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 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.