Last week, BC Premier John Horgan released the mandate letters sent to each newly appointed Cabinet Minister as well as select Ministers of State. These letters (and additional information about each minister) can be found here. While there are many significant and promising objectives, there are also some omissions that our sector needs to address.
In the Supply and Confidence Agreement between the NDP and the Green Party, there was mention and recognition of the community sector’s role in serving the people of BC. That recognition is noticeably diminished in the mandate letters. This is perhaps most obvious in the letter to MCFD Minister Katrine Conroy which is narrowly focused on child protection and ministry social workers and lacks any mention of family support options.
While there are gaps and exclusions that we must pay attention to, I am nonetheless hopeful about the content of the letters. There are multiple directions related to reconciliation and more meaningful engagement with BC’s Indigenous people (both land-based and in urban communities) as well as a number of substantial commitments to help the people of BC thrive.
Helping the vulnerable people of BC
Altogether, the mandate letters reflect a government that is paying attention to the needs of the vulnerable people in this province. The increase to Income Assistance and Persons With Disabilities rates, the commitment to poverty reduction, and plans to improve access to childcare are all positive steps forward. We are also pleased to see a renewed focus on a continuum of services in areas of mental health, housing, and support to older adults.
Overall, I am hopeful about the approaches proposed by our new government. Pilot projects and incremental steps (toward things like poverty reduction and basic income) reflect a more thoughtful, responsive approach to tackling the more complex issues our province is facing. These are processes that The Federation can and will support and ones that open the door to more intentional and meaningful involvement of community agencies and community members in policy development.
The role of the community sector
That said, I firmly believe that there needs to be a bigger role for the community sector in the work these mandate letters demand. As we move forward, one of the main objectives of The Federation will be to help the new NDP government both understand the significance of these various omissions and recognize the pivotal role the community sector plays in planning and implementing social policy in BC.
This will be important for two reasons. A focus solely on services delivered by government ignores a large piece of the social care system when planning for resource allocation. Additionally, many skilled people with first-hand experience and knowledge about community needs and are left out of important decision-making processes.
We will all have an important role to play in the years to come. The Federation will continue to advocate on behalf of the sector, strive to ensure community voices are heard, and support and share models of community engagement—such as the recent Sustainability and Innovation pilot projects—that do the same.
This work has just begun. I am continuing to schedule meetings with Ministers, Deputy Ministers, and key staff in the social care ministries. Your board members are providing valuable leadership and direction and surfacing feedback from Federation members about how we should engage with government.
We now know the new NDP government’s first steps. Together, we will help them get to work while also suggesting what the following steps should be.
To this end, The Federation has created an in-depth review of the mandate letters, the key priorities they map out, and the omissions that we will be sure to address over the coming months. Across all areas mentioned below, The Federation remains committed to advocating for increased funding to community-based services and greater involvement of the community sector in policy planning and development.
I encourage you to use this resource when talking with your own local MLA and government colleagues. Help them understand the important role community social services play in caring for the people of BC. Make sure they understand the value we add to social policy planning and development.
If you have any questions about the mandate letters or The Federation’s plans for working with the new NDP government, feel free to contact me.