Non-profits get their due

The agenda that awaits Alison Redford is as long in subjects as it is integral in nature. Alberta, in many areas, was led down the garden path of social de-evolution during the Ralph Klein era. Ed Stelmach’s tenure was really just about managing the flotsam left by Klein.

The agenda that awaits Alison Redford is as long in subjects as it is integral in nature.

Alberta, in many areas, was led down the garden path of social de-evolution during the Ralph Klein era. Ed Stelmach’s tenure was really just about managing the flotsam left by Klein.

Among the many social contracts abandoned or subverted in the last 20 years in Alberta was that with the non-profit sector.

Increasingly, charitable agencies have been expected to absorb service delivery duties that have been sloughed off by the province. To exacerbate the issue, when money was available from the province, it was increasingly constricted. And non-profits were muzzled in the process.

Not-for-profit organizations are virtually everywhere in modern Alberta, from social services to health care to education. They are essential in the refinement and delivery of services.

And they are particularly important for the vulnerable in Alberta.

But they are perilously underfunded.

And not-for-profit groups are shamelessly taken advantage of by government, at both the provincial and federal levels.

The balance has shifted dramatically since the mid-1990s when it comes to who delivers services, how (and how well) they are paid, and how much input those community organizations have about how the system operates and who it serves.

So when Redford is insistent about restoring a relationship with not-for-profits to something approximating the pre-Klein years, we should all take notice.

And we should be more than a little relieved.

Last week, the premier apologized to the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations for the government’s failure to fulfil its responsibility to non-profits.

It was an act of contrition rarely seen from a politician, particularly in Alberta. It is just the most recent example of how Redford says she intends to give not-for-profits back the support, and voice, they need and deserve.

The proof, of course, is in the non-profit pudding.

But the evidence so far is promising.

During her campaign to become the Progressive Conservative leader last summer, Redford talked about how the government relationship with non-profits had to change. “Tens of thousands of Albertans of all ages depend on non-profits and while these service providers receive well-deserved respect for their outstanding track records, the funding and support they need to excel is too often absent,” her website said. “It’s time for a change.”

The mantra about the need for change became Redford’s rally cry as she campaigned for the April 23 provincial election. And now she is in a position to enact that change.

The first step was to develop the Department of Human Services, to handle programs related to children, families, immigration, employment, occupational health and safety, homelessness and shelters, income for the handicapped, guardianship, and more.

The list of reform laid out by Redford last summer also included:

• bringing non-profit pay up to the level of public sector social services and setting up a recruitment program that draws skilled workers to non-profits.

• establishing a predictable funding model for non-profits that rises as costs rise.

• establishing results-based contracts for not-for-profits.

• including non-profits in discussion about policy and “using their knowledge to craft precisely targeted, high impact legislation.”

In short, Redford has been talking about revolutionary change in the government’s relationship with the not-for-profit sector.

And that should lead to a revitalization of the delivery of services to Alberta’s most vulnerable citizens.

That’s the kind of change all Albertans should be pleased about.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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