A Federal Government - Voluntary Sector Accord: Implications for Canada's Voluntary Sector

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Learning from Experience, Respecting Differences

Lessons for the Canadian Voluntary Sector

The experience of other jurisdictions highlights that there is no one correct way to developing an accord. The main requirements are that the process build upon existing networks and institutions, broadly and inclusively engage the sector and government, and respect local circumstances. The process should aim for a win-win outcome and ensure that the sector has had the opportunity to determine and express what it wants in a relationship.

There are, however, several important differences between the other jurisdictions with accords and the national context in Canada. First, there is no Canadian organization equivalent to the NCVO or SCVO in terms of resources and reputation as the national umbrella for the sector as a whole. Although this is not necessarily an impediment to the process, it means that members of the Voluntary Sector Roundtable (VSR) and JAT will need to work somewhat harder to establish their credibility and that of the process. In this, they will need to work closely with national organizations.

Second, the differences within the sector in Canada are not only split across subsectors (e.g. health, social services, sports and recreation), but by province. The particular focus in Quebec on community action and the greater acceptance of advocacy by the Quebec government is not replicated elsewhere in the country. Thus, in engaging the sector in various regions, particularly Quebec, the national leadership will need to be informed about and attuned to the differences in discourse and practice.

Third, because Canada is a federation, the national leadership of the voluntary sector cannot respond to concerns by community organizations that a national accord holds little relevance or benefit for them by asking them to be patient - that local accords will follow as they have in England. Thus the engagement process will need to show the relevance of a national level accord to the diversity of the sector on its own merits.

No matter how a framework agreement is developed, comparative experience demonstrates the need for a formal monitoring process and ongoing infrastructure within the sector to inform organizations about the agreement, train them in meeting their responsibilities, and monitor compliance. Without a single peak association in Canada, the issue of which organization assumes this role may be more complex than in the UK, particularly in an environment in which the injection of more money than the sector has ever seen may complicate inter-organizational politics. The need to maintain a strong, collegial working relationship among the lead national organizations will be critical.

Finally, international experience reveals the need to maintain ongoing political support. This has not been an issue with the Blair government since it had no negative history with the sector, but may arise in the Canadian context since the Liberals were in power during the nadir of sector-government relations in the mid 1990s.


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