The Canadian Constitution is usually interpreted as giving the provinces primary jurisdiction over social welfare. However, the federal government utilizing other powers provided in the constitution has expanded its role in legitimating the social order by promoting social integration and providing the disadvantaged groups with minimum social security. Thus social welfare is administered by both levels of government. Yet the fact that no mandatory obligations are imposed on either level of government has led to the development of social welfare policy in Canada in a fashion that resembles a crazy patchwork quilt. This is shown in a review of the post-World War II federal-provincial relations in both income security programs, and personal and community social services.

The review also reveals the present situation as one of unresolved contradictions of split responsibilities. The provinces by and large attempt to restrict the federal role in social welfare to that of cost-sharing with minimum policy input. The federal government, on the other hand, is attempting to reduce its money transfers to the provinces and escape from financial responsibility for many programs.

Finally, an examination of the new Constitution reveals the lack of guarantee of social and economic rights for Canadians. The virtual silence over social policies in the recent constitutional debate is not only lamentable but will eventually prove detrimental to the development of Canada as a nation.

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