The development of an accord between the voluntary sector and the federal government is a bold experiment. There is no well charted road map that tells us exactly how to proceed or what the implications of following particular routes will be. The overarching goal of an accord is to develop "a framework to enable relations to be carried out differently and better than before."1 It is a framework agreement between a government and the voluntary sector that articulates a shared vision, agreed-upon principles and mutual undertakings to shape and guide their relationship.2 The idea of an accord is borrowed from the UK where the Blair government has recently developed "compacts" with the voluntary sector in each of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, following somewhat different processes in each. While comparative experience is instructive in illuminating general pathways for a federal government-voluntary sector accord, we need to be cautious in relying too heavily on it, given the differences in the structures and politics of both government and the voluntary sector in Canada. Therefore, to a considerable degree, both the voluntary sector and the federal government have entered the Joint Accord Table (JAT) process on the basis of faith, hope and good intentions.
The purpose of this paper is to explore the implications of a Canadian accord for the voluntary sector. The analysis draws on comparative experience, but applies this to the JAT process. The paper argues that the desire to develop an accord has to be understood in the context of a fundamental shift in both the nature of governance at the federal level and the character of Canada's voluntary sector. In this context, we consider:
- What is the best case scenario that the voluntary sector might realize from an accord?
- What needs to be done in each of the various stages of developing an accord to bring about the best possible outcomes for the voluntary sector?
1. Rt. Hon. Jack Straw and Sir Kenneth Stowe, "Joint Foreword," Compact: Getting it Right Together: Compact on Relations between Government and the Voluntary and Community Sector in England. (London: Home Office and the Voluntary and Community Sector Working Group on Government Relations, 1998), p. 11.
2. Government of Canada - Voluntary Sector Joint Initiative, Working Together: Report of the Joint Tables. (Ottawa: Privy Council Office and Voluntary Sector Roundtable, 1999), p. 25.