Yesterday, Jason Kenny, the Minister of Employment, announced a privatized social financing initiative for literacy programs in the workplace worth $6 million. This announcement comes after the Tories announced a $300 million cut in the previous federal budget from the previous $500 million Labour Market Agreement (LMA) that funded these programs.
LMA funding is distributed to the provinces and then through a series of public and quasi-public literacy, community-based non-profit and essential skills programs for the most disadvantaged workers. The LMA funded programs have reached about 550,000 Canadians.
Kenny’s announcement of this privatization initiative for literacy comes on the heels of budget and pre-budget announcements supporting social financing initiatives across many different public services. The services targeted tend to be those for the most disadvantaged in society that the government appears cynically no longer interested in supporting.
The announcement could also become a case study in Tory double-speak. While Kenny was announcing the program hestated explicitly that it is not privatization, but then went on to discuss the introduction of private sector financing and pay-for-success models for the program. If that sounds contradictory to you then you are in good company since financialization of this kind through offloading public funding mechanisms to the private sector is the very definition of privatization. There has been a rather steady stream of criticism directed at the Conservative government for using this kind of tactic to confuse the public andcontrol the news agenda.
Quality public services, delivered by professional public employees are structured with the person receiving the service in mind. The result is a more holistic and supportive system. The service is assessed based on the broad social outcomes by the individuals receiving the service. Further analysis is provided through a democratic political system of academics, independent review boards, civil servants and the workers that are delivering the services. If quality lapses, there is an elected individual that can be held accountable.
When a public service is privatized through a social financing scheme it changes the focus of the service to reducing cost of the service to individuals in need and maximizing profit to the financiers. It reduces service users to widgets or commodities as the main goal is not to provide service, but simply to make these widgets cheaper.
Canadians want and deserve public-financed public services delivered by public employees who are focused on delivering the highest quality of service. We must unite against this move to inject “pay-for-performance”, impact-driven private financing and other counterproductive corporate models into this system. The privatization of public services only undermines the service and gets between the worker providing the service and the person in need of support.