At a glance: Canada’s current disability support system

February 4, 2014

Canada’s work disability support system is made up of numerous programs and policies. These include:

  1. Canada/Quebec Pension Plan Disability (CPP-D or QPP-D): Treated as the first payer by many of the other programs in the system, CPP-D benefits accounted for nearly 16 per cent of all disability benefit expenditures in 2008-2009. Eligibility is based on a stringent definition of disability: “severe and prolonged disability such that the person is incapable of gainful employment.” Eligibility is also subject to minimum contribution requirements.
  2. Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits: Accounting for just 3.8 per cent of disability benefit spending in 2008-2009, this program provides benefits for up to 15 weeks for periods of temporary disability. To be eligible, workers must accumulate at least 600 insured hours in the previous 52 weeks or since the last claim. Benefits are reduced if recipients qualify for benefits from other sources.
  3. Veterans’ benefits for disability: Veterans or members of the Canadian Armed Forces are eligible for this benefit if a disability can be attributed to exposures arising from service, and the disability is severe. Benefits are reduced if the veteran also receives benefits from a group disability insurance plan. This program accounted for 7.7 per cent of all disability benefit spending in 2008-2009.
  4. Provincial workers’ compensation programs: The oldest social security program in Canada, workers’ compensation accounted for 21 per cent of disability benefit spending in 2008-2009. This program provides income benefits for wage losses arising from a disabling disease or injury with a work-related cause. Coverage varies from 70 per cent (in Ontario) to 95 per cent (in Quebec) of all workers. Employers pay the premiums.
  5. Provincial social assistance programs: All provincial social assistance programs provide benefits to people with disabilities. In most provinces, eligibility is determined by a combination of the duration of the disability and means testing. In Ontario, for example, people who own above a certain amount in assets—cash, vehicles, savings, homes and so on—are not eligible for Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits. If they work, a part of their earnings is deducted from income benefits. Also, income from CPP, EI, workers’ compensation and private disability insurance plans are deducted dollar-for-dollar. These programs accounted for 31 per cent of disability benefits spending in 2008-2009.
  6. Employment-based long-term disability plans: About 55 per cent of Canadian workers are offered a work-based long-term disability (LTD) plan. Premiums may be paid by employees or shouldered by both employees and employers. Most plans provide for two years of benefits, and longer only in cases where the plan member cannot do any work for which he or she is trained or educated. LTD plans made up about 18 per cent of total disability spending in 2008-2009. 
  7. Tax measures: Accounting for just over one per cent of benefit spending in 2008-2009, federal tax measures include the Disability Tax Credit, which also includes the Working Income Tax Benefit Disability and the Registered Disability Savings Plan. These non-refundable tax credits are used to reduce the amount that people who are eligible owe on federal income tax.
  8. Other disability insurance programs and benefits: There are other programs and benefits that are not often integrated into studies of work disability policy, such as motor vehicle accident insurance and compensation for victims of crime.
  9. Employers’ role: Employers play an important role in shaping opportunities for work-disabled individuals and have specific obligations under some programs. For example, in workers’ compensation, employers must maintain an injured worker’s job and participate in a return-to-work process. Under human rights law, employers have a ‘duty to accommodate’ individuals with disabilities. Some employers may also have return-to-work programs that cover all workers, regardless of the program under which benefits are received.


John Stapleton and Stephanie Procyk, A patchwork quilt: Income security for Canadians with disabilities, Institute for Work & Health: Toronto, 2010

Sickness, disability and work: Breaking the barriers - Canada: Opportunities for collaboration, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): Paris, 2010

Policy and guidelines on disability and the duty to accommodate, Ontario Human Rights Commission: Toronto, 2000

Overview of work reintegration/RTW for employers, Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario: Toronto, 2011