NEWS: Harper to bring Big Society austerity measures to Canada

Brent Patterson
10 years ago
The front-page of the Globe and Mail reports today, "Ottawa is conducting a sweeping overhaul of the way it finances charities and non-profit organizations, pledging a new era of accountability in which businesses and citizens shoulder more of the cost of giving. The government’s lead minister (Diane Finley, the minister for human resources) for the changes said financing will come with more strings attached in an effort to ensure that organizations deliver promised social gains. While the first steps will be small, the government’s ultimate goal is a shift in public expectations as to the role of government in assisting social causes." "Policies being considered include new tax rules to allow charities and non-profits to raise money through side businesses, and boosting personal tax credits for charitable giving. The first step will be changes to traditional grants (by tying funding to the meeting of agreed-upon targets). ...As a concrete example of social-investment partnerships (that would be encouraged with this initiative), Ms. Finley points to Habitat for Humanity. By working with private-sector companies like Home Depot, the low-income housing charity and its volunteers can achieve far more social good than they could otherwise." "The plan is inspired by British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Big Society experiment, in which social responsibilities that traditionally fell to the state are put in the hands of the citizenry and private sector. ...Ms. Finley is looking to Britain for ideas on how the federal government can help social groups become more effective. She recently travelled to London for a first-hand look at Big Society projects that aim to boost volunteerism and corporate support of social goals." "While Ms. Finley does not describe this as a savings exercise, she and all other federal ministers must find ways to cut their budgets as part of a government-wide restraint effort. ...(The) implementation (of Big Society) in the UK at a time of drastic cuts in government spending is also the subject of considerable controversy and confusion. At its core, Britain’s Big Society asks local volunteers and the private sector to provide some of the services that government used to finance, in areas including schools, libraries and hospitals. Mr. Cameron says it will empower communities, but critics call it a public-relations effort to put a positive spin on deep cuts." Cameron’s Big Society austerity measures have targeted almost every area of government spending, seeks to cut hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs, and have prompted ongoing protests. "With the government’s blessing, MPs on the House of Commons finance committee will soon embark on a broad round of hearings on reforming the rules related to charities. ...Ms. Finley hopes to test some of those ideas in Canada very soon. 'This is a high priority for me,' she said." The United Kingdom-based group War on Want says, "The debate about cuts has enabled the (Cameron) government to create a diversion from what is an ideological attack on the state and public services. The government want to privatise large sectors of public services including healthcare and education and the cuts give them the smokescreen to do it. But it wasn’t the public servants who caused the financial crisis - it was the banks and they should pay." War on Want president Rodney Bickerstaffe recently stated, "Their big society is all smoke and mirrors because they siphon off the wealth for themselves and their friends while leaving charities to look after the rest, just as charities looked after peasants in mediaeval times." The Council of Canadians is a non-profit organization, not a charity. It receives no federal, provincial or local government funding. Neither does it receive any corporate funding. John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want, spoke at the Council of Canadians 'Shout Out for Global Justice!' public forum in Toronto in June 2010.