No More!

CAP-in-hand: Social Services in a Post-cap era
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
Report of the National Union's 1996 Social Services Restructuring Conference

April 1996

The report which follows has been compiled with the assistance of all participants to the National Union's Social Services Restructuring Conference held February 18-20, 1996, at the Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto, Ontario. This report would not have been possible without the willing assistance of the facilitators and recorders who ably recorded the discussions in their workshops and provided comprehensive notes to the compiler. A special thanks to all of you.


Restructuring of government, including major social programs, remains at the forefront of all political agendas in Canada. The Chrétien government continues to lead the way through its massive cuts to transfer payments to the provinces. The provinces choose, or are forced by those budget cuts, to implement their own plans for restructuring service provision in everything from social assistance and child welfare to corrections and institutional care. The municipalities in many provinces are also forced to revamp delivery of their portion of the services as they deal with the offloading of financing shortfalls from the federal government to the provinces and from the provinces to the municipalities. And it goes on. To the community agencies, the volunteer organizations, and ultimately it falls to the families and individuals to pick up the pieces.

In the name of increased flexibility and greater responsiveness to the needs of those receiving services, new models of delivering services are replacing the old. More and more services are being shifted out to the community and often into the hands of the private sector. Whereas once it was taboo to make a profit at the expense of other's misfortune, that is now the byword of the day. Quality public services are being sacrificed in the name of the bottom line.

Along with clients and the public, social service workers are paying a huge price for this single-mindedness. Job loss, de-skilling, work intensification, demands for wage and benefit concessions are part of daily life. On-the-job stress is reaching epidemic proportions as workers try to cope with larger caseloads, increased demands from clients as other services are gutted, and the ongoing fear of job loss.

The National Union has been monitoring social services restructuring since long before it became a public issue. Social service workers saw both the overt and the more insidious warning signs in the rash of efforts to "improve delivery of services" that hit virtually every jurisdiction in the 1980s.

Using the information gathered from our front-line workers and the efforts of researchers across the country the National Union released a number of reports documenting the trends across the country. In October 1994, the National Union released its report Social Security Reform: Proposed Framework and Recommendations. This was followed by Restructuring Social Services: A province-by-province review of the changes taking place in the social service sector in March 1995, and by a series of targeted reports such as Government Cutbacks: Estimating the Impact - North Bay: A Case Study and Employee Ownership.

In April 1994 and January 1995, leaders from the National Union's component unions met for two Working Sessions on Social Service Restructuring. From those came a strong commitment on the part of the leadership to provide additional opportunities for workers from across the provinces to come together and share experiences and combine efforts to find solutions.

In mid-February 1996, the National Union brought together front-line social service workers and union activists for the national conference "No More! Cap-in-hand: Social Services in a Post-CAP Era." The working conference provided an opportunity for workers and unionists to roll up their sleeves and examine closely the ways in which restructuring was occurring in their various jurisdictions and within different types of services from income security to young offenders and child treatment. The focus was on learning from each other and on using that collective knowledge and strength to begin to develop some alternatives of our own.

This report has been compiled with the assistance of those participants. It builds on the Restructuring Social Services report of March 1995. It provides a comprehensive account of the changes taking place across the country.

With the implementation of the Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) on April 1, 1996, we can only expect that the pressures for change will continue at an even faster and more furious pace. The National Union will continue to play an active role in assisting the components to develop and share their efforts to ensure that the quality of social services is maintained and that workers' rights are protected in the push to devolve and privatize the delivery of those services.

I would like to thank the participants to the working conference for their valuable contributions to this report.

In solidarity,

James Clancy
National President


The delivery of social services is changing. In Canada, this is coming about for two reasons. One, the amount of funds being directed to service provision is shrinking from all levels of government. Two, the delivery of services has not always met people's needs as effectively as possible. This second challenge has made it possible for governments to restructure service delivery along ideological lines under the pretense of "improving" services.

What we have is a myriad of alternatives being promoted which are seriously compromising the quality of services and, in turn, threatening the employment security of public sector workers. A whole new language representing various ways of removing the public from public services has cropped up: devolution; commercialization; privatization; shifting to the community; more client-responsive and so on.

The National Union's response is two-fold: we continue to argue for a better understanding of the real causes of the problems and for more sane approaches to the problems of debts and deficits; and we are mounting more and more fights to insert workers into the process of restructuring those services.

The inevitability of globalization continues to be the dominant theme determining the agenda for change in this country as it is around the world. It is being used as a tool to impose a low wage strategy on workers world-wide as corporations and governments engage in a world-wide race to the bottom in the name of competition. Questioning the inevitability of globalization and its consequences is a key part of what we must do if we are to turn this trend around. Only by countering this underlying reason for major structural adjustment can we hope to undermine the notion that social services must be sacrificed. The National Union is continuing to fight for reasonable funding levels and for appropriate national and provincial standards to ensure quality and equity. That fight is ongoing and will continue.

Our efforts are also directed however at the more immediate question of dealing with the pressure to "improve" service delivery. All public sector workers are either actively engaged in change processes or are living daily in fear of the time when the telescope will be focused on them. Arguing that such change does not need to occur is not good enough an answer for the worker who will receive a pink slip any day. Nor is it good enough as the answer for the recipients of services who are frustrated with rigid services that do not meet their needs. It is also not good enough for the worker who will remain when all is said and done and who will be faced with trying to deliver services with fewer resources and within an ineffectual system. Changing the delivery of services may be happening for the wrong reasons but done right it can result in better services and without the pain of massive displacement.

The National Union is committed to working with front-line workers and union leadership to develop our own notions for change and develop our own alternative solutions for improving the delivery of services. Part of that process is a better understanding of what is actually already happening across the country. It is also a process of identifying efforts here and elsewhere in the world where unions have managed to influence significantly the process and outcome of change.

This report provides a snapshot of the major trends in restructuring social services across the country. It is also a beginning for what we know will be the long process of creating our own ideas and momentum for positive change. The National Union will be continuing to work with its components to educate its members, tackle the challenges posed to collective bargaining and to search for alternative solutions.

The New Canada Health and Social Transfer:
One more excuse for downsizing and restructuring 


The February 1995 federal budget marked the beginning of a new era in social services delivery in Canada. With that budget, the Liberal Finance Minister unilaterally announced the end of the Canada Assistance Plan and revamped it and the Established Programs Finance (EPF) Program under the name of the Canada Social Transfer. (The latter was since renamed the Canada Health and Social Transfer.) This announcement has meant profound changes to both the standards for the programs and levels of the federal fiscal transfers to the provinces. Immediate cuts totalling $7 billion in the first two years were also part of the announcement.

The Canada Assistance Plan (CAP) has provided for 50-50 cost-sharing of social assistance (SA) costs since 1966. It also imposed six basic conditions on the provinces in exchange for the federal contribution to costs. Similarly, the Established Programs Finance Program has provided for federal contributions to health and post-secondary education expenditures since the 1960s. This has been based on a per capita formula tied, in part, to provincial revenue-raising capacities. The total allocation was transferred to the provinces through a combination of cash amounts and tax points.

Contrary to the commonly held misconception, no restrictions applied under EPF to the provincial governments' options to spend the portion going to post-secondary education in any manner they wished, including spending it in totally unrelated areas. The health portion has been governed by the requirements of the Canada Health Act.

With the new CHST, five of the six standards and the 50-50 cost-sharing provided for under the CAP plan are gone. So is the per capita formula under EPF. Both have been replaced by a single block transfer based on a modified per capita formula (providing far less than 50%) and the gradual conversion of the cash portion to tax points. The Chrétien government has since had to reassure Canadians that a limited cash transfer totalling no less than $11 billion annually would continue. In theory at least, this is intended to allow the federal government to ensure provincial compliance with the national standards contained within the Canada Health Act. No similar guarantees are provided for the other expenditure areas of post-secondary education and social assistance (SA). Of the six CAP requirements, the only remaining one for SA is the ban on requiring a minimum residency for eligibility.

The huge cuts announced in the 1995 budget follow several years of cuts and freezes in both EPF and CAP transfers. In 1991, the 50-50 cost-sharing arrangement had been undermined for the three so-called "have" provinces, Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, when the federal Tories imposed ceilings on CAP transfers to these provinces. This had resulted in the gradual erosion of the portion of SA costs in these provinces to the point where in 1994-95 Ontario was only receiving 29¢ of every dollar from the federal government.

The CHST cuts also follow several years of freeze on the amount being transferred under EPF. A recent Ontario study showed that federal entitlements had been cut by $9 billion in that year alone, and that cumulative cuts totalled some $41 billion.

The 1996 budget, in a partial retraction of the federal government's original intention, provides for a stabilization of federal transfers starting in 1998-99, based on the drastically cut 1997-98 levels. Transfers will be frozen at the 1997-98 level of $25.1 billion for three years, then will rise slowly to $27.4 billion by 2002-03. The budget projections also provide for the gradual restoration of half of the cuts to B.C., Alberta and Ontario imposed by the cap on CAP.

The following table provides the values of EPF and CAP transfers since 1993-94 and provides projections for the CHST for the years 1996-97 to 2002-03. By 2002-03, the accumulated loss in transfers will be almost $27 billion, without taking into consideration the freezes and cuts made prior to 1995-96. If those are taken into consideration, various estimates put the total between $70 and $100 billion. Such a drastic withdrawal of federal commitment to social programs cannot be considered anything but draconian and indicative of a deliberate undertaking to undermine Canada's social safety net.

Canada Health and Social Transfer (CHST) Projections
Federal Transfers 1993-94 to 2002-03
EPF (Health)
CHST (cash)
CHST (tax)
Total CHST
Cumulative loss since 95-96

The provincial response

Two reports entitled Report to Premiers and Redefining the Social Services Roles and Responsibilities of Federal and Provincial/Territorial Governments were released in December 1995. The first came from the Ministerial Council on Social Policy Reform and Renewal and the second from the provincial/territorial ministers responsible for social services. In the reports, the provincial/territorial ministers presented their consensus views on the necessary directions resulting from the change in federal funding practices. (By its own choice, Quebec was not part of the discussions.)

In short, these documents support, in general terms, the directions of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility prevalent through most of the restructuring initiatives across the country. The papers also reinforce the warnings given by social activists that, without substantial federal fiscal presence, the provinces will not allow themselves to be restricted in their policy choices. In other words, "he who pays the piper, calls the tune". The provinces make it very clear that they have no intention of abiding by federal rules if the federal government continues to withdraw financial support. They are also eager to push towards more of these unfettered transfers even when monies continue to flow from the federal government to the provinces. Neither of these documents holds out any hope that a saner, more rational approach to social services change can be expected in the coming years.

Major restructuring trends 

Several trends have emerged in recent years as social services across the country are re-shaped and re-oriented. Underlying these trends is a powerful theme of fostering individual responsibility and control. In the abstract, this is a compelling ideal with all persons regardless of circumstances, economic, physical, social or otherwise having the right to self-determination. In reality, this ideal is distorted and used as the rationale for undermining a whole host of social supports from income support to specialized services.

The various forms of social service restructuring can be broadly grouped under four trends: the complete or partial removal of some or all forms of support, usually from certain groups deemed as less than deserving; the individualization of transfers to pay for services required by these persons in need; the introduction of a variety of market elements into the organization and structure of the delivery models which are replacing direct government service provision; and the introduction of mergers, co-location initiatives, and a range of one stop shopping arrangements, sometimes as part of better coordination initiatives and sometimes resulting from rationalization exercises.

Service reductions

The complete or partial removal of support to many groups is occurring across almost all provinces. In Ontario, women's shelters have either been closed or drastically cut back, as have many of the so-called extras under provincial social assistanceprograms such as drug plans and supplementary furniture and clothing allowances. Persons under the auspices of the justice system have had their liberty curtailed and rehabilitation services cut as these individuals have been found undeserving of a second chance. Home Care services everywhere from Newfoundland to Manitoba are being scaled back. Removal of government support for a whole host of these programs is forcing a greater reliance on volunteerism and imposing hardships on many families.

The definition of who is deserving and who is not continues to become more restrictive as fewer and fewer groups can expect help. More and more of those on welfare, regardless of the shortage of jobs or of the presence of young children, are being expected to find employment or perform civic duties to receive support. Otherwise, you join the ranks of the undeserving.

For the most part, this report does not document this form of restructuring because the incidences are too numerous to itemize in this context. In almost all cases, these service cuts are accompanied by, or accompany, one or another of the forms of restructuring otherwise outlined.

Regionalization and devolution

Probably the single most prevalent form of restructuring taking place after service reductions is the regionalization and/or devolution of services. In those provinces where significant elements of social services continue to be provided by the government directly, structural and administrative changes are being made to shift planning and provision out to non-government bodies.

Almost everywhere, this involves the establishment of regional advisory and/or service delivery bodies, usually appointed by government, but occasionally elected. In Alberta, B.C. and Nova Scotia, for example, health services have been the first targetted for devolution. In Ontario, advice to the government on health planning has long been provided by the District Health Councils and public health provision has been provided by regionally controlled public health offices. Similar bodies are springing up across the country.

Part and parcel with the regionalization and devolution is the privatization or commercialization of services. Whether talking about Home Care services in Manitoba or the private group homes for youth offenders in Alberta, market forces are appearing in the provision of social services.

Variations on the one stop shopping theme

The third trend which is gaining momentum across the country is the various one stop shopping type arrangements. These types of arrangements are intended to provide for better coordination, reduced duplication and filling of gaps between services.

Within this broad trend are a number of sub-categories covering the spectrum from co-location to mergers. Co-location, the least intrusive form of one stop shopping, is characterized by two or more agencies coming together in a single physical facility to ease access by clients to the range of services offered. Separate administration, management, responsibilities and staff are maintained while being in one place permits a greater awareness of the other services and a greater ability for workers to direct clients to appropriate additional or alternative services. Mergers are at the other end of the spectrum. The merger of two or more services into a single entity involves the combining of all components of the work previously done separately. It includes the merger of everything from administration to staff to programs. Between these two extremes are a whole lot of variations all with the common theme of bringing together services into a more coordinated system.

Examples of these various one stop shopping type arrangements are cropping up everywhere. Many of them are taking the form of pilot projects such as the many joint provincial-federal partnerships for delivering employment support services. From Newfoundland to Alberta and in between, Human Resources Development Canada, the federal department responsible for unemployment insurance and employment services to UI recipients and others, has been entering into co-location agreements with provincial services to welfare recipients and others. Initially these services have maintained substantial differentiation of staff, administration, and programs. However, this will likely disappear as the federal government reaches agreement with the different provinces to withdraw from direct involvement in labour market programs, as they have vowed to do.

Co-location alternatives are also appearing as part of the push in many provinces to shift services into the community. Saskatchewan, B.C. and others are looking at greater coordination and integration of service planning and provision among health care providers and between health care, social and, in some cases, education and justice providers. Such initiatives bring with them tremendous potential to reduce the kinds of negative outcomes resulting from bureaucratic duplication and jurisdictional fighting or cracks that have caused problems in the past. They also bring a great deal of potential for abuse and the opportunity for misuse of the merger/co-location process and goals. In this time of tight budgets, these coordination efforts are all too often accompanied by staffing cuts, reduced budget allocations and the introduction of those insidious market forces. Announcement of plans to rationalize services is usually a strong indication of coming trouble. Rationalization is particularly prevalent in the institutional sector.

These efforts are sometimes also used to pit union against union or even to get rid of the union altogether. Sufficient and careful planning and an appropriate implementation process is essential to getting the best out of these types of efforts.

Self-managed care

Support services, where they continue to be provided, such as to persons with disabilities or persons with mental illness, is increasingly taking the form of individual allocations of set funding amounts. This individualization of funding replaces the public provision of the services and goes hand-in-hand with the trend introducing market forces into the delivery of social services. The allocation is based on an individual needs assessment. What constitutes a need is narrowing as dollars are cut. This allocation is then provided to the individual to spend wherever and however they determine. Services are purchased from a wide variety of providers, both public and private.

Appearing on the horizon are "brokers" or "brokering" agencies which will assist in the search for the necessary combination of services from among the possible providers. In the abstract and ideal these agents could be the source of a valuable matching of needs to services, doing away with the rigidities sometimes imposed by having to come under the restrictive model of a single agency or program. In reality however, there is considerable room for abuse as these agents will charge a fee and direct individuals to services with whom they maintain a relationship and who may be in a position to make a profit from skimping on the actual quality and quantity of services provided.

Pilots in individualized funding are occurring in a number of provinces and in a number of different program areas, from services to the developmentally disabled in Thunder Bay to the unemployed who may soon receive educational vouchers in place of having training purchased for them by Human Resources Development Canada.

Social services meets the market

The above is only one of the myriad of ways that market forces are being introduced into the delivery of social services. Governments, provincial and sometimes municipal, in their efforts to reduce their financial obligations, are searching for market influenced alternatives in the mistaken belief that this will result in efficiencies and improved services. Everything from correctional services and home care to food and laundry services is open to privatization, commercialization or devolution to private or community groups depending on the province. Many of the services brought under government responsibility in the 1930s, 40s and 50s due to the failure of the private sector to meet the need adequately, are being turned back over for private profit and gain or to community groups who will once again struggle with inadequate resources to meet growing needs.

The province-by-province breakdown

The four trends highlighted are but one possible way of slicing the pie. The issues emerging or already here in social services restructuring are far from simple, but with a better understanding of what is going on and the opportunity to share information and ideas for challenging the downsides, there is some hope.

What follows is a summary of restructuring initiatives occurring in the provinces covered by the different components of the National Union. Each section is organized along the major trends but also includes, where appropriate, specific reference to particular social services. The most common areas are social assistance and young offender/children's treatment services.

The report concludes with a brief discussion of the challenges we face as we move onto the next phase of addressing the negative biases in the current social services restructuring trends.


The framework

British Columbia is the single biggest anomaly on the Canadian political and economic landscape. The B.C. economy has managed to escape the latest recession, experiencing growth rates in the 2-3% range every year since the mid-1980s. The CHST cuts however will pose a significant challenge in the coming two years. The lost transfers will total about $800 million on top of at least $1.7 billion lost since 1990 under the freeze on CAP and EPF cuts.

Based on the different political priorities of the government, social services restructuring has taken a different direction than in the remainder of the country, for the most part. The government in British Columbia has not adopted the same approach of "getting government out of the way of business" as elsewhere. The provincial government has been using a combination of extensive consultation and involvement of stakeholders with the willingness to use legislative power to mandate change, where necessary. The effect of this different approach has been felt somewhat unevenly across the sectors with joint efforts working very effectively in some and not in others.

The transition has not been without its pitfalls and there are certainly those among all types of groups who would prefer different choices. However, support from progressive groups, social activists and labour has usually been forthcoming as the government has worked hard to be inclusive in its decision-making processes.

Major initiatives have been underway to improve the delivery of health, social services and education programs. Two major reviews have been undertaken in recent years which have significantly affected the direction of restructuring. First the Korbin Report outlined broad directions for regrouping public services and the respective employers and unions by sector and then, more specifically, the Dorsey Report recommended the integration of collective bargaining in health care across the province into a number of broad master agreements.

Following on the framework laid out by these reports, the government has brought to three central tables all major players in each of the health, social services and education areas to work together on strategic planning and/or to negotiate single master agreements which set the broad directions for future change in service delivery and in labour relations. Employers and unions have both been obliged to come together as single bodies for the purposes of collective bargaining. This has permitted the use of coordinated adjustment tools such as the Health Labour Adjustment Agency to minimize dislocation due to staffing changes in the health care institutional sector.

A similar approach is being established to facilitate the transition of first health, and later, social services from the institutional and direct government provision of services to the regional and community planning and delivery model set out for the future.

Regionalization and devolution

Responsibility for community-based services such as home care, home support, public health nursing, mental health services and others are being devolved to 20 new Regional Health Boards and what will eventually be some 80 Community Health Councils. So far only two of the 20 regional bodies are up and running.

Despite the presence of joint union-employer committees in every government ministry, many are only in a position to react to government plans, not to help lay out direction. There is also the appearance in the province of a number of Alberta-based Canadian and American private community health delivery enterprises. At this point, these would appear to be receiving provincial funding even though they are inconsistent with the stated direction of maintaining public health services.

De-institutionalization is in mid-process in the province. Like everywhere else in the country, persons with disabilities and persons with mental illness were moved out of full care residential institutions and into the community before the community supports were in place. Consequently a mishmash of non-profit and for-profit providers sprang up with insufficient attention paid to duplication, gaps and coordination. Efforts are now being made to bring these services into some form of coordinated, comprehensive system under the planning direction of the regional and community health bodies. Among the gaps is the absence of regulatory legislation covering group homes of two or less clients even though homes for three or more require licenses to operate.

Private contractors are increasingly evident in the delivery of support to persons with disabilities as well. Counselling, referrals, and other individualized services are being sought out by clients who are completing their own needs assessments and finding sources for their own care.

One stop shopping

The shift to the community is also bringing a push to one stop shopping type arrangements as community services come under a single planning body and coordination of delivery and administration is sought. How far towards mergers and co-location type set-ups this will go is unknown.

Recently, a tragedy occurred involving the violent death, at the hands of his mother, of a young boy who had been connected for years to the child protection system. In response, the government asked Justice Gove to review the child protection system and make his recommendations for change. This review and the expected changes to the organization and delivery of child protection services will be the focus of upcoming social services restructuring in the province.

The Gove Report, although not totally absolving the workers involved, placed a significant amount of blame at the feet of a system which prevents workers from doing the best job possible. A lack of funding resulting in excessive caseloads combined with inadequate training and support failed the young boy and his mother. Gove recommended a significant overhaul of child protection services to reduce the risk that such children can fall through the cracks again. Gove recommended the co-location and much more coordination of key complimentary services from income security to counselling to child removal.

Other forms of co-location or one stop shopping are also appearing. This form of service delivery is happening in justice and in employment support services.

Self-managed care

A draft report entitled Supports for Community Living: A Proposal to Revisit the Administration of the Delivery of Services for Community Living, developed by the Social Services Review Committee, was released on May 15, 1995. Its fate and status within the social services review process is unclear, however, like many similar documents in other provinces, it gives cause for concern if it is acted upon. The thrust of the document is to support the shifting of decision-making power to individuals and families from the bureaucracies. This is a laudable goal and one which few social service workers would oppose. As outlined in the section on major restructuring trends however, this option does have some pitfalls. What the document fails to do, and here is where the greatest cause for concern lies, is giving adequate attention to the need for accountability.

Through a system of individualized funding, persons with service needs (or their families) will now be able to seek out for themselves, or hire community brokers to find for them, the flexible combination of services necessary to help them function.

Private sector providers are put on equal footing with public ones. They have the same access to partial core funding and no greater constraints put on their functioning. At no time is the question of profit and its potential impacts on quantity or quality of service considered. Nor is it clear that these "brokers" will be governed by sufficient "conflict-of-interest" guidelines to ensure there can be no potential abuse of their positions when dealing with highly vulnerable members of society.

As only a draft document, the stated direction cannot be assumed to reflect the province's intent and it is certainly to be hoped that such a model would not be adopted without significant consideration of all its implications. Serious negotiations with the unions and community groups and individuals and families would likely result in at least some modifications.

Social assistance

Social assistance (SA) is one area where B.C. has come under considerable criticism in the past few months. In an effort to stem the tide of those on welfare hoping for better opportunities, B.C. has imposed a residency requirement for welfare eligibility. The province has been experiencing an influx of an average of 2,200 new SA cases per month, 80% single employable men and women, 75% from three of the four "workfare" provinces.

Imposing a three month waiting period is in direct contravention of the rules under the Canada Assistance Plan. (This is the single of the CAP standards that has continued under the CHST.) The federal government has withheld the December CAP transfer but the amount has been insufficient to deter the B.C. government from keeping the restriction in place. The issue will continue to provoke agitation between the federal and provincial government without any clear signs of a solution. (It is worth noting that the lack of response to the withholding of the transfer is exactly why social activists are arguing that the major reforms under the CHST spell the end of universality and equity of access to social programs across the country.)

Although the issue of a residency requirement overshadowed much of the discussion of the changes to welfare in the province, there are other elements of the new program which are much in the keeping of the tone and intent of most of the welfare reform across the country. The B.C. government has shied away from the most extreme rhetoric of the slash-and-burn provinces but nevertheless the changes bear a fair resemblance, using language such as "support for people to live independently", "making work more rewarding than welfare" and "fighting fraud and abuse".

The BC Benefits program provides for the following changes:

Young offenders

Services to young offenders are not undergoing the type of massive redirection contemplated in Ontario or Alberta. However, these services have moved more into the community where non-custodial forms of supervision are used.

Labour relations

Labour relations in the province are undergoing massive reorganization as the province implements the Dorsey Report and 880 collective agreements are folded into three or four master agreements. Unions are sometimes unnecessarily being pitted against each other as intermingling and forced amalgamations get sorted out. The chaos has meant that representatives have come to the table not knowing until the eve of negotiations who exactly they would be representing.

Despite a promise that restructuring and devolution would be on the bargaining table, it would appear that other priorities have superseded these issues and they have become, at least in some cases, the prerogative of management under the management's rights clause.

Workers currently providing services as direct government employees are fearful of their futures as services prepare to move to the community before successor rights and transfer agreements are signed. Workers also do not know what to expect as they go from a single employer to working for a variety of smaller employers. The longer term integrity of coordinated bargaining is also uncertain if the NDP loses the election expected in the spring.


The framework

Alberta has been going through some of the most massive restructuring of all the provinces since the Klein government was elected. Having eliminated the deficit through spending cuts and the good fortune of increased oil revenues, the government has backed off somewhat, just last month, from its more extreme slash and burn tactics. The illegal but successful strike by a handful of laundry workers in Calgary and Edmonton also galvanized public opinion and helped create a climate of suspicion about the need to be so brutal in cutting services.

A great deal of damage has already been done however and the better economic times will not be enough to undo it. Underlying at least some of the cutting has been the ideology of individualism and self-reliance that has long been part of Alberta's culture. Consequently, social service restructuring will continue, although perhaps at a somewhat slowed pace.

Regionalization and devolution

The province is proceeding with its plans to devolve social services to the community. Deregulation and the shift to self-regulation of agencies and communities providing child welfare is certainly one of the most troubling of the many disturbing trends in the province. Responsibility for the provision and effective regulation of protection and support services to children at risk is being devolved to 17 child welfare authorities. These authorities will be appointed by the government. Protection of children through a non-interested guardian will no longer prevail. The recently leaked draft legislation on child welfare neglects to even mention the term "protection" as the needs of the most vulnerable in society fall victim to the cost-containment and ideological goals determining the government's direction.

Groups assuming responsibility for devolved services will now have a direct financial stake in the services. Grave concern is being expressed by child advocates from the community and from unions since this directly pits children at risk against the financial interests of providers. This financial interest also will put professional standards in jeopardy as community employers seek to cut costs through de-skilling of workers.

Services to Adults with Disabilities will also be transferred to the community. The government intends to introduce legislation creating a provincial foundation. The purpose of the foundation is to fundraise and assume title to, and manage, the land and assets of provincial facilities used by the Services to Persons with Disabilities Program. The provincial management authority and the six regional authorities will be responsible for planning and delivering community services and those of the Michener Centre and eight other government-operated facilities.

At this time, the province will continue to determine overall program direction, setting standards, monitoring outcomes and providing funding. Workers will continue to be part of the Department of Family and Social Services, reporting to the new Authorities.

The Alberta Association for Community Living, a consumer advocate group linked with the Canadian Association for Community Living, has been instrumental in providing the province with direction in this devolution process. In an extended exposé contained in the February 12, 1996, issue of the Alberta Report, a magazine not known for its liberal views, the motivation and practices of the Alberta Association of Community Living in this exercise came under considerable scrutiny. In particular, the practice of collecting charitable donations of goods (mostly clothing) which is then shipped to the U.S. for sale in Value Village stores was questioned. The profits made in these stores primarily benefit the company's directors and one family, the Ellisons, in particular. For every dollar returned to Alberta to the Association, $2.55 goes to the Ellisons. Of every dollar returned to Alberta, about 4/5 goes to advocacy and other uses and only about 1/5 goes directly into services for persons with disabilities.

A second cause for considerable concern is the extent of control being exercised over the de-institutionalization process by a relatively small group of individuals through the same Alberta Association of Community Living. If the implications are true, the voices of other advocates for persons with disabilities may be silenced because they have no seats on the newly appointed Community Boards.

Services to those with mental health problems are also being devolved to regional authorities. Three provincial mental health boards (South, Central and North) will have overall responsibility for planning and overseeing services. Service provision will in turn be devolved to 17 Regional Health Boards. Members of these Boards will be appointed by the provincial health Minister. Increasing numbers of small "approved homes", which are little more than paid family settings are being established.

Existing services are being picked off one-by-one for the shift to the community as the government gets out of direct service. AUPE (Alberta Union of Public Employees) is faced with the difficult task of trying to follow the work without, in many cases, having access to any indications of where the work will be going. Under the new Mental Health Boards, the unions are specifically precluded from participating in the devolution decision-making process or bidding on service provision. This exclusion is justified under the pretext that there is too much self-interest on the part of the workers to ensure that the best decisions would be made.

One stop shopping

Considerable restructuring is also taking place in the delivery of support services to those on welfare and Unemployment Insurance. Through joint initiatives between the Alberta government and the federal Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) Department, access to training, career development, and other employment-related support services will be taking place through single intake access points. Already three pilot sites for co-location of provincial and federal programs are up and running.

The outcome for union intermingling and for the quality of services to the clients is not at all clear at this stage. The issue is not likely to be resolved quickly or easily given the recently announced intention of the federal government to get completely out of the delivery of labour market and education programs. Changes to the UI system also leave this whole area in a muddle.

Alberta is also following a pattern of moving to one stop shopping as single access points to services are being created for community services. Fighting between agencies over whose responsibility it will be to take the lead and how allocation of service needs will be determined between agencies is slowing the process down.

Social assistance

Since 1993, when welfare rolls were cut by 50%, food banks and community support services of all kinds have been overwhelmed. Highly restrictive welfare eligibility rules forced many into desperate straits. Those who were able, moved out of the province to Ontario and British Columbia. Partly for ideological reasons and partly in response to these pressures, those provinces have felt compelled to restrict their own eligibility rules, feeding into the downward spiral of ever decreasing support for the marginalized.

Poverty rates of children continue to climb and the $50 million recently re-allocated to early detection and intervention, while welcome, does not come close to restoring services to pre-cuts levels.

In 1993, approximately two-thirds of the income security workers in the province were declassified to Family Benefits Workers. These workers have caseloads of up to 350 clients and largely focus on processing clients' finances. Counselling functions and any requirements for formal social work training have been removed from these positions.

Accompanying the devolution of employment services to the provincial level is a substantial shift to the private provision of training and education. Private colleges and a myriad of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations have sprung up across the province. These establishments offer everything from courses in résumé writing to full vocational or technical training in specialized skill areas. Specially trained workers who formerly provided career counseling and client support have become brokers, directing clients to outside support and training programs in order to get them off welfare and off their caseloads as quickly as possible.

Young offenders

One of the earliest initiatives by the Klein government was the push for privatization of correctional services and the introduction of boot camps for young offenders. Following a major public awareness campaign by AUPE, the government was obliged to back off. Instead what has happened is the steady erosion of funds, the merger of services in the interest of the bottom line and a shift to non-custodial forms of supervision and sentencing.

Justice Circles and other forms of community sentencing are also gaining in popularity. This shift to community responsibility is raising concern around safety and the adequacy of supervision and support. Youth in these alternative justice arrangements have little access to counselling, behaviour modification programs or other professional services which can be essential to rehabilitation.

Workers in group and community settings are increasingly generalists with little or no special training to deal with potentially difficult or dangerous individuals. Safety of workers, the public and others in the facilities is at risk. In the end, little money is actually being saved as stress has forced up the number of workers.


Technology is also being used to reduce the need for real workers. Clients in search of assistance in employment search and career development are directed towards computer kiosks. These computers are intended to permit self-analysis and evaluation of needs and available resources but disregard the skills required to effectively use them and the disempowering effect of "talking" only to a machine.


The framework

Social services restructuring has been ongoing in Saskatchewan for some time. The pattern has been one of slow but steady devolution of responsibility to the community. Private sector involvement has cropped up but to a lesser extent than in the case of either of its neighbours. In spite of a tradition of cooperative problem-solving between government and stakeholders, joint initiatives and union-employer partnerships have not been the norm. Generally, the government has functioned using a fairly middle-of-the-road approach.

The Saskatchewan government is anticipating CHST cuts totalling about $100 million. As in other provinces, this cut is going to result in decreased resource levels for social services.

Regionalization and devolution

Social service delivery is increasingly moving to the model used for health services. The responsibility for health services planning, decision-making and the distribution of resources is now being made by District Health Boards. These Boards are moving to privatize group homes, public health nursing and occupational health. Over 800 provincial employees were devolved to the 30 Boards. These workers went over with their collective agreements intact. However, interpretation and future negotiation lies in the hands of the Boards and the universality of working conditions and protections is being fragmented. Workers also lost the right-to-transfer and their provincial seniority since applications to transfer between Boards is now considered as out-of-service. Workers also have less ability to grieve. Some employers are also complaining of the multiplicity of unions they must deal with and have not yet signed into the transfer merger agreement.

The funds available through the Rural Initiatives program is being used to contract out services, although there is no evidence of sub-contracting from group homes at this time. The move to a form of one stop shopping is resulting in turf wars as the various agencies position themselves to take on the critical role of intake assessment.

Social assistance

Saskatchewan is revamping its social assistance program, partly because of the increased pressure from UI cuts and partly in anticipation of the cuts and changes under the CHST. In its Discussion Paper entitled Redesigning Social Assistance: Preparing for the New Century, released in January 1996, Saskatchewan has adopted that all too common theme of "supporting independence" and creating "incentives to work". The redesigning of social assistance is directed at encouraging all persons deemed as "employable" to rejoin the workforce. This definition encompasses 18,767 persons (as of November 1995) or almost half of all SA cases. The remainder are classified as partially employable or unemployable, including those with disabilities.

Proposals for the redesigned program include the following:

Young offenders

In the area of young offenders, the greatest challenge is the shrinking budgets. Few changes have been made in overall philosophical or strategic direction. Dealing with the same Department for over ten years, with no major reforms on the horizon, has given some stability and has helped to foster an element of trust in the system, although there are still challenges to be met.

The shift away from custodial institutions towards group homes continues. Increasingly these group homes are little more than "super" family homes. Inadequate training and support means that some children and youth slip through the cracks in the system and receive less than adequate care. Staff are particularly inadequately trained for special services as there is a push to the less costly alternative of generalists. "Justice Circles", community forms of imposing judgments, have sometimes allowed youth to move around the province to avoid becoming fully engaged in the system.

One clear problem with group homes, by whatever name, is the fact that they are exempted from the provisions of the provincial Labour Standards Act. This came about through the perceived need to exempt them in the effort to create a more home-like atmosphere including having staff spend three to four days straight with the clients. This exemption however is now leaving workers wide open to abuse as the number of group homes multiplies quickly under the responsibility of a much wider variety of employers. Some of these employers are far less scrupulous than government itself would risk being, which leaves group home staff vulnerable. Wages are notoriously low and working conditions can be unsafe and unfair.


The framework

When it comes to government cutbacks, Manitoba has not received nearly the same attention as Alberta or now Ontario. Nevertheless, the Tory government has maintained a steady course of substantial budget reductions which have hit all departments including social services. The anticipated cuts from the introduction of the CHST are sure to further erode these programs.

A strike by home care workers, possibly escalating to a larger strike by all MGEU members, is currently in the offing. Although other employees remain for the time being direct government workers, it is expected that the privatization of home care services is but the first step in a much broader social services privatization initiative by the Filmon government.

Regionalization and devolution

Approximately 2,500 Home Care fieldworkers are being devolved to ten Regional Health Authorities from which most service provision is expected to be privatized. The Minister of Health issued a gag order ordering all Home Care workers not to discuss devolution and privatization plans with clients. As well, all clients received a letter directly from the government in an effort to reassure them that services will not be affected. However, instead of achieving the desired effect, the letter actually confirms the concerns of the union and clients that significant disruption to the continuity of care will occur. The union has demanded that the plans to privatize these services, and any other services, be debated and reviewed in full public view.

One stop shopping

"Taking Charge" was to have been a program of co-location and coordination of the work such as employment and training counselling, day care, legal aid and income security previously provided by Canada Employment Centres and provincial agencies. Originally intended to be part of a federal-provincial partnership, these services are now being devolved to non-profit and for-profit private agencies. Income support from UI and SA will continue to be administered directly by the respective government.

Self-managed care

Another significant trend is to what is called "self-managed" care which is appearing in such areas as services to the developmentally delayed. Individual clients receive a set amount of dollars, based on their individual circumstances, with which to seek and purchase services from any available provider.

Social assistance

Rather than devolving income maintenance services, the provincial government and the City of Winnipeg are amalgamating social assistance services into a single system and a single rate of support, effective April 1, 1996. This rationalization of support amounts will result in a decrease for certain categories of recipients, averaging about 2%. Certain other special benefits have either been reduced or eliminated altogether. Regional income security offices will continue to operate. Other social services may eventually end up under the administration of the Regional Health Boards although no definite plans have been made.

Young offenders

Young offender services would not appear to be at immediate risk of devolution or privatization although cost containment is still a key determining factor in decision-making. No job losses are anticipated. However, probation services have been contracted out.


Technology is being used increasingly to control potential abuse and fraud. Record matching between UI, worker's compensation, welfare, and other programs is being used in conjunction with other provinces and as part of child support payment enforcement. Direct deposit is also appearing in more and more areas.

With the introduction of more technology, increased personal information is kept in databanks and there is the possibility of greater access to that information. As a consequence, MGEU has expressed concern about the confidentiality of information that may now end up in the hands of community agencies.

Community agencies have also successfully lobbied to reduce the amount of paperwork required by the government. At first glance, this would appear to be a positive development as it should allow resources to be applied to more direct service. However, the reduced paperwork also becomes a form of deregulation, as the agencies are freed from accounting for decisions previously subject to review by the government.



The 1995-96 and 1996-97 years are sure to be looked back on as marking some of the most profound changes in social services delivery in Ontario. With the election of Mike Harris and the ideologically driven Tories on June 8, 1995, the haphazard and sometimes muddled restructuring which had been taking place took on a very different look.

What has followed is a long barrage of cuts and the complete diminution of the value of social services to those who use them and to Ontarians as a society. As a first step, welfare rates were cut by 22%, forcing many out of their rental accommodations and into cheaper places or onto the streets or into emergency shelters.

This was followed by an economic statement issued in late November 1995 when the government announced over $6 billion in cuts. This is in addition to the $2 billion in cuts identified in the summer. Still more cuts are expected in the April 1996 budget. The budget will likely be the first real indication of how the government intends to pass on the federal cuts to EPF and CAP which come into effect April 1, 1996.

Overall, social services restructuring is expected to take the path of devolution, privatization, and commercialization as the Harris government follows its philosophy of getting out of absolutely everything except the most basic of core services. The details in many cases have not been worked out and it is anticipated that expediency and speed will play a significant role in determining direction. The faster and easier government can get these services off their books, the better.

Among the challenges unfolding are the possible introduction of boot camps for young offenders; the privatization of group homes for persons with mental illness, the developmentally delayed and for youth and children; the privatization of Home Care and Home Support work; the introduction of individualized funding and self-managed care; in essence, almost any scheme which has appeared in other provinces or can get government out of direct service delivery is being considered. In the short-term, the lack of specific clear direction combined with the expected job losses is generating unprecedented stress among workers. These workers have already, in many cases, been asked to take cuts to wages or benefits to help deal with the crisis in funding of their respective organizations.

Every new piece of legislation introduced by the Tories brings great cause for concern. Bill 26, the Omnibus Legislation included the immediate imposition or threat of a range of new user fees covering everything from prescription co-payments for those on the Ontario Drug Benefit Plan to municipal charges for garbage collection. This same piece of legislation lays additional groundwork for the privatization of virtually any government service. Bill 7 repealed all progressive elements of the previous government's labour legislation. It also took away from OPSEU workers whose jobs are devolved, privatized or otherwise moved out of direct government provision such universally-held provisions as successor rights, union contracts, seniority and job security.

Labour relations

One clear goal of this government from day one has been to destroy public sector unions. They have not and will not succeed and in the first showdown of many, OPSEU workers held off the government and forced Harris to restore most of the rights taken away earlier.

OPSEU, which represents over 67,000 direct government workers, took its members out on a five week strike as part of its fight to oppose the Harris government. The strike had two aims: to win back for OPSEU workers the basic rights of seniority, succession, and bumping taken away by earlier Harris legislation; and to bring to public attention the drastic impacts which will occur when the 13,000 to 27,000 job cuts planned take effect.

Only two years after gaining the right to strike, OPSEU voted two-thirds in favour of strike action and began walking the picket lines in mid-February. With only a skeleton of roughly 10,000 essential workers maintaining basic services, Ontarians felt the effects of the strike almost immediately. Contrary to the expectations of the Harris government, public support stayed largely on the side of the workers.

After almost five weeks of walking the lines, OPSEU workers voted over 90% in favour of a deal which includes the following:

Contracts in the Broader Public Service including many other social services as well as education and health care expired March 31, 1996, and workers are expected to fight hard against the gutting of the services they provide.

Service reductions

The service reductions resulting from the massive cuts made by the Harris government are only beginning to take form. The coming year will see most Ontarians experiencing at least some in virtually every sector.

Among the first moves made by the new government were the funding cuts to women's shelters and the return of many prisoners out on partial parole to correctional facilities. These two decisions are indicative of the much harsher and less tolerant attitude among those in positions of power.

Many social services in the province are already provided through the municipalities or through non-profit community agencies. The province is attacking these services through drastic cuts to transfer payments to the direct service providers. Agencies and other levels of government are faced with either generating new forms of support or cutting services.

The ultimate fallout for social services will not be fully known or felt until further in the year as agencies begin to function under their new budgets. Many smaller agencies, particularly non-profit and advocacy organizations will find it an impossible challenge to replace their funding through charitable donations or other sources.

One example of the cuts to be expected is the loss of publicly funded and controlled assessment services for persons with disabilities. These have been downsized along with the actual services causing unacceptable delays of as long as several years, especially in the North. Vocational rehabilitation services can take more than three or four years to access. The number of counsellors in the province has decreased to 135 from approximately 200 seven or eight years ago.

This area is perceived as being particularly vulnerable as it has no clear leadership in the Ministry although it is currently escaping much attention as the government focuses on the bigger programs. The overall trend to workfare and learnfare is expected to result in a changed approach as coercion into programs which fast-track clients back into the workforce and out of income support programs becomes more common.

Regionalization and devolution

Services to the developmentally and physically disabled who are already in the community following earlier de-institutionalization waves or who are currently being moved into the community, are also changing. Workers in some workplaces are being asked to accept new job descriptions which provide more flexibility to employers as service definitions and delivery approaches change.

Clients of existing services who are covered by "special needs" agreements are having their services squeezed. Such agreements are not mandated and therefore are vulnerable as the CAS is getting out of funding these agreements. Complex 24-hour care, palliative treatment and therapies are not considered "core" services. These individuals, children mostly, will become the complete and total responsibility of their families who, even with the greatest commitment possible, cannot possibly provide adequate care to these very needy persons. Persons whose families cannot or will not provide the necessary care for any number of legitimate reasons will likely find themselves allocated to some private agency.

Although many of these agencies exist as a service to their communities, more and more are being created for the potential "profit" to be made by spending less than they receive for the care of their clients. Accountability to families and to the province by these agencies is already less than adequate and the privatization approaches expected from the Harris government will only serve to worsen the opportunities for abuse and exploitation. Profit can be a powerful motive for cutting corners and does not belong in the area of social services.

One stop shopping

Mergers and co-location and one stop shopping options have been examined for many social services in recent years. These initiatives have so far failed to get seriously off the ground as agencies have fought what they perceive as efforts to make generic what are specialized services. There is also a fear that these various configurations are in fact thinly disguised ways to de-skill and downsize services.

Certain services are also expected to be marginalized through these consolidation-type processes. Child welfare and child protection are mandated services. Children's mental health services are discretionary and would likely be the substantial loser. Even though it would remain a "core" service, the focus and resource allocations to it would diminish. This is particularly true in the current political atmosphere of "getting tough on crime" which favours secure custody and other strong measures against young offenders.

Unlike in the other provinces, no specific initiatives between the federal and provincial governments for co-locating or devolving of employment services have yet taken place.

Self-managed care

Another alternative to the current arrangement of provincial provision or arranging of services is individualized client funding. Thunder Bay is one of the pilot sites experimenting with this option whereby clients receive set allocations which they and/or their families use to purchase from community agencies the necessary services. Amalgamation of seven service agencies into a single one is also possible. Quality control is questionable as is the appropriateness and adequacy of the services being received.

OPSEU, SEIU and ONA have developed a labour committee in Thunder Bay to work together and ensure that the various unions involved are not pitted against each other and used by the employers to undermine services and working conditions.

Social assistance

Social assistance is one program that is, and will continue to be, the focus of considerable restructuring. The 21.6% benefit cut imposed in October 1995 has already caused severe hardship to many recipients. The province is now entertaining various configurations for workfare and learnfare. Single tier delivery of guaranteed support for persons with disabilities and clearly unemployable will be coupled with mandatory clauses for participation in employment, training, and/or volunteerism for all others.

However, where this training will take place and in what form is unknown since the training and employment programs put in place by the previous government have all been axed and the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board and jobLink have been gutted or put on hold.

Additional support services provided through the education system in the form of everything from psychological counselling to special needs programs to breakfast programs to English as a Second Language programs are going to be severely adversely affected by the huge cut ($400 million) made to transfers to Boards of Education in the November 1995 economic statement. For thousands of Ontario children and even for many adults access to these social supports through the schools have been the lifeline to better opportunities.

These programs are the very supports needed to foster the shift from dependence to independence that the Harris government suggests it wants. Inconsistencies of this kind are hugely apparent as the province reels under the effect of the ideologically driven slash and burn, kick-them-in-the-pants-on-the-way-down attitude of the Tories.
The Ontario government is planning to implement a major workfare program called Ontario Works starting in April 1996. "Thousands of Ontario welfare recipients will be required to work about 17 hours a week doing things such as painting seniors' homes, clearing clogged waterways and feeding northern deer ...." The province is targetting 15 municipalities, including at least one municipality within the Toronto region, to implement the new requirements for receipt of welfare. Eventually the program will cover about 300,000 across the province. Single able-bodied men and women under the age of 65 will be required to work on community projects such as building baseball diamonds for the local Rotary Club or building snow machine trails. The 15 municipalities piloting the program this year will receive $100 million to get started.

Children's treatment centres

Children's Treatment Centres have mostly been closed in Ontario or replaced with "Therapeutic Foster Homes" which are modeled on family homes. Residents now come under the umbrella of child welfare. Only two facilities remain, Thistletown which has been slated for closure although opposition continues to delay the implementation of the decision, and the Clarke Psychiatric Institute. All other residential facilities have been devolved to smaller non-governmental facilities.

Young offenders

Despite the identification of boot camps as unsatisfactory solutions to young offender problems, it would appear that the Harris government has not yet given up on the idea. Hearings are currently going on over the issue of "boot camps" or Strict Discipline Facilities as the government calls them.

Privatization is already occurring within the corrections system. Transportation has been privatized; food services, cleaning, and other support services will also fall victim to this push or become part of the new "cheap labour" option of using offenders themselves to do the work as has occurred extensively in the U.S. It is also reasonable to expect that the province will look at the possibility of using young offenders and others in custody as potential workforces which can be "rented out' cheaply for use by various private sector employers.

The province has also been experimenting with "alternatives to custody" in the form of small privately-run facilities for youth involved in less severe forms of trouble. The experience of Alberta in the de-skilling of staff and the insufficiency of resources is certain to be repeated in Ontario. The pull in opposite directions towards on the one hand, cheaper community alternatives, and on the other, towards harsher and longer punishment for offenders will mean that confusion is likely to reign for some time.

Twenty-five halfway houses providing counselling and treatment to those on probation and parole have been closed, increasing the risk of re-offending for some. Other supports such as anger management and debt counselling which assist with the rehabilitation and reintroduction to society process are also gone.


Technology is also appearing in a major way in the income security system. Metro Toronto has been involved in pre-tendering planning and discussions for a fully automated "Integrated Disbursement and Verification System". This system would use computer and information technology to manage the complete process from application to verification. The Caseload Management Automation System (C.M.A.S.), now known as Caseworker Technology (C.W.T.), is currently used for applications and helping to determine eligibility. As the name implies it is used by the caseworkers. With some modification it could be made directly accessible by the client and become part of a self-serve system, eliminating the need for many of the front-line workers and reducing substantially the human assistance provided to SA recipients.

Direct Bank Deposit is also being used to transfer payments directly into the accounts of recipients. This both eliminates cheque processing and distribution jobs and raises a number of questions regarding just how confidential recipient records truly are. Similar automation initiatives are either in place or being developed in other municipalities and by the province.

Positions previously requiring skills and knowledge to deal with the sometimes difficult problems and types of assistance required by recipients are being downgraded to mere clerical, data processing functions.

Still more technology is being introduced as job kiosks appear around the province and the front-line workers in employment services disappear.

New Brunswick 

The framework

New Brunswick has been undergoing social services restructuring for a number of years already. The Human Resources Development and the Health and Community Services Departments have undergone major restructuring.

The province has eliminated its budgetary deficit and has passed legislation requiring balanced budgets in the future. According to the government, the reduced federal transfers resulting from the introduction of the CHST are expected to be managed effectively through already planned reductions and the improving revenue picture. There is even some talk of improved resources for the community colleges.

Regionalization and devolution

The restructuring which has taken place in the Department of Health and Community Services has resulted in a major shift in service delivery away from the provincial government and to a community-based system. These initiatives cover child welfare and adult and family services. The focus is a shift away from programs designed for specific target groups, to programs designed "to reinforce the individual's independence and responsibility in the community in which they live." This will take place through a streamlining process which will result in the consolidation or discontinuation of certain services.

Health care delivery has also been regionalized through the abolition of the 51 separate hospital boards and their amalgamation under eight regional boards.

One stop shopping

The province has also regionalized social services by phasing in a single entry point one stop shopping model for services in all regions of the province. It has already introduced a single entry point for services to seniors to encourage them to remain independent in their homes with the help of family and home support.

One stop shopping is also emerging for employment services where the province is again working with HRDC to establish single access points for all employment services. One pilot project is to place computerized government kiosks in postal outlets.

Social assistance

In 1994, the province introduced a new Family Income Security Act that contained a number of regressive changes to social assistance. The act introduced pilot programs of workfare, reduced benefits for anyone not involved in these or in some form of training and eliminated financial assistance to youth who live on their own unless they are in school or training full-time. It also required that non-custodial parents and even grand-parents assume financial responsibility for adolescent parents. These young parents were also required to take parenting courses.

N.B. Jobs Corp, part of the federal government's Strategic Initiatives Program, started in 1995 and is set to receive $40 million over five years. The goal is to help 1,000 older unemployed persons to re-enter the workforce by providing special assistance with job search, training and a guaranteed annual income in exchange for time-limited work activities with private, not-for-profit, municipal or provincial organizations or governments. Individuals receive a yearly income for a minimum of 26 weeks of active placement in community projects. Like most of these programs across the country, this is nothing more than workfare.

New Brunswick also undertook a pilot project by the name of the Self-Sufficiency Project in conjunction with the federal department of Human Resources Development. The program was directed at young single mothers. These SA recipients are provided with a time-limited earning supplement, child care support, continued supplementary benefits and help to cover expenses associated with working. The expectation was that the extra assistance would permit a more permanent attachment to the workforce to form.

Unemployment Insurance reforms tabled in December 1995 and re-tabled in February 1996 will hit the province very hard. The federal legislation includes several severe penalties on seasonal workers. The changes which will penalize workers include: longer eligibility periods, a fixed qualifying period, reduced benefits for repeat claimants, reduced maximum insurable earnings and therefore benefits, and a much higher clawback.

The extent of concern about these changes, particularly in a province with below average welfare support, can easily be seen in the mass protests taking place across the province virtually every week.

Young offenders

New Brunswick was initially one of the most vocal supporters of privatization of the corrections system and the introduction of boot camps for young offenders, but opposition to the move has, at least temporarily, put an end to the plan.

Prince Edward Island 

Prince Edward Island is one of the few jurisdictions that has been comparatively quiet. Many of the changes have already taken place. The province has moved into a budgetary surplus position starting in 1995-96. The CHST cut of $15.2 million or 17.3% is expected to be offset by increased provincial revenues resulting from a strong economy.

Regionalization and devolution

In 1993, the provincial Health and Community Services Agency and five Regional Authorities were created to oversee the delivery of health, social services, corrections and other community-based services. With this, the provincial government is completely out of the direct delivery of health services and only monitors quality and adherence to the principles of the Canada Health Act.

The Agency and each of the five Regional Authorities are separate employers. The Boards of these bodies have been appointed by the Minister. However after the initial period of appointment expires, members will be elected. Labour has no designated seats but can choose to run for the elected spots.

Institutional services are the first to be affected under this new administrative system as the regions work to rationalize services. As a result of a needs assessment, the western portion of the province is slated to lose one of its hospitals and a nursing home to closure and another hospital will be converted to a long-term care facility.

At this point, staff are expected to be transferred to the new facility.

Young offenders

Correctional and young offender services in P.E.I. have been completely restructured in the past three years. Privatization did not form part of the changes, nor is there talk of it now.

The restructuring involved the devolution of these services from the responsibility of the Department of Justice to the new Regional Authorities. Each Authority is responsible for the planning and delivery of health, social and corrections services for their respective geographical area. Correctional services are, in reality, provided at only two facilities, one in Summerside and one in Charlottetown. Young offender services are provided throughout the province but come under the management of the East Prince Health Board.

Labour relations

As a result of the regionalization of health administration and the re-alignment of service delivery, issues of union jurisdiction and intermingling have come up. Transitional agreements have been negotiated to handle the transfer of employees from the government to the new Regional Authorities.

All but UPSE and the Health Negotiation Committee (HNC) were able to negotiate agreements. UPSE and the HNC agreed to the common articles from the existing collective agreements, but an arbitrator's decision was necessary to establish protocols for vacation entitlements, annual increments, sick leave and seniority and notice of layoff.

Further to this upheaval has been the process of creating workable bargaining units from among the variety of workers devolved from the government and already in the community sector. The new structure provides for six categories based on a regional structure and will eventually provide for a provincial negotiating committee.

The administration of these numerous transitional agreements and the lack of consistency among the Regional Authorities has led to a number of grievances and arbitrations. This is in part due to the temptation to refer issues to the arbitrators rather than deal with the possibility of difficult and protracted negotiations between the employers and unions involved. This is also allowing the unions to continue to avoid working collectively among themselves.

Nova Scotia 

The framework

Nova Scotia has been in the throws of social service restructuring for a number of years already. In 1994, the Savage government introduced a four-year fiscal restraint program called "Government By Design". It included departmental funding cuts of 3-4% and wage rollbacks of 3%. Collective bargaining on all monetary issues has been frozen until 1997.

The provincial finance minister has estimated the impact of the CHST cuts to be $328 million for health, post-secondary education and social services over the next three years; $75 million will fall in 1996-97. The Department of Community Services will lose about $30 million in 1996-97 alone.

Any cuts made as a result of these decreased transfers will be on top of the 3-4% cuts already made. The estimate for Community Services is $6 million in 1996-97, bringing the total cuts to approximately $36 million for this department alone. This is at a time when more persons are forced to turn to social assistance as the cuts to UI take effect. The government has estimated that UI cuts have resulted in increased SA costs of $4.5 million in 1996-97 and will total about $54 million over the next five years.

Regionalization and devolution

The Department of Community Services is in the midst of being restructured from seven to four regions. This is in line with the overall regionalization of government services in the province. The new regional authorities will have greater administrative, planning and decision-making capacity and are mandated to "ensure greater community input" through the four Regional Advisory Councils. The six program areas under the Department are also being collapsed into four: income and employment support; family and children's services; strategic planning; and finance and administration.

Staff cuts resulting from this move are expected to be high. The department has been mandated to reduce its numbers by 38.5% by the end of June 1997 although it is not yet known how many will transfer to the regional bodies along with the services.

So far the greatest progress on regionalization has been taking place in the institutional sector and in the shift of planning and governance for health services to the regions. The government has also been working on the further de-institutionalization of adults with mental disabilities. Small group homes and supervised apartments are already in use. There is a move to bring these very small facilities under the Homes for Special Care Act. This could tighten somewhat the regulations covering these facilities although it would also reduce the ratio of workers to clients.

Home Care services, previously under direct government responsibility, have been devolved to non-profit and for-profit community agencies. In the process the work has been devalued, justifying lower wages and de-skilling of the workers. At the same time, special needs supports have disappeared. Hospitals have also moved into the home care area, providing after-discharge care to patients whose in-hospital stay is shortened.

Public health services have been devolved to the new Regional Health Boards. Services previously provided to individuals and non-mandated groups such as seniors and adults are being abandoned. Only "core" programs to groups such as school children are likely to continue. This is causing concern that full-year permanent positions will be replaced by school-year contract positions.

One stop shopping

Support programs to SA recipients and the unemployed are being devolved into a single-tier delivery system. Three pilot projects designed to coincide with municipal amalgamation are being launched. Employment services in Cape Breton, Halifax and Queen's County will now be available from a single location.

The province is also proposing to experiment with a single-entry intake and assessment process for children and adolescents at risk.

Self-managed care

Client self-management is also making an appearance in the province. It will be a major component of the new approach to delivering Home Care and employment support services and will likely resurface in other areas.

Social assistance

Nova Scotia, the province with the highest poverty level in Canada, is feeling the effects of cutbacks and a harsher attitude like in all other provinces. From a system of 66 municipalities and no consistency of rates or eligibility, social assistance services are being amalgamated into four Regional Advisory Councils. This is happening in conjunction with a major initiative to amalgamate a number of the larger municipalities into single entities.

The terms of the transfer of responsibility to these Agencies have not been finalized and already disputes have arisen over the proposed cost-sharing arrangements. However one definite advantage of the amalgamation will be the achievement of consistency across the province ensuring that in all municipalities single or childless applicants are eligible for at least some support. This has not been the case until now.

The shift to single-tier delivery is likely to herald cuts to the quality and quantity of actual service provision despite the pretext made to sell the initiative as an improvement over the existing delivery system.

Other proposed reforms include reducing levels of support to seniors and the employable. This is to offset commitments to improve services to children at risk such as increased access to daycare while cutting dollars.

Young offenders

Privatization of young offender facilities is being looked at. The government has backed off what initially looked like a full scale contracting out of prisons and the building of new facilities by American prison specialists Wackenhut. However, other forms of devolution and privatization are continuing.

A significant shift to the community is still prevented by rules blocking the use of group homes for young offenders sentenced to custodial care. For those on probation or under less severe sentences, community facilities can be used. A Cape Breton home for young offenders is run by the Salvation Army. Funds are transferred in blocks with few strings attached.

Children's treatment centres

The Nova Scotia Youth Training Centre and the other two remaining centres are closing in the spring of 1996. Alternative arrangements to house these young people are not in place yet. What is being considered is a combination of day programs and in-home supports.

Labour relations

A few locals have been able to bargain on non-monetary issues under the terms of the restraint legislation. NSGEU Local 40 Home Care workers employed by five municipalities have been negotiating with a joint employer committee representing all five municipalities and NSGEU Local 66 representing counselling and housekeeping staff in unlicensed adult group homes have negotiated some improvements in their collective agreement, including extending the agreement to cover part-time workers scheduled for less than 15 hours per week.


The framework

Most social services continue to be delivered directly by the government. Budget cuts continue to impact on the range, quantity, and quality of services being delivered. Community health services such as adult day care, homemaking, meals on wheels, drug dependency programs and treatment centres, and homes for psychiatric patients continue to feel the restraint.

The changes coming in Unemployment Insurance will have a profound effect on Newfoundland's workers and its economy. The benefit reductions through increased eligibility requirements and reduced rates will adversely affect the vast majority of seasonal workers who have already suffered several setbacks through closure of the cod fishery and other recent economic losses. The special income replacement (TAGS) put in place to compensate for the closure of the cod fishery will run out, few jobs will be available, and income support of last resort - welfare - will be replaced by some form of workfare. As in many other provinces the solution to government financial difficulties will be taken out on the backs of those least able to afford it. Workers are becoming increasingly desperate as their options run out and will be willing to take any form of work and under any conditions.

Regionalization and devolution

Newfoundland has been pursuing a process of regionalization of health services for a number of years. Devolution of HRDC services to the province will occur as the federal government pursues its intention of withdrawing from all labour market programs. Co-location could also make easier any intention to further devolve or privatize these services to community organizations or for-profit private sector operators.

One stop shopping

The province has also proceeded with a pilot project called the Gander co-location project. It brings the services for SA and UI recipients and other unemployed persons under a single roof. The Client Service Centre encompasses workers from the provincial departments of Employment and Labour Relations, Social Services and Education and Training and the federal department of Human Resources Development who will deliver career, employment, training and income support programs and services under one roof. The first operational phase, opened in late February 1995, was the Career Information Resource Centre.

Workers will remain employees of their respective governments although they will cross-train, work closely together, and coordinate their efforts. The Department of Social Services employees are being placed, at least initially, as a group in the HRDC office. Dispersion of this group may occur after familiarization with the new delivery model increases.

At this point, no special access to internal competitions will be provided to existing employees from the other level of government. Assessment services currently done by federal Financial Assistance Officers and Career Development Specialists will continue and will not be melded with the provincial Service Needs Determination. Cross-orientation will take place to allow appropriate referrals to be made.

Self-managed care

Self-managed care has taken a particularly interesting turn in Newfoundland. As a result of the closure of a four person group home and the dispersion of the individuals into separate arrangements, the issues of union rights and the definition of the employer have come up.

The arguments being put forward in response to NAPE's (Newfoundland Association of Public Employees) efforts to follow the work from the group home to the individualized settings are two-fold. First, the question has arisen as to whether there is, in effect, a "workplace" for the union to go to when the service is being provided in the client's "home". Second, if the individual is, in fact, the employer, is it appropriate, under the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for that individual to be required to deal with a union, and therefore the possibility of a strike, given their limited mental competence. NAPE has argued that the government, regardless of the setting for care provision, remains the employer and therefore the union can, and should, continue. To date, the Newfoundland Supreme Court has not rendered its decision. The decision on the Charter argument will have repercussions for other provinces and for other types of services.

Labour relations

Intermingling votes are occurring as services previously provided by direct civil service employees and community agencies in the health sector move under the jurisdiction of the eight new Regional Health Boards. NAPE and CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) have had two run-off votes so far, both of which have been won by NAPE.

Intermingling will be occurring with members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and NAPE as employment services are devolved to the province. Job descriptions are being written and union intermingling issues are certain to arise as the pilot proceeds. Already, provincial employees have had their holidays changed to match those of the federal employees. For now, they will be compensated at collective agreement rates for lost days.

The Way Ahead 

Without question, the trends which dominate social services restructuring have major implications for National Union components who collectively represent almost 300,000 workers in direct and indirect government services. The services and the workers are continuously under attack as the bottom line dominates decisions.

Participants at the National Union's Social Services Working Conference got an opportunity to go beyond just itemizing and sharing their frustrations and concerns about what was being done to them and the services they provide. The second half of the conference and the second workshops were devoted to talking about the steps that needed to be taken to re-establish a union role within the process of restructuring social services.

In terms of achieving this objective, recognition of the value of the knowledge and skills of the workers was seen as the most important step after the need to convince the public of the value of the services themselves. To accomplish this, participants saw education as essential to refuting the misconceptions existing in many people's minds. Even many workers themselves have fallen into the trap of believing a lot of the fiction being bandied about as fact. The other essential piece necessary if we are to reassert a real role for the workers in social services is information: information on alternatives and on negotiating quality services.

A real role for workers

Workers are social services. Without the human element provided by front-line workers, social services will no longer be effective in cushioning people against life's hardships. Yet workers are challenged every day to maintain quality services with fewer and fewer of this most essential resource. Technology and its value in facilitating information flows is not a substitute for the individuals that can understand people's problems and make effective and compassionate decisions which truly help people.

None of this is to say that improvements are not needed. Workers are the first to acknowledge that the systems and processes currently in place can, in many cases, impede effective and efficient provision of the best services. Excessive paperwork, inadequate training and support, decision-making far removed from the front-lines are all sources of frustration to workers at all levels.

Changes may be needed. Workers know this more than anyone else; they live it every day. The implementation of change however does not have to sacrifice the positive elements which are already there. Without a doubt, the good aspects of the work done in social services still far outweighs the bad.

Yet workers are almost always overlooked when it comes to providing input on future directions. Viewed as either having a vested interest or simply not expert enough, workers are ignored as management consultants, administrators, and bureaucrats restructure services all around them. Consequently, the valuable knowledge and skills held by these individuals are undermined as work is re-organized. Jobs are de-skilled, work intensifies, and concessions are sought from workers without adequate consideration of the impacts.

Correcting misconceptions

Conference participants agreed that this wrong-headed single-mindedness of cost-cutting, downsizing, reducing or completely eliminating valuable services had to be opposed. The most effective way to do this is through simple but far-reaching education programs directed at their own members, which includes all levels of the union's leadership. Education has to include information such as that provided at the conference to correct the misconceptions which abound.

The first misconception which must be corrected is the notion that cuts to social services are both inevitable and necessary as a result of some supra-human phenomenon, namely globalization. Globalization is not an inevitable result but rather the direct consequence of deliberate choices which favour the rich and powerful. In an effort to drive all economies to compete with the low wages and poor working conditions prevalent in the third world and thereby reap quicker and greater profits, transnational corporations have been applying powerful pressure on national governments to deregulate, downsize and generally "get out of the way of business". Governments in Canada have been bowing to this pressure despite evidence that cutting is not the answer.

One alternate approach is proposed in the Alternative Federal Budget from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Cho!ces, which shows that careful growth and strong government action is the real solution. It is also one that does take out the problems of the debt and deficit on the poor and disadvantaged and on workers.

The second misconception which must be defeated is that cuts to government programs are the only answer to the constraints placed on governments by the debts and deficits. Just as growth was the real solution to the Great Depression, so will carefully directed growth be the real solution to the problems of unemployment and increased income disparities plaguing us now. Conference participants, all workers providing human services, are only too well aware of the wealth of needs which continue to be unmet.

The third misconception to be refuted is that only governments and management can offer solutions. There are other routes which can be taken. Conference participants received, as part of their kit, a summary of a Public Services International (PSI) paper outlining a campaign to put on the table for international discussion and debate an alternative view of the challenges facing social services; one that supported social services as an essential component of economic as well as social well-being. Central to this effort is the role workers and unions must play in carrying forward this alternative message.

Made-in-NUPGE alternatives

The National Union recognizes that changes are coming and that we must be part of that change. Part of that readiness is to develop our own ideas for solutions; ones that work for the workers, the clients, and the public.

Conference participants heard about the groundbreaking work being done to develop alternative service delivery models which are both Made-in-NUPGE and Made-in-Canada. The National Union has been hunting high and low across the globe to find examples where unions and workers have offered a different way to go. The information learned through dialogue with unions around the world, combined with our knowledge of social services in this country, will form the basis for our own answers to dealing with the legitimate shortcomings and challenges which face social services as we move into the 21st century.

Successful efforts exist in many countries. Swedish workers offering advice on restructuring options through a consultancy called SKAF, Australian street cleaners winning bids to keep the work in-house, Minnesota workers providing services to the developmentally delayed running pilot group homes, and Quebec ambulance drivers owning their own service, are all examples where the union has successfully taken on the task of developing and implementing restructured services. Based on their experiences and those of our own components that have effectively inserted themselves into restructuring processes, the National Union is developing background information, evaluation criteria and suggestions for ways of taking a more proactive role in social services restructuring. This work will be a valuable resource as components take on the fights in their own provinces.

Negotiating quality services

Along with developing our own Made-in-NUPGE alternative service delivery models, we need a process to follow in order to move these models forward. The National Union has identified that process as Negotiating Quality Services. This requires that we fight for greater participation in the decision-making process affecting the programs and services our members deliver. What that means to us as trade unionists is that we must continue to challenge management's right to manage, and the best forum to do this is the collective bargaining process.

Part of this process of moving ahead on our agenda is to learn from, and share with, our international brothers and sisters. The National Union will be hosting an international conference on Negotiating Quality Services sometime in the fall of 1996. This will provide an opportunity for the leadership from NUPGE's components to hear first hand from those who have taken on this challenge in their own country. The information and knowledge generated by this event will enhance our ability to oppose the policy of dismantling social services that governments continue to pursue.

Sharing our experiences
and our resources



The National Union also knows that learning from each other and sharing our successes and frustrations re-fuels us to go back and fight some more. It also allows us to effectively move forward in negotiating quality services.The women and men who are our members have to understand this whole notion of reinventing, of restructuring, if they are to play a determining role. They must learn how to bring to the collective bargaining table issues about quality. They must learn to negotiate quality services.

Participants agreed that additional information and resource sharing in the areas of negotiated transfer agreements, intermingling and successor rights and following the members for services being devolved, privatized, merged or otherwise being revamped, are crucial pieces. So is sharing our knowledge and experience in challenging management's rights clauses when it comes to introducing technology, to reducing the workforce, to designing the workplace, to establishing procedures and protocols.

Getting the workers and leaders together to share ideas and efforts must be part of this learning process.

Reason for optimism

Conference participants left with a strong sense that the challenge facing us all, and this is a challenge that affects all workers not just those on the social services front-lines, was within our reach. There is little doubt that the tide has been against us in recent years but the signs are there that it is shifting. One need only look at the victory of OPSEU against a government no one thought could be fought successfully to realize that there is new cause for optimism. Workers have proven time and again that armed with the necessary resources and will, they can rise to a challenge and win.

National Union of Public and General Employees
B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union
Health Sciences Association of B.C.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees
Saskatchewan Government Employees' Union
Manitoba Government Employees' Union
Ontario Public Service Employees Union
Brewery, General and Professional Workers Union
PEI Union of Public Sector Employees
Nova Scotia Government Employees Union
Newfoundland Association of Public Employees
Income security/social assistance
Child welfare services
Young offender institutions/child treatment centres
Community-based services
April 1996

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