Accountability Regimes for Federal Social Transfers. An Exercise in Deconstruction and Reconstruction

AuthorBarbara Cameron
ProfessionAssociate Professor, Department of Political Science and Department of Equity Studies, York University and Research Partner in the SSHRC-CURA Research Project 'Reconceiving Human Rights Practice'
chapter 4
BarBara caMeron
Transfers from the federal government to the provinces for social prog rams
within provincial legislative juri sdiction played an importa nt role in both
the promotion and the erosion of social citizensh ip rights in Canada. The
constructive use of the transfers was seen in the creation of a Canada-
wide system of universal, publicly ad ministered medical insurance (medi-
care) and national norms for soci al assistance under the Canada Assistance
Plan.1 With the elite retreat from the Keynesian welfare State, the de-
structive p ossibilities were apparent in unilateral reductions by the federa l
* Research for th is chapter was supporte d by the Social Sciences a nd Humanities
Research Counc il of Canada (Commun ity-University Resea rch Alliance P rogram).
The analy sis in the chapter emerged out of t he author’s collaboration wit h the Child
Care Advocac y Association of Can ada around Bill C-303 , Early Learning and Child
Care Act, a private member’s bil l introduced by the New Democrat ic Party in the 39t h
Parliament , 1st Session, and the 39th P arliament, 2nd Session , where it was debated
at third read ing. It was reintroduced in the 4 0th Parliament, 2nd Se ssion as Bill C-373.
This text i s also published as Ch apter 12 in Peter Graefe et al, ed s, Overpromising and
Underperforming? Understanding and Evaluating New Intergovernmental Accountability
Regimes (Toronto: University of Toronto Press for the Instit ute of Public Admini stra-
tion of Canad a, 2013) 258.
Associate P rofessor, Department of Politic al Science and Depar tment of Equity
Studies, York University a nd Research Part ner in the SSHRC-CUR A Research Project
“Reconceiving Hu man Rights Prac tice,” online: www.soc ialrightscu
1 Canada Assistance Plan, RSC 1985 , c 1.
130 barbara cameron
government in the amounts tran sferred to provinces and the weakeni ng
or outright elimination of the conditions attached to the funds. A s a con-
sequence, social rights advocates i n Canada outside of Quebec beca me
increasingly concerned about accountability in the tran sfers. They con-
tinue to call not only for increases in funding for socia l transfers but also
and very emphatically for the en forcement of existing federal conditions
(in th e Canada Health Act2), the reinstatement of federal conditions that
were eliminated (for social ass istance in the Canada A ssistance Plan), the
introduction of new federal standa rds (for post-secondary education, hous-
ing, poverty), and the creation of new programs w ith enforceable stan-
dards (for child care services). The alternatives proposed to federal social
transfers — in the form of the social and economic union provisions of
the Charlottetown Agreement, the Social Union Framework, interprov-
incial cooperation through the Council of the Federation, or devolution
to the provinces — have not been seen by these advocates as initiatives to
strengthen so cial rights.
The federal spending power and the soc ial transfers that are based on
it are problematic, not least because of the historic opposition to them by
Quebec governments supported by social r ights advocates in that prov-
ince.3 One can im agine alternatives, but these would involve either a ma-
jor constitutional change that recognizes the multinational character of
the country (the preferred option of the author of this chapter) or an un-
precedented degree of cooperation of the provinces to create the mechan-
isms to hold themselves accountable for social rights.4 As neit her of these
2 Canada Health Act, RSC 1985, c C-6, ss 7–12 .
3 For a comprehensive summa ry, see Quebec, Secréta riat aux af‌fair es intergouver-
nementales ca nadiennes, “Quebec’s Hist orical Position on the Federa l Spending
Power 1944–1998” (1998), online: S ecrétariat au x af‌faires intergouver nementales
4 The author’s views on the di lemmas of Canad ian federalism ar e elaborated in other
publications. S ee Barbara Cameron, “ The Social Union , Executive Power and Socia l
Rights” (2004) 13 Can adian Woman Studies 49; B arbara Cameron, “Feder alism and
Social Repro duction” in Kate Bezans on & Meg Luxton, eds, Social Reproduction:
Feminist Political Economy Challenges Neo-Liberalism (Montreal and Ki ngston: McGill
Queen’s University Pres s, 2006) 45; Barbara Ca meron, “Accounting for Rights and
Money in Canad a’s Social Union” in Susan Boyd et a l, eds, Poverty: Rights , Social
Citizenship and Leg al Activism (Vancouver: UBC P ress, 2007) 162; Barbara Ca meron,
“Harper, Quebe c and Canadian Fede ralism” in Teresa Healy, ed, The Harp er Record
(Ottawa: Ca nadian Centre for Policy A lternatives, 2008) 419; B arbara Cameron,
“Political Wil l, Child Care, and C anadian Federa lism” (Spring 2009) Our Sc hools, Our-
selves 129.

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