Our call to government


This week, we saw the release of the 2021 federal budgetdelivered for the first time by a woman. 

The budget incorporated an equity lens that understands the chronisocial challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID-19Indigenous peoples, racialized and Black communities, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, seniors, and young people will see an increase in inclusive supports to help them in the short-term, and investments to tackle the systemic challenges that serve as barriers to their success and well-being over the long-term. 

We know that United Way East Ontario can’t tackle the tough problems on our own. We have been grateful for the ability to work with all levels of government and elected officials from all parties to move the needle on issues that continue to strain our communities. 

Over the past few months, wand our partners at the COVID-19 Community Response Table have asked all levels of government to strengthen our sector so we can continue meeting the needs of priority populations. Investing in social services will not only build towards an equitable recovery from the pandemic but will create a stronger foundation for our collective future. 

Shared vision for the road ahead

By Preeti Prabhu
Senior Director of Public Policy, Government and Stakeholder Relations, United Way East Ontario

Together with the COVID-19 Community Response Table, we have been working to identify best practices, replicate successful models of program delivery, address the root causes of issues, and implement sustainable solutions that move the needle on the challenges amplified by COVID-19. 

These are systemic challenges that will take courage and commitment to tackle, so we are encouraged by the long-term groundwork laid out in Budget 2021 to narrow the equity gaps in our communities. 

We were heartened to see many of our calls to action implemented in the release of the 2021 federal budget. Here are a few highlights from the budget that align with our recommendations and examples of success: 

Policy recommendation: A pandemic recovery plan must include virtual and in-person counselling for mental health and substance abuse, with a strategy that accounts for cultural differences, financial instability, and stigmatization.  

Success in motion: Counselling Connect is a website that immediately connects children, youth, and families to remote mental health services in the Ottawa area. This service is delivered by a partnership of 19 local mental health organizations and offers free, 24-hour access to phone or virtual counselling with no waitlists. 

What we saw in Budget 2021:  

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $100 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support projects for innovative mental health interventions for populations disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including Indigenous people, health care workers, front-line workers, youth, seniors, and racialized and Black Canadians; 
  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $50 million over two years, starting in 2021-22, to Health Canada to support a trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stream of mental health programming for populations at high risk of experiencing COVID-19 trauma.

Policy recommendation: Personal support workers and informal caregivers require better employment conditions to reduce the increased levels of distress they have experienced since the start of the pandemic. Virtual and phone programming, strengthened capacity for senior-serving agencies, and recognition of informal caregivers are also necessary to decrease burnout. 

Success in motion: The Eastern Ontario Caregiver Strategy provides a common set of evidence-based objectives that empowers communities to achieve more positive outcomes for informal caregivers and their families. 

What we saw in Budget 2021 

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $90 million over three years, starting in 2021-22, to Employment and Social Development Canada to launch the Age Well at Home initiative. Age Well at Home would assist community-based organizations in providing practical support that helps low-income and otherwise vulnerable seniors age in place, such as matching seniors with volunteers who can help with meal preparations, home maintenance, daily errands, yard work, and transportation. This initiative would also support regional and national projects that help expand services that have already demonstrated results in helping seniors stay in their homes. 

Policy recommendation: Childcare incentives, better employment protections, future of work realignment programs, and community wealth building initiatives can all improve financial stability for Indigenous, racialized, and low-income populations, and women. 

Success in motion: As a part of the City of Ottawa’s COVID-19 economic recovery plan, Deputy Mayor Laura Dudas introduced a successful motion to incorporate social procurement policies into the City’s procurement process. This model can be replicated at all levels of government and bolstered by community benefit agreements that enable conditions for a more inclusive economic recovery. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $960 million over three years, beginning in 2021-22, to Employment and Social Development Canada for a new Sectoral Workforce Solutions Program. Working primarily with sector associations and employers, funding would help design and deliver training that is relevant to the needs of businesses, especially small and medium-sized businesses, and to their employees. This funding would also help businesses recruit and retain a diverse and inclusive workforce by ensuring that 40% of supported workers are from underrepresented groups, including Indigenous people, women, and persons with disabilities.  
  • Budget 2021 proposes introducing a federal $15 minimum wage and investing $300 million in Anti-Black Racism ($200 million for a new Black-led Philanthropic Fund and $100 million for Supporting Black Canadian community initiatives and more) and funding investments in Women Entrepreneurship programs. 

  • The government is proposing to launch planned disbursements of the $755 million Social Finance Fund and deploy up to $220 million over its first two years. It is estimated that the Social Finance Fund could attract up to $1.5 billion in private sector capital to support the development of the social finance market, create thousands of new jobs, and drive positive social change. 

Policy recommendation: Communications to diverse groups must incorporate their unique needs in order to ensure an equitable health recovery. Information on COVID-19 testing, vaccine delivery, safety measures and more should be provided in multiple languages, in inclusive language, and through different channels that fill the gaps left by technology barriers. A ‘navigator model’ can help individuals sift through multiple government and community programs to connect with what is most appropriate for their situation. 

Success in motion: The Affordability Fund Trust’s (AFT) community outreach pilot, an example of the navigator model, provides support for Ontario utility bills and necessary home equipment upgrades. AFT workers identified families eligible for the financial support and helped address other root causes leading to their financial insecurity by connecting them with relevant community services. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • Budget 2021 proposes $18 billion over the next five years, to improve the quality of life and create new opportunities for Indigenous communities.  

  • As a regional United Way, we understand and appreciate that different regions are responding to the needs of their communities and the impending challenges of the pandemic differently.  Budget 2021 proposes to provide $1.4 billion over 12 years, starting in 2021-22, to Infrastructure Canada to top up the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund.
  • Affordable internet access enables communities to stay connected to work, school and businesses. Budget 2021 proposes to provide an additional $1 billion over six years, starting in 2021-22, to the Universal Broadband Fund to support a more rapid rollout of broadband projects in collaboration with provinces and territories and other partners. 

Policy recommendation: An adequate housing strategy must consider both short-term and long-term solutions with culturally sensitive, decolonized supports. Appropriate and affordable housing is critical to both improve the health of people experiencing homelessness and to building stronger communities beyond the pandemic. 

Success in motion: Client-centered models of moving people quickly into independent living, like Housing First, show an 80 per cent success rate in keeping people housed, with increased health outcomes and decreased involvement with the justice system. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide an additional $2.5 billion over seven years, starting in 2021-22, to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, including an additional $1.5 billion for the Rapid Housing Initiative in 2021-22 to address the urgent housing needs of vulnerable Canadians by providing them with adequate affordable housing in short order. At least 25 per cent of this funding would go towards women-focused housing projects, and units would be constructed within 12 months of when funding is provided to program applicants. Overall, this new funding will add a minimum of 4,500 new affordable units to Canada’s housing supply, building on the 4,700 units already funded in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement through its $1 billion investment. 

Policy recommendation: The lower number of reported domestic violence cases at the beginning of the pandemic indicated that women and children experiencing violence at home were isolated and not reaching out for help. An adequate affordable housing supply, accessible technology resources like cellphones, and social supports are critical to keeping victims safe and helping them start fresh. 

Success in motion: Unsafe at Home Ottawa and Unsafe at Home Prescott-Russell are bilingual, secure texting and online chat services, for women and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community who may be experiencing increased violence and abuse at home. Unsafe at Home Ottawa reported that by providing a discreet way of reaching out, the program has helped more than 1,200 people access emotional, legal and financial support; safety planning; system navigation; basic needs; and more since its launch in April 2020. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • Budget 2021 proposes $315.4 million over seven years, starting in 2021-22, through the Canada Housing Benefit, to increase direct financial assistance for low-income women and children fleeing violence to help with their rent payments. 

  • $250 million in funding under the National Housing Co-Investment Fund, which will be allocated to support the construction, repair, and operating costs of an estimated 560 units of transitional housing and shelter spaces for women and children fleeing violence.  

Policy recommendation: Learning loss among many young people is accelerating. Government departments, school boards, local municipalities, representatives of priority populations and the social services sector must collaborate to reach youth where they are and ensure better outcomes. 

Success in motion: Community houses in low-income neighbourhoods in Ottawa and across the region have pivoted traditional homework clubs to address the COVID-19 context by delivering at-home learning kids and virtual one-on-one tutoring. Mentoring programs and Make iT clubs in Banff Avenue and Confederation Court Community Houses incorporate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) programming and help eliminate barriers to academic success for middle school aged kids. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • $30 billion over the next five years, and $8.3 billion ongoing for early learning and child care and Indigenous early learning and child care. The plan would aim to see an average drop in fees next year by 50 per cent for preschooler daycare spaces and an average of $10-a-day care by 2026. 

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $118.4 million over two years starting in 2021-22, for Employment and Social Development Canada to conduct a two-year pilot expansion of federal investments in after-school programming under the Supports for Student Learning Program. These funds would support national and local after-school organizations who work to ensure that vulnerable children and youth can graduate high school and do not become further marginalized because of the pandemic. Of this amount, $20 million will be reallocated from internal resources within the department. 

Policy recommendation: To better understand and address the root causes of disparities in our communities, data should be disaggregated and intersected: this means information should be broken down into smaller subgroups, in a way that reflects cultural differences. Data specific to Indigenous and/or racialized populations should be evaluated by, or in partnership with, the targeted populations to avoid further harm. 

Success in motion: ‘Neighbourhood clusters,’ established by Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP), used local data to understand the impacts of COVID-19. They identified a higher-than-expected number of people who contracted COVID-19 in a specific geographical area, within a specific timeframe. When they included socioeconomic data, they found certain racialized populations were over-represented in the number of positive COVID-19 cases. Now, the Creating the Change We Want initiative engages leaders from these communities to find quick and efficient ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $172 million over five years, starting in 2021-22, with $36.3 million ongoing, to Statistics Canada to implement a Disaggregated Data Action Plan that will fill data and knowledge gaps. This funding will support more representative data collection, enhance statistics on diverse populations, and support the government’s, and society’s, efforts to address systemic racism, gender gaps—including the power gaps between men and women—and bring fairness and inclusion considerations into decision making. 

Policy recommendation: Unrestricted grant funds, when supported by data and a client-centered approach, can quickly empower high-impact social programs to address community issues. The social services sector needs streamlined administrative processes, latitude to work outside sector boundaries, and flexible grants in order to continue meeting the growing needs in our communities. 

Success in motion: The recent grants awarded by Mackenzie Scott (formerly Bezos) highlighted how the speedy deployment of unrestricted funds enables the social sector to quickly address the most pressing needs. They used a data-driven approach to identify projects that promised the highest impact in the most equitable manner. 

What we saw in Budget 2021: 

  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $400 million in 2021-22 to Employment and Social Development Canada to create a temporary Community Services Recovery Fund to help charities and non-profits adapt and modernize so they can better support the economic recovery in our communities.

    This fund was included as a direct response to the advocacy work of social services sector leaders like United Way Centraide Canada and others. We expect to continue working with Employment and Social Development Canada to help shape this program in the coming weeks. 

Other key highlights 

  • The Budget outlined an investment of more than $18 billion to further narrow gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, support healthy, safe and prosperous Indigenous communities, and advance reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and the Métis Nation.
  • $12 billion to extend COVID-19 emergency measures: Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, and Lockdown Support until September 25, 2021.
  • $3 billion over 5 years and $966.9 million per year ongoing to enhance sickness benefits from 15 to 26 weeks.
  • Budget 2021 proposes to provide $140 million in 2021-22 to top up the Emergency Food Security Fund and Local Food Infrastructure Fund, which would prevent hunger, strengthen food security in our communities, and provide nutritious food to more Canadians. 

The promises laid out in Budget 2021 require further analysis to understand how investments will be distributed across geographies, time, and levels of government, which will inform how impactful many of these promises will be. 

United Way Centraide Canada has prepared a further summary of budget investments that may be relevant to United Ways and social service organizations. Their full analysis can be accessed here. 

From vision to reality 

The pandemic has forced us to appreciate more profoundly than ever before how inequalities have led to the greatest harm for our society. Even as Canada is recognized as having a commitment to social justice, COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Indigenous peoples, women, people of colour, the economically disadvantaged, people with disabilities, seniors, and others. And while the pandemic provoked an urgency to address these impacts, it will take courage, commitment, and innovation to continue tackling what are inherently systemic challenges. 

United Way recognizes that philanthropy and the work of the community sector on their own, is insufficient to achieve the social justice goals to which we aspire. We will continue to align our efforts with progressive public policy to address systemic inequalities in our communities.  

When we work together with a common goal, we are empowered to do better. We look forward to continued collaboration with all levels of government to build a brighter future for everyone.  

See how we’ve worked with all levels of government since the start of the pandemic:




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