Ontario’s fiscal plan, set out on Wednesday, applies yesterday’s solutions to today’s economic and social woes. Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan’s decision to suspend a modest but crucial $20 million investment in a new social innovation venture fund sends the wrong signal, according to the Wellesley Institute – a research, policy and social innovation institute that is celebrating its first decade of advancing urban health.
Ontario’s third sector – non-profit and charitable organizations that deliver vital health and social services, culture and recreation, education, affordable homes and many other critical resources as well as generating billions of dollars in jobs and other economic activities – has once again been ignored by the provincial government in its 2008 Ontario Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review
“Ontarians are facing tough times, and the Ontario government needs to make smart decisions,” says Rick Blickstead, CEO of the Wellesley Institute. “Minister Duncan’s plan for modest investments in jobs and infrastructure makes sense and will deliver real benefits to people and communities. But simply doing more of the same old thing – a spending cut here, a tax cut there – isn’t going to help Ontarians through the current global economic crisis. Social enterprise and social innovation are an important way to move forward as they generate both positive economic and social benefits, but that’s not reflected in current provincial strategies.”
One day before Minister delivered his fiscal update, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development released a devastating survey of OECD countries (including Canada), which underlined a powerful reality that has also been set out in much of the community-based research that has been funded in recent years by the Wellesley Institute. These findings point to a devastating burden of poverty and resulting poor health and have been confirmed by other global bodies such as the World Health Organization, along with the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, plus private sector organizations such as TD Economics and researchers at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies (Cities Centre).
All the experts agree that even before the current economic crisis took hold, a growing number of people were being left behind, suffering growing poverty, income inequality, poor health and premature death.
Growing inequality raises economic, political and ethical challenges, said Angel Gurria, OECD Secretary-General earlier this week. “The good news is that there is nothing inevitable about growing inequality,” said Gurria. “Governments can make a difference. The entire economic model requires some innovative thinking.”
During the economic good times of the past 15 years, the Ontario government – along with other levels of government in Canada – put the squeeze on the vital third sector. The negative impact of funding cuts and burdensome accountability requirements on the ability of the third sector to deliver its services was set out in a research report commissioned by the Wellesley Institute called “We Can’t Afford to Do Business This Way”.
The Ontario government needs to more effectively partner with the third sector to ensure better programs and services, better lives for Ontarians, more jobs and other economic activity, and stronger and healthier communities.
The proposed social venture fund of $20 million was a first step in that direction, but Minister Duncan says the province cannot afford that funding – which represents a tiny fraction of overall spending.
“Ontario cannot afford to neglect or take for granted such a vital sector,” says Michael Shapcott, Director of Community Engagement at the Wellesley Institute. “The third sector contributes more to the provincial economy in jobs and other economic activity than other sectors which get a lot more attention, such as automobile manufacturing. Strategic investments in social enterprise and social innovation in the third sector will deliver solid benefits and help reduce some of the biggest challenges facing the Ontario government, including poverty, income inequality, housing insecurity and health inequity.”
The Wellesley Institute is calling on the Ontario Government to immediately establish a $5 million social innovation pilot project fund with an incremental $5 million next year and $10 million the following year.