Primer on Trade Agreements for Social Purchasing

Canadian CED Network and Accelerating Social Impact CCC

Author +
Darcy Penner and David LePage

Year: 2015

Provincial, territorial and local government spending across Canada is in excess of $400 billion annually. And even at these current levels, budgets continue to be squeezed, cut and restricted. Meanwhile social challenges amplify, remaining unmet and driving us to find new solutions

One emerging solution is social purchasing. Social purchasing uses existing government spending to create an added social value. For instance, a government can ensure its building maintenance contracts provide employment and training opportunities for people on social assistance. This means government infrastructure investments are simultaneously easing the financial strain facing our social assistance, health, and justice systems.

By targeting existing purchasing for needed services or supplies to social enterprises, government spending can tackle social challenges without new spending, nor compromising service or product value. Social purchasing means public spending goes further for our communities. It means our governments get more value out of their spending.

Many government policy makers and purchasers believe Canada’s trade agreements limit, or even prohibit, them from considering social purchasing as an option. However, this is not the case. Canada’s obligations only apply to procurement contracts valued above certain thresholds and there are specific exemptions that may apply when seeking to implement social purchasing.

There is room within International and inter-provincial trade agreements specifically allowing procurement from philanthropic institutions, persons with disabilities, and non-profit organizations.

This allows cases of direct, noncompetitive government purchasing from non-profit Social Enterprises. What follows is a brief review of the key trade agreements that influence provincial and municipal procurement discretion, and how they affect social purchasing. 

Download the Primer on Trade Agreements for Social Purchasing