The Federal-Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act (the “FPFAA“) establishes the Canada Social Transfer, a federal block transfer to provinces and territories to support post-secondary education, social assistance, social services, early childhood development, and early learning. In 2014-15 the total Canada Social Transfer transferred to all provinces and territories will be almost $12.6 billion.
The FPFAA stipulates that one of the objectives of the Canada Social Transfer is to maintain a national standard in which no period of minimum residency is required or allowed for an individual to receive social assistance, and the current version of s. 25.1 of the FPFAA achieves this by stipulating that:
Criteria for eligibility — Canada Social Transfer
25.1 In order that a province may qualify for a full cash contribution under [the Canada Social Transfer] for a fiscal year, the laws of the province must not
(a) require or allow a period of residence in the province or Canada to be set as a condition of eligibility for social assistance or for the receipt or continued receipt of social assistance; or
(b) make or allow the amount, form or manner of social assistance to be contingent on a period of such residence.
In other words, provinces and territories cannot currently impose a minimum period of residence on the receipt of social assistance without a reduction in their Canada Social Transfer payments.
One of the measures in the Conservative Government of Canada’s second Omnibus Bill titled “A Second Act to Implement Certain Provisions of the Budget Tabled in Parliament on February 11, 2014 and other measures” (the “Budget Implementation Act“) would modify this national standard to clarify that provinces only cannot impose residency requirements on the following people:
- Canadian citizens;
- Permanent residents;
- Persons who have been determined to be victims of human trafficking and who hold Temporary Resident Permits; and
- Convention refugees and people who are persons in need of protection.
The consequence of the Budget Implementation Act is accordingly that some provinces may introduce residency requirements for foreign nationals, including refugee claimants, before they can receive social assistance.
Why Is the Government Doing This?
The Budget Implementation Act’s amendments to the FPFAA did not come as a result of provinces pleading poverty. Rather, at the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, Matt De Vlieger, Acting Director General, International and Intergovernmental Relations, Department of Citizenship and Immigration (the “Committee”), stated the purpose was to dissuade fraudulent refugee claims. He stated:
…No, this wasn’t specifically requested by the provinces. This is a facilitative amendment, as we’ve described.
In terms of the background with our discussions with provinces, we’ve certainly had some conversations with provinces about this amendment. In fact, over the course of time when we were doing some policy work on the refugee reforms that were introduced in 2012, and looking at some of the factors that the government was concerned about around unfounded asylum claims, there were conversations with provinces about the kinds of factors that might make some of these unfounded claims attractive for claimants to make. It was in the course of those conversations that we did have a representation from one of the provinces that there was a provision in one of the federal acts—this act that we’re talking about today—that would in fact limit their ability to impose such a residency requirement.
Indeed, apparently the Government of Canada consulted only the Province of Ontario, who opposed the amendment to the FPFAA.
How are Transfer Payments Affected
At the Committee, Liberal Member of Parliament Arnold Chan asked the rather interesting question of whether a province introducing minimum residency requirements would reduce their per capita allocation of the Canada Social Transfer. In other words, if a province originally got $100.00 to spend on 10 people, and the province excluded one of those people from receiving social assistance, would the province now receive $100.00 to spend on 9 people, or $90.00 to spend on 9 people.
According to Daniel MacDonald, Chief, Canada Health Transfer (CHT)/Canada Social Transfer (CST) and Northern Policy , Department of Finance, it does not.
That’s not in the bill. What I can say is there is no change to the equal per capita allocation. We take the data on population counts from Statistics Canada and we use that as the basis for our equal per capita allocation. That does not change in the amendments proposed in this bill.
As such, although no provinces have indicated a desire to introduce residency requirements, there would certainly be a fiscal incentive to doing so.
For a fascinating presentation of numerous points of view on these amendments I recommend reading the testimony provided to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration‘son November 19, 2014.