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Canada’s Investments in Social Programs Now Rank Near the Bottom of the Industrialized World

New study finds Canada’s public social expenditures rank in the bottom 10 of all OECD countries

Think government spending on social programs is out-of-control?

Nevermind what the Fraser Institute and other right-wing groups will tell you, Canada is actually underfunding social programs by a significant amount compared to other industrialized countries around the world.

According to a new OECD study looking at how much countries spend on services, benefits and tax breaks related to healthcare, families, old age security, unemployment, housing and more, Canada’s public social expenditures fall well below the OECD average – even lower than the United States.

Using the latest data available, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development calculates Canada’s public spending on social programs is equal to 17.2% of GDP, placing Canada well below the OECD average (21%) and ranking Canada in the bottom 10 of all 35 industrialized OECD countries.

That’s almost half of what top countries like France (31.5%), Finland (30.8%) and Belgium (29%) invest in social programs and stands in sharp contrast with major economies like Germany (25.3%), the United Kingdom (21.5%) and the United States (19.3%).


That might be a tough pill for many Canadians to swallow.

Public opinion research consistently shows Canadians value social programs, with a whopping 94% of Canadians naming universal public healthcare as an “important source of collective pride.”

Yet Canada even spends comparatively less on healthcare than most “high-income” countries too.

Commenting on how Canadians’ perceptions of our healthcare system are often skewed by how good we think we look in comparison to the United States, the Globe and Mail’s André Picard points to other studies that reached the same conclusion:

“Canada spends US$4,641 per capita on health, or 10.3 per cent of gross domestic product. That ranks 7 among 11 countries. If you look at public spending alone, it’s 7.4 per cent of GDP; even the United States spends more on health from public coffers, 8.3 per cent of GDP.

The notion that health spending is out of control and gobbling up too much of our tax dollars simply does not hold up to international scrutiny.”

Picard adds that healthcare isn’t the only area where the actual level of public investment lags far behind the popular perception.

In fact, another recent paper published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that Canada has “systematically under-invested in social programs over the past three decades.”

Maybe perceptions are part of the problem too?

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