Submission for Budget 2022: Board Voice

Photo credit: Province of BC

Board Voice wasn’t able to land a live presentation with the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services this year, despite calling in within hours of the announcement of the consultations. So we just had to make do with a written submission, this one building on the two themes that were singled out for feedback in the Budget 2022 Consultation Paper.

Public consultations for Budget 2022 ended Sept. 30.

To the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services:

I’m the executive director of the Board Voice Society of BC, and write today with appreciation for the opportunity to help inform the coming budget. As the budget consultation paper notes, it has indeed been an extraordinary and difficult time in so many ways during the pandemic, and we appreciate the budget’s focus on two critically important themes: Supporting People and Families; and Helping BC Businesses.

Board Voice has presented to this committee many times over the years, and virtually every one of those presentations has talked about the need for a social policy framework in BC. So you can imagine how excited we were last year to see this committee recommend that very thing.

Without that framework, the money that the government currently spends on the diverse basket of services and supports called “social services” cannot be brought together for a provincial understanding of the actual state of social health in BC, let alone a plan to improve it.

Right now, we don’t know whether what we’re doing is working toward BC’s social goals, because we don’t actually have any such goals, or a system for measuring them. We don’t know if the social services currently funded by government is equitable, timely, or effective. We don’t know if more support is needed. We don’t have a plan for addressing emerging issues or a rise in need, as we’ve seen in the pandemic.

Thank you for using your own influence to try to change that with your recommendation last year calling on the government to “partner and engage in integrated planning with the community social services sector across relevant ministries, including providing dependable, multi-year funding to enable effective planning and execution, with a focus on measuring and monitoring outcomes.”

We ask that the committee put this same recommendation forward again, as it very much informs the two areas of focus highlighted in the budget consultation paper.

While the work of Board Voice and our member organizations is more directly concerned with the goal of Supporting People and Families, we would argue that the goal of Helping BC Businesses is not achievable without that first goal in place. Our sector provides the social supports that BC’s workforce needs to thrive on the job.

The supports under the banner of social services in BC are tremendously diverse. Community non-profits are providing child care, family counselling, seniors care, support for children and adults with developmental delays or disabilities, substance-use support, and community mental health services, just to name a few.

We’re helping new immigrants settle in. We’re providing speech and physiotherapy to ensure children are on track for kindergarten. We’re supporting people in all kinds of ways to keep their lives on track.

Those people are the BC workforce. Our services keep the workforce working. Social services are one of the things that are most needed when a community is experiencing economic change – getting an LNG plant built, for instance. Yet planning for social needs is routinely forgotten when economic change occurs, and the health of the BC workforce suffers as a result.  

The community non-profit sector in BC holds $1 billion in contracts with the BC government to provide an array social care services, and our sector brings another $500,000 to the work through other funding sources. We are truly partners with government. Our role as an essential service was confirmed in the pandemic, as was the quality of our sector’s services following Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie’s comparison of non-profit and for-profit care in long-term care homes in this same period. 

The threat of privatization of social care in the hands of publicly held multinationals may not seem like an issue for this committee. But the pathway that Budget 2022 lays out makes it clear that it is.

Right now, the Provincial Health Services Authority is preparing a Request for Proposals that envisages dramatically reshaping crisis line services, at a time when mental health needs have never been higher due to the ongoing pandemic.

Government procurement as it currently exists in BC is a very poor fit for achieving social outcomes. For a variety of reasons, it also opens the door for multinational corporations to move into social care services. That’s an unintended outcome. The reasons for why it happens are obvious when you take a deeper look, and can be addressed, but at the moment are baked into the way BC procures.

These multinationals do not have the community connection, passion, local experience or necessary transparency to do this highly personal work. The profit that they plan to take out of the “business” goes to distant shareholders, not to addressing the issue at hand. Community-building and volunteerism ends when multinationals take over social care.

Groups like the Social Services Sector Roundtable – which Board Voice sits at – have been talking about this concerning issue for more than two years. But after learning unexpectedly of this crisis-line RFP that has just emerged, it’s obvious to us that our efforts have yet to result in the understanding of what is at stake when vital care for people needing deeply personal services is put out to bid like just another batch of widgets.

Our sector often comes up against a vague argument of “trade agreements” when we bring this issue of procurement up. As I have noted in past reports to this committee, Board Voice looked into that in 2019 and verified through an Ottawa trade expert as well as a trade expert with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that social services are excluded from all of Canada’s trade agreements. That argument does not apply.

Non-profits and charities are the inventors of social care. Virtually every social service that exists today began with a passionate person seeing an unmet need in their community, and stepping up to do something about it. We leverage volunteers, build community, work together.

As non-profits and charities, we are also legislated to do good – to put our self-interests behind us and to fulfill our organizations’ purpose. We’re transparent and accountable in our communities. We are built for the unique and caring work we do. We look forward to continuing to do that work in partnership with governments that know what an absolute jewel they have in the community non-profit sector.

There will be many demands on Budget 2022. Thank you for recognizing that a social policy framework and the sustaining of locally developed services of community-based non-profits are foundational to achieving BC’s budgetary goals – next year and every year to come.