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Driving Poverty Reduction – Government should hand the keys over to the charitable sector

Monday, November 6, 2017
Guest Writers
Public Policy
Bill Morris

Earlier this year, the federal government launched a process designed to create Canada’s first Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Many from the charitable and nonprofit sector welcomed the move. The PRS represents a once in a generation opportunity to seriously tackle poverty and create a more inclusive Canada.

Realizing that bold ambition requires getting many things right. Obviously, the policy underpinnings must be sound, and they will need the appropriate investments.

But for the new PRS to be successful and have a sustained impact, it will have to be embraced by Canadians as something they own and feel invested in. Something they see as being integral to our identity as a nation.

Conversely, if Canadians view the PRS as just more government rhetoric and strategy, then it’s doomed.  

For Canadians to feel a real sense of collective ownership, the government needs to step back and ‘hand over the keys’ to the PRS. This is where the charitable and nonprofit sector can play a critical role.

The logical vehicle for Canadians to put the keys in and drive poverty reduction is a new purpose-built nonprofit entity. Preferably, one bestowed with its special mandate through an Act passed by Parliament, and suitably endowed with the financial fuel required for its important journey. This is the thesis advanced by Michael Mendelson in a Policy Paper prepared for United Way Centraide Canada and published recently by the Caledon Institute.

Let’s be clear, handing over the keys doesn’t mean letting government off the hook on poverty. In fact, it means empowering Canadians to hold government to account over the sustained period required to reverse the current course towards increased inequity and social exclusion, and steer instead to restore opportunity and expand prosperity. Public policy is central to this transformation.

The best way to ensure credibility, broad public buy-in, and sustainability for the PRS is to build on the experience from scores of communities that have already gone down this road with successful local strategies.

In such places, tracking and reporting progress is done by the community – typically, by an independent body reflecting the full diversity of the community – interested individual, leaders from business, labour, charities, faith groups, indigenous peoples, and government, as well as those with lived experience of poverty. They assume collective ownership and take on the role of champions to drive the poverty reduction agenda.   

This proven community-based nonprofit model should now be appropriately scaled to create the PRS’s fundamental national accountability structure. Done correctly, what the policy paper calls the Canadian Council on Inclusion and Wellbeing could become a powerful representative voice for a more inclusive Canada, and the national cradle for learning, policy improvement, and social innovation.  


About the Author

Bill Morris

Bill Morris is the National Director of Public Policy for United Way Centraide Canada. With a presence in communities throughout Canada, and around the world, the United Way Centraide Movement’s mission is to improve lives and build community by engaging individuals and mobilizing collective action.

Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.

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Submitted by Bob McInnis on
Bill, I agree with so much of your post. "For Canadians to feel a real sense of collective ownership, the government needs to step back and ‘hand over the keys’ to the PRS" "In fact, it means empowering Canadians to hold government to account over the sustained period required to reverse the current course" But I disagree that we need a population level, national strategy. Poverty lives in the community and needs a community level plan and action. Inequality, poverty, and equity have different faces in each neighbourhood. We are all complicit and culpable but my contribution will have the greatest impact through my decision to step forward and do what I can in Calgary or more specifically in Inglewood. If we all embrace generousity rather than charity we can lead the way to significant change for many.

Submitted by Bill Morris on
Hi Bob, I could agree more with you emphasis on community level solutions. The title of UWCC’s submission to the federal government’s consultation on a poverty reduction strategy is Building on the Strength of Communities. The thrust which is that the federal government’s strategy should support the many proven community-based efforts to tackle poverty, and help enable communities that have yet to come together and create such vehicles to replicate these informed by local circumstances and priorities. Because the federal government has jurisdiction over many key program areas and immense spending power, federal policies and programs have a huge impact on poverty and inequity, both positive and negative. It would, in my view, be folly to ignore the opportunity to ensure these are re-tooled or designed appropriately in order to do as much good as possible. For example, the federal infrastructure initiative involves the expenditure of half a trillion dollars of public investment over the next ten years. As we argue in a Policy Paper on Community Benefits Agreements prepared by Armine Yalnizyan, that spending should have an explicit poverty reduction lens. While not a cure all, this simple policy adjustment for money already budgeted could have a significant impact on opportunity and inequity in communities where infrastructure project will be rolled out. One obvious approach is to prioritize specific populations for a portion of the jobs and training associated with these projects. But achieving these types of community benefits won’t happen without making poverty reduction a policy objective of the infrastructure program, and taking some small but important policy steps to help empower communities to effectively engage in the process. Best regards, Bill

Submitted by Sandra Dunham on
A very disappointing point of view. I was initially quite hopeful reading your title, but the call to create a new bureaucracy is wasteful and harmful to the hundreds of nonprofit organizations that already work in this realm. I've seen firsthand (worked for) the impact of government creating new non-profit organizations and pitting them against the agencies that have worked hard on a cause for years, with little financial incentive, only to have a new government agency masquerading as an NPO, swoop in, take away the staff that the small NPO has cultivated and trained and create a bureaucratic entity that exists to do the work that Government should do through legislation and funding agreements; and that NPOs have already been doing with too little money and too little mandate. Let's stop creating new organizations and begin to invest in the good work that is already out there.

Submitted by Bill Morris on
Hello Sandra, The caution you flag is important and appropriate to the discussion. I think we actually agree on most of the substantive points but may differ of the details. Since the goal of the blog is to spark discussion, let me test that out by offering some points. In doing so, I’d invite you and others to comment further. First, public policy and investment matters when it comes to addressing poverty and inequity, and we need the buy-in of Canadians to make real progress. As such, the federal government and its proposed Poverty Reduction Strategy can play an important role in supporting the efforts of wide range of others players in collective and individual efforts to promote social inclusion, opportunity and prosperity. Second, it is essential to set clear poverty reduction goals, and accurately measure progress against these at the community, regional and national levels. This needs to coupled with the capacity to assess the effectiveness of policies, programs and investments designed to achieve the goals, and report findings unflinchingly. This accountability and transparency is, I believe, crucial for ensuing the ongoing support of Canadians. Third, some entity needs to perform this critical role. The government’s assumption appears to be that they will do this. To ensure impartially and maintain the confidence of Canadians, we believe the job needs to be done by an organization independent of government, ideally a non-profit with a dedicate mandate, diverse governance and the resources do the work required. I agree wholeheartedly, this cannot be “a government agency masquerading as a NPO”. Fourth, and this may be where we differ, establishing such a NPO through legislation has some significant advantages, and done properly, would not impinge on its independence or integrity. As the paper notes, other non-profits that operate independently of government have been created this way. And, to ensure independence, the NPO should not have a funding agreement with government, but instead should be endowed with an initial capital investment of public funds sufficient to sustain its core operations on an ongoing basis. I’m certainly not arguing the what we have proposed is the answer. There may well be better solutions. In that spirit, I very much welcome you and others to critique and build on the ideas offered. Bill Morris

Submitted by Andria Spindel on
I tend to agree with Sandra Dunham that creating yet another NGO isn't the answer and also, this is not a new initiative. What ever happened to all the great work done and lessons learned in the 70s in Daphin, Manitoba? I certainly haven't forgotten it: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/12/23/mincome-in-dauphin-manitoba_n_6335682.html Working together, existing agencies and government structures should be able to make this happen without creating more expensive bureaucracy. Similarily, the Ontario provincial government is about to create a new agency for provision of attendant care/PSW supports. How is this better, cheaper, or improving a system that already struggles to find employees?

Submitted by Martha Goodings on
Surely this is an oversight. This type of initiative is a man excellent non stigmatized poverty reduction strategy

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