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March 28, 1996
(Executive Council)

Premiers Release Report of the Ministerial Council on Social Policy Reform and Renewal

In his capacity as chair of the Annual Premiers' Conference, Premier Brian Tobin today released the report of the Ministerial Council on Social Policy Reform and Renewal. The council was established at the 1995 Annual Premiers' Conference in St. John's, and all provinces/territories with the exception of Quebec participated in its work.

Premiers have sent the report to the Prime Minister of Canada, and called on him to discuss its recommendations at the upcoming meeting of First Ministers.

Premier Tobin noted that premiers look forward to using this report as a basis for discussions on renewing and reforming the federation.

The attached backgrounder provides further details on the Ministerial Council report.

Copies of the news release and report are available (in French and English) from:

     Newfoundland Information Service
     Ground Floor, East Block
     Confederation Building
     St. John's, Newfoundland
     A1B 4J6
     Telephone: (709) 729-3610
     Facsimile: (709) 729-0584

     The report is availble on the Internet at


     Cathy Coady                        Andrew Noseworthy
     Director of Public Relations       Assistant Secretary to Cabinet
     Office of the Premier              for Intergovernmental Affairs
     Telephone (709) 729-3564           Telephone (709) 729-3164

Report of the Ministerial Council
on Social Policy Reform and Renewal
At the 1995 Annual Premiers' Conference, premiers agreed on the necessity to provide leadership in the reform and renewal of Canadian social policy. This commitment led premiers to establish a Ministerial Council, with the view to developing a national agenda for social policy reform and renewal that could protect the national dimensions of social programs and undertake the reforms necessary to enhance the effectiveness of social programs in Canada.

Premiers believe that the Report of the Ministerial Council constitutes a truly national reform and renewal agenda, and they are committed to a true partnership with the federal government to ensure that social programs continue to meet the needs of Canadians now and in the future.

The Ministerial Council Report demonstrates the commitment of provinces/territories to the exercise of leadership in the process of social policy reform and renewal. It reflects an approach which can lead to more effective cooperation between governments in the design and delivery of social programs.

The report has two key elements:

  • A Statement of Principles to Guide Social Policy Reform and Renewal - This statement has four central themes:
    • social programs must be accessible and serve the basic needs of all Canadians;
    • social programs must reflect our individual and collective responsibility;
    • social programs must be affordable, effective and accountable; and
    • social programs must be flexible, responsive and reasonably comparable across Canada.
  • A Framework and Agenda for Change and Renewal - The Ministerial Council recommends the creation of a national agenda for social policy reform and renewal. The report sets out a number of specific recommendations on how provinces/territories should cooperate with one another, and with the federal government, in the creation of this new national agenda. Premiers agree that this new national agenda should:
    • reflect the Statement of Principles contained in this report;
    • incorporate the agenda for reform woven through the recommendations of this report and related work by sectoral ministerial committees; and
    • establish a mechanism for settling differences and monitoring progress on the national scope of progress in social policy reform and renewal.

Premiers also recognize that Canada's social safety system consists of a complex series of interconnected programs and services, with the federal and provincial/territorial governments active in virtually every field. This has resulted in costly overlap and duplication, diffused accountability, and ultimately led to client confusion. Good ideas for reform are often lost, and federal and provincial/territorial programs often conflict with, rather than complement, each other. In this context, premiers agree that clarifying the respective roles and responsibilities of both orders of government is crucial to effectively reforming Canada's social safety system. Premiers agree that the following criteria should be used in clarifying federal- provincial/territorial roles and responsibilities in the social sector:

  • federal activity in areas of sole provincial responsibility should occur only after federal-provincial/territorial consultation, and provincial/territorial agreement on how federal spending can be effectively applied;
  • as responsibilities within the federation are clarified and realigned, commensurate resources should also be transferred;
  • areas of joint federal-provincial/territorial responsibility should be minimized in those instances in which this would improve the effectiveness of these programs;
  • the use of federal spending power in areas of sole provincial/territorial or joint federal-provincial/territorial responsibility should not allow the federal government to unilaterally dictate program design; and
  • the federal government should accept full responsibility for all programming for Aboriginal people, both on and off reserve, with a gradual transfer of authority to Aboriginal communities.

Premiers further agree that the various sectoral Ministerial Councils complete proposals based on the above guidelines, and with public input as appropriate, as the basis for a new dialogue between premiers and the Prime Minister.

Due to variations in the demand for, and cost of delivering programs, and in revenue generating abilities, provinces/territories have differing abilities to provide social programs. The report recognizes that renewed fiscal arrangements must be a first priority in attempts to restructure and renew the federation. It is important all federal-provincial/territorial transfers be included in the new approach to Canadian fiscal management which will likely be required to support these new directions.

Premiers agree that, if genuine cooperation and partnership between governments in the social policy sphere is to be achieved, the existing process of intergovernmental dialogue on social policy and fiscal matters must be strengthened. Building a new national vision will require a commitment by all governments. There must be regular dialogue between governments on such matters as the interpretation of national principles, and agreement on how they should be monitored and administered. This will require a strong commitment to leadership by all of Canada's First Ministers.

Principles to Guide Social Polic and Renewal

The following principles were proposed by the Ministerial Council to guide social policy reform:

    2. Social policy must assure reasonable access to health, education and training, income support and social services that meet Canadians' basic needs.
    3. Social policy must support and protect Canadians most in need.
    4. Social policy must promote social and economic conditions which enhance self-sufficiency and well-being, to assist all Canadians to actively participate in economic and social life.
    5. Social policy must promote active development of individuals' skills and capabilities as the foundation for social and economic development.
    6. Social policy must promote the well-being of children and families, as children are our future. It must ensure the protection and development of children and youth in a healthy, safe and nurturing environment.


    7. Social policy must reflect our individual and collective responsibility for health, education and social security, and reinforce the commitment of Canadians to the dignity and independence of the individual.
    8. Partnerships among governments, communities, social organizations, business, labour, families and individuals are essential to the continued strength of our social system.
    9. There is a continuing and important role, to be defined, for both orders of government in the establishment, maintenance and interpretation of national principles for social programs.


    10. The ability to fund social programs must be protected. Social programs must be affordable, sustainable, and designed to achieve intended and measurable results.
    11. The long-term benefits of prevention and early intervention must be reflected in the design of social programs.
    12. Federal constitutional, fiduciary, treaty and other historic responsibilities for assurance of Aboriginal health, income support, social services, housing, training and educational opportunities must be fulfilled. The federal government must recognize its financial responsibilities for Aboriginal Canadians, both on and off reserve.
    13. Governments must coordinate and integrate social programming and funding in order to ensure efficient and effective program delivery, and to reduce waste and duplication.


    14. Social policy must be flexible and responsive to changing social and economic conditions, regional/local priorities and individual circumstances.
    15. Governments must ensure that all Canadians have access to reasonably comparable basic social programming throughout Canada, and ensure that Canadians are treated with fairness and equity.
    16. Social policy must recognize and take into account the differential impact social programming can have on men and women.
1996 03 28 12:30 p.m.

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