Canadian Social Research Links

Welfare Dependency in Canada
- National Statistics -

Sites de recherche sociale au Canada

La dépendance à l'aide sociale au Canada
- Statistiques pan-canadiennes -

Updated April 29, 2015
Page révisée le 29 avril 2015

[ Go to Canadian Social Research Links Home Page ]

How can Parliament and Canadians know that they're getting their money's worth for the 6.6 billion dollars in federal contributions towards the cost of provincial-territorial social programs??
The Canada Social Transfer (CST) is a federal block grant to the provinces and territories in support of social assistance and social services, along with post-secondary education, early childhood development and early learning and childcare, all rolled into one transfer.
In 2010-11, the CST will reach $11 Billion. [ Source ]
* Of that amount, the social programs portion is estimated by federal officials to be nearly $6.6 Billion. [ Source ]

Doesn't the Canadian public
deserve some accountability for $6.6 Billion?

Jump directly to the answer ( near the bottom of the page you're now reading)

Welfare Historian Number-Cruncher Alert:

Social Assistance caseload/beneficiary statistics and expenditure information, 1997 to 2014

By Gilles: The Caledon link immediately below will take you to the latest (as at March 2015) and most comprehensive resource on social assistance dependency on a province-by-province basis (+NWT) . Provincial-territorial authorities provided input into the process and feedback on the final report. It's the ONLY source of national welfare dependency statistics that the Canadian Social Research Links Guy recommends. The second resource below ("Federal Support") is a Finance Canada link to actual spending on social assistance programs of final resort (among other major transfers).


1. Social Assistance caseload/beneficiary statistics

From the
Caledon Institute of Social Policy:

Social Assistance Summaries 2014 (PDF - 235KB, 49 pages)
Anne Makhoul, March 2015

The informative Social Assistance Statistical Report [ ], published by the federal and provincial/territorial governments, was last released in 2010 and presented 2008 data. In its place, the Caledon Institute will publish a Social Assistance Summaries series as part of its web-based Canada Social Report, which will be operational in spring 2015. In the interim, this publication offers an advance viewing of 12 of Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial Social Assistance programs. Material from Nunavut was not available in time to be included in this paper.
A summary was prepared for each province and territory with input and feedback from government representatives in every jurisdiction. All reports include program descriptions and data on the number of social assistance cases and recipients dating, in most jurisdictions, from 1997 to 2014. The summaries will be updated annually.

Caledon Institute of Social Policy


2. Major federal transfers to provinces and territories:

Federal Support to Provinces and Territories – 2005-06 to 2015-16
Tables showing total expenditures by province/territory for each major transfer program : the Canada Health Transfer (CHT), the Canada Social Transfer (CST), Equalization and Territorial Formula Financing (TFF).
You're welcome to pore through the Finance Canada bumph on federal contributions under the CST and other transfers, but please don't call on me for clarification of technical details in the matter of bysantine federal transfers to provinces and territories.

Finance Canada


From Statistics Canada:

Social program spending in Canada:

Government transfer payments to persons
On this one table, you'll find the latest five years' worth of information on national expenditures (provincial stats available for a small fee) in the area of transfers to persons, which includes (among other programs):

* Family and youth allowances * Child tax benefit or credit * Pensions - First and Second World Wars * War veterans' allowances * Grants to aboriginal persons and organizations * Goods and services tax credit * Employment insurance benefits * Old Age Security Fund payments * Provincial Social assistance, income maintenance * Social assistance, other [bolding added] * Workers compensation benefits * Canada and Quebec Pension Plans.
NOTE: In case you're interested in province-level stats, click the "384-0009" link under 'Source' at the bottom of the table. There you can obtain more specialized CANSIM tables, including provincial tables, for a few dollars each. The "Find information related to this table" link (which is also at the bottom of the StatCan table) contains methodological notes and other related StatCan products, many of which are free of charge.

Welfare dependency from 1995 to 2005:

Number of People on Welfare,
March 1995 to March 2005
(PDF file - 133K, 1 page)
This table provides, for each province and territory, the estimated number of people receiving welfare in March, from 1995 to 2005.
The totals exclude an estimated 150,000 First Nations people on reserve who are receiving social assistance.
National Council of Welfare
The National Council of Welfare was established as an advisory group to the Minister of National Health and Welfare by the Government Organization Act of 1969. The mandate of the Council was to advise the Minister regarding any matter relating to social development that the Minister may refer to the Council for its consideration or that the Council considers appropriate.

The Council closed its doors and shut down its website in September 2012 after it was defunded (~$one million/yr.) by the Harper Government™.

For more about the National Council of Welfare,
go to the National Council of Welfare links page:


The above file is the last "official" province-by-province-by-territory snapshot of the number of Canadians on welfare, and it offers 11 years of reliable, comparable statistics, vetted by the provincial and territorial authorities.

Welfare dependency from 2005 to 2009:

The table below is copied from an extensive collection of interprovincial statistics produced and updated by the Institut de la statistique du Québec (the source appears below the table). The table was last revised on October 26, 2010.

Below the table, you'll find a link to its source, an informal translation of the
main headers and tags used in the table, and one of the CSRL Guy's rare rants
about the dearth of recent, public, national information on social assistance in Canada.

On behalf of social researchers of every stripe in Canada and elsewhere, I'd like to say
UN GRAND MERCI to the Institut de la statistique du Québec for producing and
making this important statistical information available to the public.


UN GRAND MERCI à l'Institut de la statistique du Québec d'avoir produit
et rendu publique cette source précieuse de statistiques sur l'aide sociale au Canada!


NOTE: The file below is a graphic file, so you can't copy and paste any of the text or numbers; however, you *can* copy the whole graphic to your computer.


NOTE : The methodology used for the 2005-2009 table above appears totally comparable with that used in the National Council of Welfare figures for 1995-2005, so you can combine the two sources for comparable stats from 1995 right through to 2009.


Tableau 5.7 : Clientèle de l'aide sociale, 2005-2009
Chapitre 5 : Les revenus
Institut de la statistique du Québec


Translation assistance:

Aide sociale = Welfare
Clientèle de l'aide sociale = Welfare clientele
Ménage = Case (or Household)
Bénéficiaire = Beneficiary (or Recipient)
[One case can be a single person or a family of beneficiaries]
Bén./pop. tot. = Number of welfare beneficiaries as a % of the total population

Table footnotes:
1. Welfare clientele statistics are for March of each year. Percentage of population numbers are as at April of each year.
2. Yukon figures are included with those of the Northwest Territories[see note below].
* Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Social Program Information and Analysis Directorate

* Quebec Department of Employment and Social Solidarity
* Statistics Canada Demography (for population estimates)
NOTE: this (#2) is the only part of the Institut de la statistique table that appears fishy.
There's no logical reason for the welfare dependency numbers for the Yukon to be folded in with those of the NWT.
There are no welfare caseload stats on the Yukon welfare program's website, but you can find good welfare stats for the NWT here:
Avg. # of beneficiaries and cases + payments ($000), 2005-2009) (PDF - 1MB, 89 pages)


(This is likely of no particular interest to anyone except for white-haired profs and social researchers wondering WTF is happening
with Canadian welfare stats. If you're not in one of these two categories, move along - there's nothing for you here.]


From the early 1980s until 2003, when I retired from the federal civil service, I was part of a group of 8-10 people called the Social Program Information and Analysis Directorate ("SPIAD"), in the Department that's currently known as Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.

Our "official" responsibility was to collect and maintain qualitative and quantitative information (rules and statistics) on social assistance programs in every Canadian jurisdiction in support of the Canada Assistance Plan ("CAP"). From 1967 to 1996, CAP was the statutory vehicle for federal government contributions to cover 50% of approved costs of provincial, territorial and, for a time, municipal welfare programs.

[ See the CAP Resources page of this site for more about federal contributions to provincial welfare costs. ]

According to the CAP statute, the Government of Canada was required to table an annual report in Parliament on the operation of CAP. That report included statistics on welfare dependency by jurisdiction over time, and it gave both Parliamentarians and the public a detailed accounting of the evolution of social assistance dependency and costs, along with other related information.

In 1996, Ottawa replaced the Canada Assistance Plan and its detailed reporting requirements with the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST), a block transfer that included the federal contribution to welfare AND Medicare AND post-secondary education. There were no federal requirements regarding provincial welfare statistical reports under the CHST, and there are none under its successor (since 2004), the Canada Social Transfer.

Even sadder, from a welfare researcher's perspective, the end of CAP in 1996 meant the beginning of the gradual demise of the Canadian social assistance program model. Under the CST, provinces are no longer required to lump all people in financial need under one program to receive federal dollars. Since the enactment of the CHST, we've seen some provinces "taking children off welfare", i.e., creating separate benefit programs that provide financial support to *all* low-income families, not only those on welfare. We've seen some provinces creating distinct programs for people with disabilities, and we've also seen employable clients transferred from the welfare program to a training program with its own rules and rate structure in some jurisdictions. What was once (pre-'96) a fairly homogenous set of provincial-territorial programs is inexorably unravelling into a fractured set of initiatives varying from one jurisdiction to the next. And there doesn't seem to be any capacity, nor any interest, to produce any public statistics on welfare programs at the federal govt. level.


As noted under the table above, the numbers are compatible with the methodology used in earlier calculations by the National Council of Welfare, except for that anomaly with Yukon and NWT stats. So we have comparable stats from 1995 to 2009.

That's the good news.
The bad news is that this valuable information was found buried in a provincial report (thanks again, Institut de la statistique du Québec!!) instead of being produced/updated and posted online by a source within, or supported by, the federal government.


How can Parliament and Canadians know that they're getting their money's worth for the 6.6 billion dollars in federal contributions towards the cost of provincial-territorial social programs??


Bill C-545 An Act to Eliminate Poverty in Canada
Tony Martin (Sault Ste. Marie)
- includes links to the full text and the status of the Bill (1st Reading June 16, 2010)

This Bill includes a provision to expand
the mandate of the National Council of Welfare:

"It is the function of the Council to advise the Government of Canada in respect of any matters relating to poverty and social inclusion that the Minister may refer to the Council for its consideration or that the Council considers appropriate.
13.1 It is also the function of the Council to carry out public education and communications activities with respect to the Government of Canada's strategy to eliminate poverty and promote social inclusion."
Section 29 of Bill C-545

Related links:

Poverty Elimination Act tabled in the House of Commons [dead link]
By Chandra Pasma
June 16, 2010
(...) Bill C-545 directs the federal government to consultatively develop a federal poverty elimination strategy, creates a new, independent Poverty Commissioner to monitor progress of the strategy, and provides a stronger advisory role for the , to be renamed the National Council of Poverty and Social Inclusion.

Citizens for Public Justice


<Dead link - leaving it in because of relevant content>:
Tories join call to fight poverty

Conservative MPs endorse aggressive all-party initiative
By Norma Greenaway
November 18, 2010
Conservative MPs have given a qualified nod of approval to a groundbreaking all-party report that calls on the Harper government to pursue an aggressive strategy to reduce poverty. The report, introduced Wednesday in the House of Commons, calls for pumping more money into affordable housing across the country, as well as increased supports to parents, seniors, people with disabilities and jobless and older workers. The Commons committee on human resources released the report after almost three years of cross-country hearings.
Ottawa Citizen


The CSRL Guy

< /END RANT. >


Related link:

Welfare statistics are important!
- includes links to welfare statistics from six provinces that post their stats regularly on their website.

NOTE : For links to welfare statistics from each Canadian jurisdiction and to other related resources,
see the Key Provincial/Territorial Welfare Links page:



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