First Ministers’ Meeting

AGREEMENT – A Framework to Improve the Social Union for Canadians

An agreement between
the Government of Canada
and the Governments
of the Provinces and Territories


February 4, 1999


The following agreement is based upon a mutual respect between orders of government and a willingness to work more closely together to meet the needs of Canadians.

1.    Principles

Canada's social union should reflect and give expression to the fundamental values of Canadians--equality, respect for diversity, fairness, individual dignity and responsibility, and mutual aid and our responsibilities for one another.

Within their respective constitutional jurisdictions and powers, governments commit to the following principles:

All Canadians are equal

  • Treat all Canadians with fairness and equity
  • Promote equality of opportunity for all Canadians
  •  Respect the equality, rights and dignity of all Canadian women and men and their diverse needs

Meeting the needs of Canadians

  • Ensure access for all Canadians, wherever they live or move in Canada, to essential social programs and services of reasonably comparable quality
  • Provide appropriate assistance to those in need
  •  Respect the principles of medicare: comprehensiveness, universality, portability, public administration and accessibility
  •  Promote the full and active participation of all Canadians in Canada's social and economic life
  •  Work in partnership with individuals, families, communities, voluntary organizations, business and labour, and ensure appropriate opportunities for Canadians to have meaningful input into social policies and programs

Sustaining social programs and services

  • Ensure adequate, affordable, stable and sustainable funding for social programs

Aboriginal peoples of Canada

  • For greater certainty, nothing in this agreement abrogates or derogates from any Aboriginal, treaty or other rights of Aboriginal peoples including self-government
2.    Mobility within Canada

All governments believe that the freedom of movement of Canadians to pursue opportunities anywhere in Canada is an essential element of Canadian citizenship.

Governments will ensure that no new barriers to mobility are created in new social policy initiatives.

Governments will eliminate, within three years, any residency-based policies or practices which constrain access to post-secondary education, training, health and social services and social assistance unless they can be demonstrated to be reasonable and consistent with the principles of the Social Union Framework.

Accordingly, sector Ministers will submit annual reports to the Ministerial Council identifying residency-based barriers to access and providing action plans to eliminate them.

Governments are also committed to ensure, by July 1, 2001, full compliance with the mobility provisions of the Agreement on Internal Trade by all entities subject to those provisions, including the requirements for mutual recognition of occupational qualifications and for eliminating residency requirements for access to employment opportunities.

3.    Informing Canadians--Public
      Accountability and Transparency

Canada's Social Union can be strengthened by enhancing each government's transparency and accountability to its constituents.
Each government therefore agrees t

Achieving and Measuring Results

  • Monitor and measure outcomes of its social programs and report regularly to its constituents on the performance of these programs
  • Share information and best practices to support the development of outcome measures, and work with other governments to develop, over time, comparable indicators to measure progress on agreed objectives
  • Publicly recognize and explain the respective roles and contributions of governments
  • Use funds transferred from another order of government for the purposes agreed and pass on increases to its residents
  • Use third parties, as appropriate, to assist in assessing progress on social priorities

Involvement of Canadians

  • Ensure effective mechanisms for Canadians to participate in developing social priorities and reviewing outcomes

Ensuring fair and transparent practices

  • Make eligibility criteria and service commitments for social programs publicly available
  • Have in place appropriate mechanisms for citizens to appeal unfair administrative practices and bring complaints about access and service
  • Report publicly on citizen's appeals and complaints, ensuring that confidentiality requirements are met

4.    Working in partnership for Canadians

Joint Planning and Collaboration

The Ministerial Council has demonstrated the benefits of joint planning and mutual help through which governments share knowledge and learn from each other.

Governments therefore agree to

  • Undertake joint planning to share information on social trends, problems and priorities and to work together to identify priorities for collaborative action
  • Collaborate on implementation of joint priorities when this would result in more effective and efficient service to Canadians, including as appropriate joint development of objectives and principles, clarification of roles and responsibilities, and flexible implementation to respect diverse needs and circumstances, complement existing measures and avoid duplication

Reciprocal Notice and Consultation

The actions of one government or order of government often have significant effects on other governments. In a manner consistent with the principles of our system of parliamentary government and the budget-making process, governments therefore agree t

  • Give one another advance notice prior to implementation of a major change in a social policy or program which will likely substantially affect another government
  • Offer to consult prior to implementing new social policies and programs that are likely to substantially affect other governments or the social union more generally. Governments participating in these consultations will have the opportunity to identify potential duplication and to propose alternative approaches to achieve flexible and effective implementation

Equitable Treatment

For any new Canada-wide social initiatives, arrangements made with one province/territory will be made available to all provinces/territories in a manner consistent with their diverse circumstances.

Aboriginal Peoples

Governments will work with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada to find practical solutions to address their pressing needs.

5.    The federal spending power--Improving
       social programs for Canadians

Social transfers to provinces and territories

The use of the federal spending power under the Constitution has been essential to the development of Canada's social union. An important use of the spending power by the Government of Canada has been to transfer money to the provincial and territorial governments. These transfers support the delivery of social programs and services by provinces and territories in order to promote equality of opportunity and mobility for all Canadians and to pursue Canada-wide objectives.

Conditional social transfers have enabled governments to introduce new and innovative social programs, such as Medicare, and to ensure that they are available to all Canadians. When the federal government uses such conditional transfers, whether cost-shared or block-funded, it should proceed in a cooperative manner that is respectful of the provincial and territorial governments and their priorities.

Funding predictability

The Government of Canada will consult with provincial and territorial governments at least one year prior to renewal or significant funding changes in existing social transfers to provinces/territories, unless otherwise agreed, and will build due notice provisions into any new social transfers to provincial/territorial governments.

New Canada-wide initiatives supported by transfers to Provinces and Territories

With respect to any new Canada-wide initiatives in health care, post-secondary education, social assistance and social services that are funded through intergovernmental transfers, whether block-funded or cost-shared, the Government of Canada will:

  • Work collaboratively with all provincial and territorial governments to identify Canada-wide priorities and objectives
  • Not introduce such new initiatives without the agreement of a majority of provincial governments

Each provincial and territorial government will determine the detailed program design and mix best suited to its own needs and circumstances to meet the agreed objectives.

A provincial/territorial government which, because of its existing programming, does not require the total transfer to fulfill the agreed objectives would be able to reinvest any funds not required for those objectives in the same or a related priority area.

The Government of Canada and the provincial/territorial governments will agree on an accountability framework for such new social initiatives and investments.

All provincial and territorial governments that meet or commit to meet the agreed Canada-wide objectives and agree to respect the accountability framework will receive their share of available funding.

Direct federal spending

Another use of the federal spending power is making transfers to individuals and to organizations in order to promote equality of opportunity, mobility, and other Canada-wide objectives.

When the federal government introduces new Canada-wide initiatives funded through direct transfers to individuals or organizations for health care, post-secondary education, social assistance and social services, it will, prior to implementation, give at least three months' notice and offer to consult. Governments participating in these consultations will have the opportunity to identify potential duplication and to propose alternative approaches to achieve flexible and effective implementation.

6.    Dispute Avoidance and Resolution

Governments are committed to working collaboratively to avoid and resolve intergovernmental disputes. Respecting existing legislative provisions, mechanisms to avoid and resolve disputes should:

  • Be simple, timely, efficient, effective and transparent
  • Allow maximum flexibility for governments to resolve disputes in a non-adversarial way
  • Ensure that sectors design processes appropriate to their needs
  • Provide for appropriate use of third parties for expert assistance and advice while ensuring democratic accountability by elected officials

Dispute avoidance and resolution will apply to commitments on mobility, intergovernmental transfers, interpretation of the Canada Health Act principles, and, as appropriate, on any new joint initiative.

Sector Ministers should be guided by the following process, as appropriate:

Dispute avoidance

  • Governments are committed to working together and avoiding disputes through information-sharing, joint planning, collaboration, advance notice and early consultation, and flexibility in implementation

Sector negotiations

  • Sector negotiations to resolve disputes will be based on joint fact-finding
  • A written joint fact-finding report will be submitted to governments involved, who will have the opportunity to comment on the report before its completion
  • Governments involved may seek assistance of a third party for fact-finding, advice, or mediation
  • At the request of either party in a dispute, fact-finding or mediation reports will be made public

Review provisions

  • Any government can require a review of a decision or action one year after it enters into effect or when changing circumstances justify

Each government involved in a dispute may consult and seek advice from third parties, including interested or knowledgeable persons or groups, at all stages of the process.

Governments will report publicly on an annual basis on the nature of intergovernmental disputes and their resolution.

Role of the Ministerial Council

The Ministerial Council will support sector Ministers by collecting information on effective ways of implementing the agreement and avoiding disputes and receiving reports from jurisdictions on progress on commitments under the Social Union Framework Agreement.

7.    Review of the Social Union Framework Agreement

By the end of the third year of the Framework Agreement, governments will jointly undertake a full review of the Agreement and its implementation and make appropriate adjustments to the Framework as required. This review will ensure significant opportunities for input and feed-back from Canadians and all interested parties, including social policy experts, private sector and voluntary organizations.