The Liberal Party handily swept the New Democratic Party (NDP) out of office this month in Nova Scotia after them having only four years as our provincial government. It is unlikely that voter preferences were swayed at all by Liberal promises for improved support for the nonprofit delivery of social service programs but there they are, bold faced, in the Liberal platform. The big one is the promise of multi-year funding.
Nonprofit sector organizations here may not find in the Liberals a more community organization-friendly government than the NDP, but we will see. The outgoing government had a strong advocate in Cabinet for the sector in Marilyn More, Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. One of the Government’s most promising capacity building initiatives, the Nova Scotia Community Sector Council, is now up and running. The fact that the Liberals have appointed Joanne Bernard as their new Community Services Minister augers well. Joanne is the former executive director of Alice Housing, a well-regarded and highly visible non-profit organization providing temporary housing for women and children leaving abusive situations.
In addition to multi-year funding, the Liberal election platform promises increased support to family resource centres, transition houses, women’s centres and 2nd stage housing. There are more than 40 such agencies across the Province whose work could greatly benefit from more organizational support. However, it is multi-year funding, more than any other single measure, which could have a transformative impact on the capacity of non-profit organizations that deliver social service programs and result in more positive impacts on communities.
Unfortunately a clear picture of the value of services funded by the Province and delivered by non-profit agencies is not discernable from public documents. The Department of Community Services alone contracts out more than $400 million a year in work to non-profits, a big piece of this for programs that support persons with disabilities. It invests millions more in supports for day care and child development. The Department of Health and Wellness has a contractual financial relationship with non-profits such as nursing homes and home care service providers. They too involve hundreds of millions of dollars per year. The list does not end here.
The vagrancies of year-to-year government funding arrangements that have characterized the delivery of services by non-profit organizations in Nova Scotia have severely hobbled boards, staff and their community stakeholders. Indeed, the arrangements have inhibited the adoption of sound financial decision-making, human resource management and governance practices in many agencies. Non-profits entirely dependent on providing government-funded services have been most impacted and there are lots of these. Multi-year funding arrangements, if designed well, should enable agencies to think ahead, to take initiatives that may be several years in the making, invest in staff and explore real collaboration with other organizations.
The fact that multi-year funding is not already the norm can be attributed to many factors. These include the Government’s own antiquated budgeting system, the handcuffing of public expenditures to short term political needs, creeping managerialism in the provincial public service and the increase in the use of crude measures of bureaucratic control. Nova Scotia is not alone here. To change the system will take vision, perseverance and a letting go of political egos. I am hopeful, but it is way too early given that the new government is just now grasping the reigns of power, to say if I am optimistic.