A week from today, Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government will table its very first budget. The government has made a commitment to confront the deficit, and to do that, they will make difficult choices about where to focus resources.
We will watch this announcement with keen interest. United Way is the second-largest funder of community and social services in Ottawa and within the province, after government. Across the board, government resources have been contracting for some time now, and Canadian philanthropy has also undergone tremendous change in recent years.
So how do you continue to make positive social change in an environment where traditional sources of funding are getting tighter?
You get smarter.
United Way Ottawa relies on evidence and results to inform our decision-making.
We know we cannot afford to invest in programs, services or initiatives that don’t deliver measurable results. We work closely with our community partners, and together we set goals and share evaluation tools to measure our progress.
United Way Ottawa targets social issues “upstream.”
We know the earlier we intervene, the sooner we can stop challenges from evolving and worsening – and the less expensive it will be overall. For example:
- For every dollar invested in early years programming, we save up to $9 in future spending on the health and criminal justice systems.
- It is far less expensive to support a senior to age well in their own home, where they want to be, than to support them in long-term care facilities or hospital hallways.
- It is more expensive to maintain homelessness than it is to provide individuals with supportive and affordable housing options.
- Helping a young person confront their mental health and addiction challenges is shown to be far more successful than allowing these struggles to grow into life-long afflictions.
Quick cuts today will be tomorrow’s expensive problems.
United Way Ottawa supports multiple pathways out of poverty.
Certain groups – like people with disabilities, immigrants, visible minorities, women, and Indigenous peoples – are often sidelined in today’s job market and across other systems. As a province, we can’t afford this. Not only are these people excluded socially and struggle harder to live, they are less able to contribute to our tax base and economy.
Moreover, Ottawa’s employers are already feeling the talent crunch that is projected to widen more and more rapidly. If the barriers that currently exist were easy to cross, we would have crossed them already. We need more coordinated action to match our excluded job seekers with local employers. We’ve started to lead the way with our Employment Accessibility Resource Network, and Hire Immigrants Ottawa.
United Way Ottawa sees a role for businesses.
Making positive social investments cannot and should not be the job of government or philanthropy alone. It is in the interest of Ottawa’s business community to play a more significant role. Government can help by encouraging Ottawa’s social enterprise sector to grow, attaching Community Benefit agreements to provincial infrastructure spending, creating incentives for social procurement adopters, and supporting communities – urban and rural – to develop inclusive economic development plans that allow as many people as possible to contribute to and benefit from Ontario’s prosperity.
When the Ontario government tables its first budget next week, they will do so with the goal of addressing the deficit. We hope the government recognizes that cost-effectiveness does not have to be at odds with goals of social justice. Seeing them as separate objectives often keeps us from achieving better results for everyone.
In our experience, smart social investments are the best way to ensure our collective economic prosperity, and a better quality of life for all Ontarians.
By Rhonda Bradley
Senior Advisor, Public Affairs at United Way Ottawa