completely arbitrary way. There is not link between the changing requirements of social and economic life and the level of these amounts.

Our social security system also provides more protection to the individual as a citizen than to the family as a component of society; despite some timid exceptions, it is far from giving enough weight to burdens and obligations pertaining to family life.

2) A Palliative System

Another obvious shortcoming of our social security system lies in its being almost exclusively palliative and in its dealing only with the more easily perceptible needs. Of course, it is possible thanks to the various social welfare measures, to help the population, but it is done in the least administratively complicated way.

Our social security measures are, for the most part, almost entirely negative, that is to say they aim at solving complex and varying problems with financial means exclusively. They are in fact directed to the problems, not to the people.

3) Social Dependency as a Consequence

Such an orientation in a social security system does much in bringing about a risk of social dependency for its beneficiaries; this mostly occurs when rehabilitation organizations and services are lacking as much as they are now.

4) A Lack of Respect for the Levels of Social Life

Neither does Canadian social security take enough into account the levels of social and community life.

The federal government, while being the governmental unit the farthest from the individual, reaches him more often and more directly in many cases than the provinces which are closer to him.

In fact, social security as it is now conceived and organized is liable to bring about an unacceptable national uniformity. After a close examination of the various social security programs, one is likely to get the impression that, in a way, a given type of « Canadian citizen » has been initially imagined, to whom programs have been applied after their conception by civil servants ignoring or neglecting some elementary sociological factors.

The last group of policy recommendations deals with some of the concrete problems of our social security measures.

a) Provincial responsibility in what regards social security should considerably be increased, since this level of government is closer to the population than the federal government and is in a better position to know its real problems. The federal government should perhaps withdraw from the administration of many present welfare programs.

b) A family policy should be adopted and current measures should be modified so as to provide a better protection for the family.

It would also be advisable to modify the taxation level through an increase In the basic exceptions for family charges.

c) So-called cselective» social security programs should be established in favour of unmarried women having reached 60, of survivors and other similar groups subject to a higher incidence of financial problems.

d) Unemployment insurance will have to become again a real social insurance or be definitely considered as an assistance program. Whatever choice is made, it is imperative to put an end to the present ambiguity.

e) In the future, pensions and allowances should be regularly revised according to the movements of the cost of living index. It would however be a prerequisite to such a policy that social security grants be based on the real average needs of the groups of the population for which they are entended.


The dimension of the task which has to be performed should not lead the government to undertake only one set of reforms at a time. The action must deal simultaneously with the fundamental characteristics of our social security system, its instruments and the measures it comprises. In the past, there has always been a tendency to forget the first two sources of problems, which made the lack of coordination worse. This triple direction of action appears as the essential condition of any lasting improvement in the social security system we are now living with.