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National Council of Welfare
In April 2012, the Conservative government introduced Bill C-38, which implemented various measures proposed in the 2012 Federal Budget. One of those measures was that the National Council of Welfare will stop receiving federal funds at the end of the fiscal year in March 2013, thereby ending the tenure of its executive members and forcing the council to close its doors.
The National Council of Welfare (NCW) was established in 1969 by the Government Organization Act. Its primary purpose is to advise the Minister of Human and Resources and Skills Development on issues relating to poverty. In its 43 years of service, the NCW has published several reports on the poverty gap in Canada and the social cost of poverty, as well as provided recommendations on the proper course of action for the federal government to tackle poverty issues.
On March 29, 2012, Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty tabled the 2012 Federal Budget in the House of Commons, introducing cuts to social programs. Among the reductions, the federal government projected cuts of approximately $36 million for the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development over the next fiscal year. The $1.1 million annual package dedicated towards the NCW was part of the projected $36 million in savings. Bill C-38, introduced in the House of Commons on April 26, 2012, implemented the cuts.
Anti-poverty groups claim that the current Conservative government has consistently disregarded the NCW's advice on poverty issues, and that its elimination thus came as no surprise. Rob Rainer, speaking on behalf of Canada Without Poverty, stated that “if the government actually heeded the council’s advice, they’d be saving a whole lot more than the $1 million per year they have been spending on the council.”
Kellie Leitch, a spokesperson for the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, asserted that the department is avoiding duplication. She claimed that various NGOs, such as Canada Without Poverty, perform the same work.
However, the NCW's Executive Director, Shelia Regehr, pointed out that the NCW “puts together information across all jurisdictions” in Canada about poverty and low-income families and Mr. Rainer also stated that “the Council’s annual report on welfare incomes in Canada is the only comprehensive analysis of social assistance across the country and how it interacts with federal benefits.” Carol Goar, writing in the Toronto Star, points to the uniqueness of the council, explaining that NGOs “don’t have a government mandate to advise the (...) minister on matters concerning poverty and the realities of low-income Canadians. They don’t have the resources to buy Statistics Canada’s unpublished data. They don’t have the statutory authority to create opportunities for the poor to participate in the national decision-making process.”
The NCW's publications have served as vital sources of information, assisting legislators to access policy research. In an attempt to restore the valuable information provided in council’s “most important” publications - Welfare Incomes and Poverty Profile - the Ottawa-based Caledon Institute announced in June 2012 that it will take over “the task of gathering and analyzing the welfare and low income data” in its newest publication, the Canada Social Report.
Ken Battle, president of the Caledon Institute and former head of the NCW, stated that the loss of these reports “would leave a huge hole in Canada’s shrinking database and diminish our understanding of welfare and poverty in this country.” The council’s Welfare Incomes report has been described as “the only comprehensive source of welfare and data information in Canada.”
On its website, the NCW offered its publications to individuals and organizations interested in research on poverty. Unfortunately, this data is no longer directly available to the public as the website is being eliminated as part of the winding down of its operations. Unless organizations who have access to the council’s research - such as the Caledon Institute - publish these reports, the closure of the council signifies the loss of valuable and rare information on poverty in Canada.
- 1969: The Government Organization Act establishes the National Council of Welfare (NCW).
- March 2012: The federal budget is tabled in the House of Commons. It cuts the $1.1 million funding package for the NCW.
- April 2012: Bill C-38 is introduced in the House of Commons. It calls for cutting funding to the NCW, thereby abolishing the council. Funding will terminate by March 2013.
- June 2012: The Caledon Institute vows to “pick up the slack” by publishing the Canada Social Report, an attempt to replace the council’s Welfare Incomes and Poverty Profiles publications.
Role or Position
The National Council of Welfare (NCW) is an independent advisory body that was created in 1969. It advises the Minister of Human Resources and Skills and Development on matters relating to poverty and low-income families in Canada.
Implications and Consequences
- Free Speech: By cutting funding to the National Council of Welfare, the federal government has eliminated access to vital information about income-inequalities in Canada and Canadians living in poverty. The $1.1 million budget of the council is miniscule in comparison to the savings that could have been achieved had the government acted on the advice of the council.
- Democracy: The National Council of Welfare, as an advisory body established by the federal government, had a unique mandate to directly inform policy-making regarding poverty and social assistance. While other organizations, such as the Caledon Institute, may also gather information and produce extensive reports, they cannot replace the advisory function of the NCW, nor are they solely focused on welfare issues. The abolition of the NCW has impaired the quality of decision-making in Parliament by eliminating an important source of expert advice and consequently, public policy on social programs can no longer be informed by the solid research that the council provided.
- Transparency: Abolishing the NCW is the result of the various budgetary reductions in the 2012 federal budget. There have been complaints about the secrecy in which the government is undertaking such cuts and the lack of information about the impact of the cuts. The case for more transparency has been made by the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, a non-partisan public servant who has faced considerable hurdles in obtaining information on the impact of cuts, especially in relation to the impact of omnibus bills.
Date published: 19 October 2012
Photo from Poverty Free Waterloo Region.