The new provincial government has subtitled its budget documents with the phrase “Correcting the Course” and it has repeatedly stated its goal of making Manitoba the “Most Improved Province.” What will this new course mean for those working to create economic opportunities and improve social conditions for those most in need? Will this vision of improvement align with CCEDNet-Manitoba’s vision of reduced poverty, greater social inclusion, and equitable and sustainable local economies and communities? In some areas, it’s too soon to tell. At first glance, it appears that not a whole lot has changed in Budget 2016. But a careful look at some of the language in the throne speech, ministerial mandate letters, and budget reveals plenty.
Many of our Network’s policy priority areas that had been addressed by the previous government appear to be continuing under the new government. This includes:
- resources for the five-year Co-op Visioning Strategy and for the Manitoba Social Enterprise Strategy to strengthen the co-op and social enterprise communities;
- availability of the CED tax credit and Neighbourhoods Alive! (social enterprise) tax credit;
- funding for community organizations participating in the Non-Profit Organization strategy;
- funding for Neighbourhoods Alive!
- funding for the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative to address local food insecurity and unemployment;
- resources for the full indexation of Rent Assist to 75% of Median Market Rent;
- providing a ministerial chair to the All Aboard Committee (All Aboard is the province’s poverty reduction and social inclusion strategy);
- creation of an independent arm’s-length entity responsible for developing and implementing planned targets for saving energy.
However, the language used by the new government around our Network’s policy priorities related to child care, housing, and poverty suggests a change in course.
The Minister of Families has a mandate to re-invigorate investment in private sector child care spaces. This is in contrast to the approach that CCEDNet-Manitoba has called for which emphasizes strong public sector investment in quality and affordable not-for-profit child care.
Budget 2016 does not appear to provide new money for additional child care spaces, eliminate the $2 daily fee for low-income families, or support the child care workforce with additional training opportunities and a provincial wage scale – commitments made in January 2016 under the previous government as part of a plan to create a universally accessible child care system with 12,000 more spaces. The budget does provide a small increase to Early Learning and Child Care for ongoing operating grants to existing child care centres and for the principal and interest costs of new centres already built.
There are few details on the new government’s approach to housing. The Minister of Families has a mandate to foster community and private sector partnerships that promote home ownership opportunities for First Nations families. CCEDNet-Manitoba has worked with members to call for increasing the net supply of social, affordable, and cooperative housing, while promoting homeownership as only one piece of the housing continuum.
Budget 2016 provides an increase of $46 million to the Manitoba Housing and Renewal Corporation for “new housing construction, improvement and maintenance costs.” It’s unclear what exactly these additional dollars will be spent on. However, with increasing budget demands resulting from expiring federal subsidies and the principal and interest costs of recent new builds, it is difficult to imagine how this money could go toward new commitments. However, dollars for new housing commitments may soon be available if the new government can work out an agreement with the federal Liberal government for a share of the social infrastructure money contained in the federal budget.
CCEDNet-Manitoba has worked with Make Poverty History Manitoba to call for a comprehensive poverty reduction plan with targets and timelines based on priorities outlined in The View From Here. The content within Budget Paper D – Reducing Poverty and Promoting Social Inclusion is not representative of a comprehensive plan, but notes that work will begin on the development of one in preparation for Budget 2017.
The paper notes how the budget ‘lay(s) the foundation for the development of a new approach to addressing poverty.’ This approach includes indexing the basic personal exemption to the rate of inflation to put more money in the hands of low-income Manitobans. Tax changes are the only new initiative offered in the very brief budget paper on poverty and have been presented to media as an alternative to increasing the minimum wage. However, the increase to the basic personal exemption only provides low-income earners with about $16 more annually — much less than the additional $400 or so that would come from an increase to the minimum wage based on inflation. This year would mark the first out of the last 17 without a minimum wage increase despite full-time minimum wage work still failing to bring Manitoba families above the poverty line.
The paper also notes that the new government’s poverty reduction plan will include social impact bonds, Urban Indigenous Economic Development Zones, and homeownership opportunities for First Nations and Metis families. Also noted, is the launch of a value for money review of government spending to free up more resources for front-line services including those that assist low-income Manitobans. CCEDNet-Manitoba will work with members to ensure that the new poverty reduction plan is comprehensive and recognizes the value of strong and stable community-based organizations working to reduce poverty.
New Government Priorities
Social Impact Bonds
The new government’s budget and mandate letters (Justice and Families) speak to reducing the recidivism rate and social problems through Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) intended to improve the outcomes of frontline social services. SIBs have been used in other jurisdictions to encourage non-government entities to finance the work of non-profits. If the non-profit achieves specific outcomes the government is expected to pay a return and potential profit to the investor. This model is one of several SIB models that the new government could pursue.
We share the new government’s goal of reducing recidivism and other social problems. Much has been learned through SIB implementation in other jurisdictions that should be avoided here. For example, private sector financing can be more expensive than public sector approaches; choices can be made to leave out groups that need help (e.g. focus on southern child welfare instead of northern); and savings verification can be arbitrary and expensive, creating more bureaucracy. Community members here in Manitoba have concerns about introducing a profit motive into financing programs for vulnerable people and worry that SIBs can be incorrectly viewed by governments as a tool to replace funding to non-profits that are heavily relied upon by the most vulnerable.
Budget 2016 signals the government’s intention to begin the process of developing SIBs by engaging with interested members of the business and community sectors to develop partnerships that will provide Manitobans with work and social supports. CCEDNet-Manitoba will urge the government to consult with our members and other stakeholders to explore the full range of social finance options.
CCEDNet-Manitoba members enthusiastically support the idea of investing now to reduce the need for government services later. Community organizations in Manitoba have a long history of taking this approach to reducing social problems like poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and crime. For example, training and jobs are being offered to individuals that may otherwise have been incarcerated, reducing justice system costs. Healthy food is being grown in many First Nations, reducing the need for diabetes treatment later. Families are accessing adequate resources and supports to parent their children rather than risking apprehension by child welfare authorities. The issue is not a lack of effective solutions, rather it is that these solutions are wildly underfunded compared to the amounts of money that go toward addressing the associated problems. The Non-Profit Organization Strategy has played a vital role in recent years by providing stable funding agreements to non-profits that reduce red tape and free up time to focus on valuable and consistent direct services and outcomes. CCEDNet-Manitoba will continue to reinforce the value of stable and enhanced funding to community organizations.
Not Government Priorities?
Local and sustainable food and food security are not mentioned in any major public documents that have been released. While Budget 2016 maintained funding for the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative, there has been no indication that the new government has any plans to create a Food Policy Council, develop a food strategy and action plan, or increase purchasing of local and sustainable food. CCEDNet-Manitoba will continue to call for enhanced investments and efforts to build on the Northern Healthy Foods Initiative and increase access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food throughout Manitoba.
While Budget 2016 has maintained funding to implement the Manitoba Social Enterprise Strategy, the new government’s intentions relating to social enterprise are unclear. Social enterprise is not mentioned in any major public documents. CCEDNet-Manitoba will continue to call for the use of procurement across departments as a means of providing employment and training to people facing barriers to employment. We will also call for engaging with social enterprises to meet targets for saving energy in Manitoba. These targets are to be developed and implemented by a new independent arm’s-length entity, the creation of which falls under the mandate of the Minister of Crown Services.
Further details of government initiatives related to our policy priorities will no doubt emerge over the coming months. CCEDNet-Manitoba is reaching out to the new government to welcome key ministers and highlight the essential role our members play for Manitobans. We look forward to continuing to advance our policy priorities and working together to build truly inclusive and prosperous communities.
Kirsten Bernas is Research and Policy Manager with CCEDNet in Manitoba. She has also been employed by the Province of Manitoba to work on CED and social policy. Kirsten represents CCEDNet on the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives‘ Alternative Federal Budget Steering Committee, Make Poverty History Manitoba‘s Steering Committee, and the Right to Housing Coalition‘s Provincial Committee. She received a BA (Honours) in Economics from the University of Manitoba as well as an MA from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa.