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NEWS: Harper looks at “charities, non-profits and private investors to take over delivering government services”

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. Photo by Chris Wattie/ Reuters.

Human Resources Minister Diane Finley. Photo by Chris Wattie/ Reuters.

The Harper government is looking at implementing a ‘Big Society’ type-program in Canada, an approach inspired by British prime minister David Cameron, and criticized by War on Want executive director John Hilary (who spoke at our ‘Sinking the Harper Agenda‘ conference in Nanaimo recently).

The Globe and Mail reports, “Ottawa wants to hear ideas from charities, non-profits and private investors that are interested in taking over delivering government services. …Federal officials are drawing inspiration from projects in Australia, Britain and the United States, where charities, non-profits and private sector companies have begun to deliver social programs at a lower cost than governments do. …In an era of spending cuts, the idea has obvious appeal for governments. British Prime Minister David Cameron has been among the most vocal proponents of what he calls the ‘Big Society’ program.”

The article highlights some examples of what “social finance” might look like:

1- “Goldman Sachs recently partnered with New York to lend $10-million to a social services provider for a jail program. The global investment banking firm would get its money back plus a profit if recidivism rates are reduced, or get less back if the program fails.”

2- “Royal Bank of Canada is one of several large Canadian corporations entering the sector. Canada’s biggest bank will announce a $1-million donation to the MaRS Centre on Thursday, and earlier this year created a $10-million impact investing fund – the first major Canadian bank to do so. That fund will finance enterprises that tackle a social or environment challenge and generate a financial return, with a focus on energy, water, youth employment and hiring disadvantaged groups.”

In October 2011, we highlighted in a campaign blog a Globe and Mail front-page story which reported, “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. …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.”

An example given at that time of what Harper’s plan might mean:

3- “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 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 has 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.”

This campaign blog is at http://canadians.org/blog/?p=11538. Today’s Globe and Mail article is at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawa-seeks-to-give-charities-a-new-role-in-delivery-of-public-services/article5083926/.