Canadian Constitutional Conference, Notes for a Statement by the Premier Minister of Quebec During the Discussion on Income Security and Social Services (8-10 December 1969)

Document Information

Date: 1969-12-08
By: Jean-Jacques Bertrand
Citation: Canadian Constitutional Conference, Notes for a Statement by the Premier Minister of Quebec During the Discussion on Income Security and Social Services (Ottawa: 8-10 December 1969).
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Unofficial translation prepared by the Secretariat of the
Constitutional Conference




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It is perhaps in the constitutional field that we find in Quebec the greatest continuity from one government to another. In fact, regardless of which party has been in power or who the Prime Minister has been, Quebec’s stands on this matter have preserved a truly remarkable historical coherence. When we study the briefs or the attitudes of Quebec’s Prime Ministers who have at one time or another in our history participated in federal-provincial conferences, we find the same themes, the same concerns, the same objectives. Of course, the styles may differ because times and people change. But the important thing is that the substance remains the same.

To-day we are broaching the study of social security, a subject on which Quebec has taken numerous official stands which are all in keeping with one another. In fact, Quebec has always insisted on safeguarding the exercise of its constitutional powers in this matter and on resuming the powers presently exercised by the federal Government in this particular field.

This position has become increasingly clear as the importance of social security programmes has grown in our society. I have no intention of recalling the historical background at great length; I wish merely to point out that, in this connection, my two immediate predecessors advanced viewpoints which very closely resemble those which I shall set forth to-day.


Last year we submitted and published a working paper covering the whole constitutional question.

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We wanted all the citizens in the country to know how we envisaged the distribution of powers in a new constitution. I should like to refer to certain essential points in that document to show you where we stand.

In the first place we want a distribution of powers which will be flexible enough to accommodate each member state in the federation. We know very well that what is suitable for Quebec is not necessarily suitable for the other provinces. This is why we are asking that the future Canadian constitution be sufficiently flexible so that it can be adapted to the needs of each. We want a greater decentralization of powers while leaving the member states who so desire the freedom to delegate part of their powers to the federal Government. In this way, Quebec could exercise all the powers that it feels it needs without, however, preventing a greater measure of centralization or federal intervention.

The principle underlying the distribution of powers in general applies also to the field of social security. in this connection, the working paper we published last year states:

”Social security, including all social allowances, old age pensions, family allowances, health and hospitals, manpower placement and training should be allocated exclusively to the States” (States being understood here in the present meaning of provinces).

This stand was so formulated in order to take into account the almost unanimous feeling of the political

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parties and intermediate bodies in Quebec. it also reflects the conclusions of the Tremblay Commission, as well as the opinions expressed in a number of briefs submitted to our Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution. ln fact, the statement I have just read represents, in our opinion, the consensus of Quebecers on the constitutional aspect of the question with which we are dealing to-day.

You may wonder why, in social security matters, there is such a consensus in Quebec and why it has lasted so long. if you will permit me, I shall come back to that in a few minutes. For the moment, I should like to analyze the federal Government s positions as they appear in the white paper just published.

What is the federal Government proposing in answer to Quebec’s clear, precise and repeated claims– claims which are one of the main reasons for the present constitutional revision?

It is not even proposing the status quo. it is going farther, or not as far, depending on how you look at it; not only is it refusing to acknowledge the priority, conferred on Quebec by the present constitution, but it wants to take away from Quebec some of the powers it already possesses. Furthermore, the federal Government is asking that the unlimited spending power it has often used in the pest with the help of abundant tax resources be henceforth confirmed in the new constitution. Finally, it wants to get dominant power in matters of pensions and pension funds; this would mean that we would in effect lose control over the Quebec pension plan and all related programmes.

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To summarize, I would say that the federal Government is planning to maintain the upper hand in all the programmes it already controls, and that it also wants to ensure its dominancein matters over which, in itsopinion, provincial powers are now too greati Not only is it refusing to hand over to Quebec the programmes for which we have frequently asked and concerning which we have been given legal priority by the constitution, but for all practical purposes it wants to get its hands on certain programmes which are now under provincial jurisdiction. in our opinion, this is doing things backwards.

It will therefore be easy to understand why Quebec cannot accept either the federal proposals contained in the white paper or the philosophy on which they are founded.

Let us now look at the principal arguments on which the federal position is based.

In the first place, the federal Government has chosen programme definitions which, though not bad in themselves, do enable it to draw categorical distinctions between income security and social services that do not always conform to reality. The overlapping e¥fect of the various social security measures and the influence they exert on one another are not really reflected in the federal definitions, The latter may be useful to the federal Government in advancing its thesis, but they are neither sufficiently exact nor sufficiently fundamental to serve as the basis for a division of powers under the constitution.

In the second place, the federal Government gives the impression chat it is the only government in Canada capable of taking the necessary measures to

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provide etfective assistance to Canadians. it argues as if the provinces were and always will be incapable of demonstrating leadership in this field. Without going back too fer into the past, it may readily be shown that Quebec has been in the forefront of social security progress. Suffice it to note that in 1961, Quebec instituted its own programme of educational allowances, which was copied three years later by the federal Government. It was also as a result 0f Quebec’s influence that the Canada and Quebec Pension Plans were worked out. Quebec was the first to talk 0f registering social security plans, and the first to replace tax exemptions with family allowances and exempt email taxpayers from all taxation. I would also point out that the Canada Assistance Plan derived its inspiration from a report published in Quebec in l963. Furthermore, it was in Quebec that Canada’s first system of graduated family allowances was introduced. It is also Quebec that has recently proposed a bold and sweeping reform of the entire family allowance programme. Finally, the National Assembly has just passed social assistance legislation that breaks new ground in the field of prevention and social rehabilitation.

I think these few examples show that it is wrong to take it for granted that only the federal Government is qualified to innovate in the social security field. It is sometimes possible to have the opposite impression, especially with regard to the federal Government’s family allowances, which have never been adapted to the needs of our families and have not really evolved at all since their introduction a generation ago.

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Thirdly, the federal Government claims that income support measures are absolutely essential to it if it is to establish a national policy on the redistribution of wealth. The claim is greatly exaggerated. For the moment, I shall say only that insofar as the income support programmes referred to in the white paper are concerned, there is no redistribution in favour of Quebec. I have no need of further proof than the actual figures given in Appendix C of the federal Government’s white paper. Quebec currently receives a quarter of the federal allocations to major income support programme $602 million out of $2,405 million; Quebec also pays a quarter of the federal treasury’s revenue. In this field, Quebecers receive the equivalent of what they contribute to the federal Government in the form of taxes. Thus, there is no redistribution, at least insofar as Quebec is concerned. In any case, our calculations show that although it is true that the two richest provinces pay more than they receive under these programmes, the reverse is true of three other provinces which are themselves richer than Quebec. This is why we have always maintained that the redistribution of wealth should be achieved mainly through equalization payments.

Fourthly, the federal Government also bases its position on the “community spirit” argument. If it is meant that social security permits a stronger feeling of belonging to Canadian society, it seems to me that there are better ways of enabling such a feeling to emerge. The feeling of belonging to Canadian society will be all the stronger, in my opinion, if the member

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states of the federation are recognized as adult governments, capable of assuming their responsibilities, and not as subsidiaries of an omnipotent central government. In this respect, I am very much afraid lest the method employed by the government of Canada in seeking to establish a community spirit – that of reducing the powers of the provinces – should achieve the opposite result, at least insofar as Quebec is concerned.

In the fifth place, the federal Government cites the need for portability of social benetits in support of its position, Portability already exists, and not only in respect of federal programmes. it works very well in the case of pensions and workmen’s compensation, and it is understood that Quebec will continue to support it in principle. ln short, there is no reason why the provinces should not be able to reach agreement together on reciprocity in social security matters.

In the sixth place, the federal Government claims that it must retain all its powers in the field of social security, because if a significant number of tax points were transferred to the provinces, it would no longer be able to meat its economic policy responsibilities. This is an old argument, and it is easy to show that even if a number of tax points corresponding in revenue the cost of the major income security programmes were transferred, the federal Government would still have sufficient latitude in taxation to be able to discharge its economic responsibilities, Thus, our economists have calculated that on the basis of the value of the tax point as defined in the white paper on taxation, the federal Government would be left with about 40 per cent of the income tax

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of individuals in Quebec, compared with the present figure of 50 per cent, supposing that the entire tax transfer were taken from this tax alone, which is not necessarily the case; in other words, this argument does not bear analysis.

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The federal document has many other very questionable aspects.

Thus the distribution that it proposes, entrusting the federal Government with income security programmes and the provinces with social services, involves in the long run a great risk of causing a serious distortion of social security in general. Indeed, the federal Government will be led to act mainly in the fields that it reserves especially for itself, with the result that it will put great emphasis on the programmes that involve considerable expense; whereas, actually, perhaps it should be orienting itself toward other forms of social security in order to achieve maximum efficiency The federal position “freezes” social policy, so to speak, in its present forms. The federal Government’s position Nould make it very difficult to accomplish the necessary integration of certain income support measures with the social services.

In summary, the outlook of the federal Government is static. It is as though it had taken a photograph of to-day’s social security for the purpose of distributing, between the central administration and the provinces, the existing programmes, in their presently existing form, without considering that changes might come about to greatly alter the nature and scope of such programmes. The federal Government has made no attempt to solve the problem of social security for the future; all it is doing is proposing a new distribution of the component parts of the present system.

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The federal Government’s proposal would lead us inevitably to perpetual federal-provincial friction. lt even anticipates that; for it proposes to have the courts settle borderline cases by determining whether this or that programme contains sufficient income security to be allotted to the federal Government or sufficient social services to be handed over to the provinces. In other words, the boundaries that it proposes to lay out seem to it sufficiently vague for it to foresee already that the courts would have to intervene in order to clarify the situation. This is not especially encouraging just at a time when we wish to reduce the grey areas as much as possible and, by the same token, decrease the number of federal-provincial disputes.

I should also mention that the federal Government is anxious to have the limitless spending power that we have always objected to confirmed. It is precisely this spending power that has frequently increased the number of conflict situations that we all deplore. However, It is proposed that we perpetuate this, under the pretence that we need it for the purpose of redistributing wealth. ln this connection, I should like to recall the position that we put forward in our working document:

“The federal Government should be the principal party responsible for the balanced economic growth of the country as a whole, for the achievement of a certain degree of economic equality between the States, and for the overall distribution of wealth between these

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States, through equalization. As for the States themselves, they should be the principal parties responsible for the balanced economic growth of the various regions that make up their respective territories, for the achievement 0f the greatest possible economic equality of these regions with respect to one another, and for the distribution, among the citizens of their territories, of wealth and collective services — this being achieved, among other things, by social security, education for all and the dissemination of culture.

Particular circumstances may require special measures on the part of the central Government, in which case it would be necessary, just as in the case of equalization, that precise criteria be defined so that all the States that find themselves in the same position may be able to benefit equally by such measures.”

This means, then, that we recognize the federal use of spending power, but within definite limits. Already we have begun, with regard to joint programmes, to search for such limits. This concern must be extended to all sectors. Otherwise, in the matter of social security, for example, the federal Government will end up by acting as though — aside from the official

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constitution that we drew up with so much effort — there were a parallel constitution, unwritten, semi-official and even clandestine, which the federal Government could use as it saw fit in order to get around what does not please it in the formal provisions drawn up by common consent.

* * * * * * * * * *

In drawing up a new constitution we must look to the future. The new distribution of powers should be as clear as possible, so as to enable the government responsible for a particular sector to possess all the necessary implements for the accomplishment of a dynamic integrated policy. This government should be able to reconsider its activities from time to time and to redevelop its programmes so as to take into account the evolution of social realities. lt should be in a position to rethink its objectives and reorganize its programmes without being caught in the vise of a division of constitutional responsibilities within the same sector.

Let us take the case of industrial accidents. Are we to be prevented from integrating this programme with other social insurance measures because we have lost priority in this latter field? Let us take, too, the case of temporary disability or wage insurance: are we to be prevented from changing, in this connection, our pension system because the federal Government is now to have the last word in such matters?

Take the case of family policy. How can we help families to rgise a reasonable number of children,

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to educate those children to care for them, while still leaving to the head of the family his sense of responsibility and his desire to work? Recently we published a white paper – from which I shall quote a few extracts – which proposes a new manner of realizing these objectives and requires the repatriation to Quebec of the federal family allowances. Are we to be prevented forever from applying this programme because of a new constitution that would give the last word, in social matters, to the federal Government?

Here is what we said in Chapter VI of our white paper on family allowances:

“In recent years Quebec has shown its firm intention to develop a coherent end co-ordinated family policy that would be its own.

The application of a Quebec family allowance system constitutes one of the examples of the policy that has thus been adopted by Quebec. Nonetheless, however effective such family allowances might be, a general policy could not be limited to the implementation of such a measure alone.

Quebec has already adopted many measures along these lines. Some of them are intended to assure that with respect to those items recognized as of prime importance in our society, the needs of each family member are met. Measuresin connection with education, health, housing and a steady income deserve mention. By way of example, there are educational allowances, student aid, bursary loans, medical aid

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and hospital insurance, public housing, social assistance and the pension plan. Other measures meet particular family and social situations, making certain service: available to families. For example, there are child protection measures, social welfare courses, reception centres, retraining classes for juvenile delinquents, the network of social agencies.

In addition, there is legislation pertaining to personal and family status” We might mention the provisions pertaining to separation as to bed and board, alimony, annulment ot marriage, parental and marital responsibilities and divorce.

However, the diversity of these measures and programmes gives rise to a certain amount of confusion and clouding of issues. Our policy needs to be given greater coherence and to have its future direction more carefully detined.

From such a viewpoint, the most pressing measure is obviously the implementation of a revised system of family allowances. Once this change has come aboutthe consolidation of the general social security system will necessitate the proportional reduction of benefits paid under other programmes in order to wholly or partially cover the costs arising where there are children in the family.

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The pension plan, the workmen’s compensation scheme, unemployment insurance, vocational training allowances — there are all programmes where present payments provide for dependants or take them into account, and which will therefore need to be revised.

With respect to social assistance, the adjustments planned would not necessarily improve the financial position of the families assisted. But insofar as the latter will be reintegratad into the labour market, they will continue to benefit from family allowances. This payment could be adequate to raise a number 0f families above the poverty line and thus improve their children’s prospects for the future.

As is the case with family allowances, school attendance is a requirement for educational allowances and student aid, so that this constitutes a strong incentive for the family to encourage their children to pursue their education. Consequently, we must plan to combine these payments, or at least establish close connections between them.

However, if the modifications proposed

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above prove necessary for the preservation of coherence between the various social programmes, it is nonetheless essential to plan for new measures. Quebec might thus follow the example of certain foreign countries which have taken great care in formulating a family welfare policy by examining the possible justification for setting up a system of allowances for mothers who have become head of the family through the husband’s absence. This type of allowance might prove a suitable solutionto certain problems which beset mothers who are torn between the requirements of their jobs and their families’ needs. lt might be an equally good thing if the mother’s allowance replaced the family allowance paid upon arrival of the first child, as has been mentioned in chapter four. The same type of research could be undertaken on the establishment of a system of health and drug insurance and on the expansion of public housing programmes. Undertakings of this kind would most certainly help us to achieve our goal of combatting social inequalities.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that we cannot limit ourselves to such measures in the development 0f the Quebec family plan. The State must also play a role in the maintenance and protection of the family. It must see to it that the

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members of the family have available to them at all times all the programmes, services and institutions which will enable them either to safeguard the family unit or to settle the problems arising from its existence in the best way possible. But the State’s involvement here is necessarily more complex than this, for it must take into account the values which are proper to the family. These values, both the strictly family and the social ones, as well as the problems which the modern family has to face, concern, among other things, family planning, the work contribution of members of the family, and the role of the husband and wife.

Seen in this context, such moves as the setting up of family courts and the co-ordination 0f legislation concerning children and the family into codes regrouping under one philosophy the whole body of scattered provisions which govern these domains seem, if they are not steps to be taken immediately, at least to offer subjects for reflexion which will form the basis of positive future action.

Finally, the well-being of the family can be pursued by the introduction of several additional measures. We might mention the development, which is already well underway, of policies on

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housing, leisure, sport and participation in cultural life.”

This, Mr. Chairman, is what we had to say in our white paper on family allowances. lt makes it clear that, if Quebec is determined to take charge of the whole field of social security, it is not only for practical administrative reasons, but also for cultural reasons.

The fact that an individual receives a cheque from one government or another does not have much influence on his conception of things. The cheque may be neutral from the cultural point of view. However, what does have an influence on culture (understood as a way of life) is the whole system on the basis of which the cheques are issued, that is to say the social policy of a State. This policy can influence all the activities of a society; it can create a feeling of dependence where such a thing might have been avoided, or it can destroy family ties. Or, again, it can discourage or encourage demographic growth, put emphasis on individual or on family values. Social policy is the result of the aims of a society whose behaviour it can subsequently influence.

From this point of view, it is an error to see nothing more in the guaranteed income programmes than a simple measure of economic policy. There is much more than that. These programmes are in fact the administrative expression of a social aim, founded on the values of a society.

In short, social policy is to individuals and families what educational policy is to children and to society. It forms a whole and constitutes an instrument of action. To separate it into various

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parts and to give some to one government because they are social services involving personal “pay” and others to another government because it has more sources of income, is in fact to dissolve the necessary unity of conception.

And this unity of conception is a very practical necessity, Where it is lacking, duplications, contradictions and omissions will result. And the public will be poorly served.

In brief, our basic position is that it is necessary to determine who will have the responsibility, which cannot be divided, for directing and developing social security. We do not want to impose our conception of things on others, but we believe that, insofar as the people of Quebec are concerned, the responsibility cannot but lie, as much for practical as for cultural reasons, with the Quebec Government.

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