April 3, 2007
The Right Hon. Stephen Joseph Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa ON K1A 0A6
Dear Prime Minister,
As the country's oldest not for profit social research organization, the Canadian Council on Social Development is encouraged by your government's commitment to the Canada Social Transfer (CST) as announced in the recent Federal budget.
The CCSD recognizes that the Canada Social Transfer, in and of itself, will not resolve all of Canada's social challenges. But it can – and should – be a key instrument that addresses some of these challenges.
In 2004, the CCSD published a discussion document calling attention to the importance of the CST. We made the case that problems with the Canada Social Transfer needed to be addressed if the provinces were to have the necessary resources and tools to effectively support their social programmes. We also showed that since the cuts of the mid-1990s, those programmes, and consequently many Canadian families, had suffered significantly.
On behalf of our members, partners and stakeholders we proposed a four point agenda:
1) splitting the CST into two parts (social programmes and post-secondary education) for better accountability and transparency;
2) increasing funding to the CST and then ensuring predictability and stability through an escalator mechanism;
3) finding common principles through broad engagement with Canadians;
4) measuring and monitoring outcomes, sharing innovation and sharing best practices.
The steps taken announced in Budget 2007 provide the beginnings of a process which will shift attention from endless negotiations to tackling the challenge of getting things done in communities.
Your budget has taken positive steps on the two first points.
1. In splitting the CST into different parts (social programmes, post-secondary education and early childhood and learning programs), you have provided much needed transparency to the CST. This measure will facilitate a better understanding and tracking of funds transferred and earmarked for specific purposes. This is a sound measure that will build better accountability in the coming years.
As a research organization whose work involves reporting on social investment and social outcomes, we have had a longstanding interest in tracking funds “earmarked” for social development. Many CCSD members, stakeholders and partners work with and for Canadians on a daily basis. In their lives, accountability means making sure that the money spent and how it is spent makes a real difference to communities and the people they serve - and not just in the short term. And that is why the second point on our agenda is so important.
2. Increased funding and predictability and stability of this funding is part of the sound planning and effective investment that will ensure that provinces will be able to count on specific resources to support their social programmes and serve Canadians effectively. It was an excellent first step to extend the CST to 2014 and to increase cash payments through the use of an escalator. This sets the tone for a model that works.
While the increase is an important step, more federal investment is required to fund programmes at adequate levels to truly improve social outcomes. The escalator for the CHT has been set at 6%. We believe that the decision about the level of escalator for the CST (i.e. 3%) should be reviewed and increased in order to restore the funding to its 1994-95 levels.
We applaud the progress made in this recent budget on the two first points - the agenda that we proposed in 2004. That being said, the two next points are equally important. We would urge you to examine them very carefully. Moving forward on the four points in our proposed agenda would entail a comprehensive approach to the funding of social programmes.
3. Increases to the CST provide an opportune time for a collective dialogue about common principles and objectives. Obviously there are complexities to this task. The provinces must have the freedom and flexibility to be able to develop their own programmes and services and responses to their distinct realities. A set of broad common principles and objectives should not be an obstacle to this.
Given the importance of strong social programmes for the future prosperity of Canada, any discussion on objectives and goals should be done through a broad engagement with Canadians.
4. The CCSD wishes to underscore the strategic importance of measuring, monitoring and sharing innovation. Social investment reaps rewards. But to paraphrase Albert Einstein, not everything that counts in a community can be counted. An important part of the work of strengthening the CST is an agreement on what needs to be measured and how we can best measure and monitor social outcomes.
The measuring process allows for the testing of assumptions. Learning how – and if - actions are working provides the kind of clear thinking that will maximize our investments as a country, and genuinely improve social outcomes. Despite acknowledged shortcomings, economic measurement tools such as the GDP, are used in setting goals and tracking success. Social development goals deserve no less.
The CCSD believes that if Canada is to succeed economically, it will need to succeed socially. Monitoring and reporting back to Canadians on how we are doing as a country is crucial in this regard.
Over the past few years health care issues have dominated the media and public debate. But the real life experiences of our members and partners repeatedly show that the best prevention and cost savings come from early learning and child care, affordable housing, safe communities, education and training. Every day in communities across Canada, solutions are being developed and challenges are being met. By the same token, there are too few meaningful ways that communities can come together to share innovation and best practice. Facilitating collaboration and communication between and among these communities is a straightforward yet powerful way to mine the depths of experience, pragmatism and wisdom that is the hallmark of social and community development.
Canada's collective investment in social programmes is considerable. Such an investment calls for developing the means to share these learnings and better understand what works, what doesn't, and what would work better. This is just good business.
For all of the reasons identified above, we urge you to carefully consider moving forward on the last two points of the CCSD's proposed agenda.
In closing, while we applaud the progress made with regard to the CST, we want to signal our concerns about the absence of measures in the recent budget to address some of the country's biggest social challenges and to further strengthen social development in Canada. In particular, we are worried about the lack of investment in affordable housing, the absence of a comprehensive investment plan to support Aboriginal peoples across Canada, and insufficient funding as well as the absence of a coherent strategy to address childcare needs. The CCSD calls upon your government to more fully address these important social issues.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you and your officials to further engage on the future of the CST and the positive direction that has been taken, as well as on the importance of a broad social development approach to address some of our most pressing social challenges.
cc: The Hon. James Michael Flaherty, P.C., M.P.
The Hon. Monte Solberg, P.C., M.P.
Mr. Kevin G. Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, Secretary to the Cabinet
Mr. Robert A. Wright, Deputy Minister of Finance
Ms. Janice Charette, Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Development