Presentation to Select Standing Committee on Finance and Governance

Board Voice presents every year to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Governance, which consults annually around the province in the runup to the coming year’s provincial budget. Here’s what we had to say at this year’s consultations, which were in June rather than the usual October.

Presented on June 10, 2019, by Board Voice Executive Director Jody Paterson

Thank you for the opportunity to present. I’m the executive director of the Board Voice Society of BC, a provincial umbrella organization whose members are community non-profits delivering social care services in BC. I last presented to you in October, and it’s striking to be back before you again with many worrying changes that have come about since then affecting issues around social care in BC.

Board Voice’s request for Budget 2020 is that there be both the will and the funding to define, value and improve the relationship our sector has with government.

We have growing fears that social care could soon be the purview of large multinational corporations, who by their nature serve shareholders rather than the BC communities where they operate.

This situation appears to be developing almost by accident, though it will be very difficult to reverse if allowed to continue.

The term “social care” encompasses soup-to-nut services – child care, immigration settlement, job training, mental health supports, family care, social housing, supports for people with developmental disabilities, therapies for children with developmental delays, poverty reduction, counselling, crisis intervention, on and on.

Governments in Canada once provided very little social care, but in the 1960s began contracting with community non-profits trying to address social needs in their regions. As later research around the social determinants of health would reveal, these kinds of social supports are the most important factor in determining a person’s health.

Today, the provincial government holds 10,000 contracts with 2,000 social care organizations. Most are still non-profits, but with shifts in procurement processes, large multinationals are entering into the work.

Procurement aimed at reducing the number of contracts and shaping more of a one-size-fits-all model creates fertile ground for the entry of multinationals into social care.

We can argue the impact of that later. But what we ask for more immediately is a provincial commitment to engage in and fund a formal conversation with our sector that will get our long-standing partnership back on track. Social health will not be achieved by giving up the vital community knowledge, connection, history, passion and reinvestment that exist uniquely in the non-profit sector.

Some of the work is underway. Social Development Minister Shane Simpson is presiding over a roundtable on social services with many of us at the table, including Board Voice.

This is a very positive development, but it will need long-term support from government to keep it going and bring it to resolution. I can’t stress how important this conversation is to social health in BC, and that it can’t be done off the side of a very busy minister’s desk – most especially when the issues on the table far exceed that minister’s portfolio or power.

Procurement is not a sexy issue. But it lays the foundation for how work gets done. Procurement for iron to build a new bridge or a new IT system is one thing; procurement for complex, highly individual and ultimately intimate human services is quite another.

Board Voice does understand that managing 10,000 contracts must be a wearying and expensive commitment for government. But there are many ways to reduce that load while continuing to value community-based organizations that are truly government’s best bet for achieving social goals.

Our sector is often dubbed the “charitable sector,” which gives the impression that it would be charitable to support us in our work.

In fact, it is essential. Community non-profits were created for this work. We are low-cost, relentlessly passionate, innovative and remarkably good at the work. We know how to do this work.

As I noted to you last year, social care in BC ought to have the same level of planning and priorizing as the health and education systems.

But instead of a social care system, we have a blizzard of small and tenuous contracts creating staggering amounts of unnecessary work for you and us. We have an uneven patchwork of services whose accessibility varies wildly depending on the community in question. Even the most excellent of services could be gone tomorrow.

And not surprisingly, BC continues to face persistent social issues that rarely show improvement. That’s not a coincidence.

We need a plan for social care. We need connected, supported community-based services that fit into that plan.

Community non-profits have always been government’s partners in this work, and we urge you to ensure that Budget 2020 provides the ability to work with us to give British Columbians the best social care system we can.