plan B

Reference re Canada Assistance Plan (B.C.)

Reference re Canada Assistance Plan (B.C.), [1991] 2 S.C.R. 525 is a leading constitutional decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court held that courts have a residual discretion to refuse to answer reference questions where there is insufficient legal content or where the court would be unable to provide a complete and accurate answer.


Under the Canada Assistance Plan the Parliament of Canada was contributing 50 per cent of the costs for social assistance and welfare in the province of British Columbia. In 1991, the federal government put a cap of 5 per cent on the growth of the payments. The province protested and attempted to challenge the change in court. The federal government argued that the issue was purely political and could not be considered by the Court.

Reasons of the Court

The Court held that the issue was justiciable as there was a legal component to it. On the facts the Court found that the federal policy was constitutionally valid. The Court held that the power to enact, repeal, or amend Acts is well within the Parliamentary sphere. The Court also looked at the Interpretation Act which explicitly states these powers. Ultimately, the Court relied on the Interpretation Act in its decision, although it stated that the Parliament would not have been precluded from exercising its powers in the absence thereof.

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