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Trudeau's Social Finance Fund inspired by British Conservative Party

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with former British prime minister David Cameron, November 25, 2015. Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

The Trudeau government is set to announce a public-private partnership scheme today that comes straight from the so-called "Big Society" playbook championed by former British Conservative prime minister David Cameron.

When the Liberals made a preliminary announcement about their "Social Finance Fund" in November 2018, a government media release stated it would "give charitable, non-profit and social-purpose organizations access to new financing and connect them with non-government investors."

The Canadian Press now reports, "The Liberals have been crafting a strategy for social finance, as it's known, for years, hoping to bring private money into social services governments provide themselves or directly fund."

"Under the concept, private backers partner with a group or organization to fund new ways of helping people improve their job skills or health, for instance, with public dollars flowing in if the partnership produces measurable results," the article explains.

Missing from that mainstream news report is important context.

Cameron, who became British prime minister in 2010, has stated, "Social enterprises, charities and voluntary bodies have the knowledge, human touch and personal commitment to succeed where governments often fail. But they need finance too."

His answer?

"They can get it from socially minded investors. So we need social investment markets, social investment bonds and social investment banks."

The philosophy was spun in the British Conservative Party's 2010 election manifesto as a populist approach of building a big society, not big government.

By 2012, then Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was also looking at creating "social impact bonds" in Canada to fund social programs.

Harper's Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley even travelled to the U.K. to learn more about Cameron's plan firsthand.

The Globe and Mail reported, "As a concrete example of social-investment partnerships [the Harper government] points to Habitat for Humanity. By working with private-sector companies like Home Depot, the low-income housing charity and its volunteers can achieve far more social good than they could otherwise."

Now Trudeau's Minister of Social Development Jean-Yves Duclos is set to announce the Liberal government's version of this plan.

It has said this approach will provide "new tools and funds" to address issues such as "the opioid crisis, homelessness, and long-term unemployment."

The Canadian Press comments, "What makes the approach attractive to governments is that it shifts financial risk from taxpayers to investors and can turn up more efficient ways of providing social services."

Commenting on the Harper government's plan, The Globe and Mail previously noted, "While the first steps will be small, the government's ultimate goal is a shift in public expectations as to the role of government in assisting social causes."

These words from mainstream media should serve as a caution as we evaluate Duclos' announcement later today.

Brent Patterson is a political activist and writer.

Photo: Adam Scotti/PMO

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