Ontario Government Mandate Letters – September 2016

Ontario Government legislature

Less than a month after the Throne Speech opened a new legislative session, the Ontario government has released mandate letters for Cabinet members outlining priorities to be advanced in the second half of the Government’s term, which ends in 2018. These letters build on Throne Speech priorities, such as child care, building an innovative and inclusive economy, and working with the federal government on pensions and climate change.

ONN analyzed the mandate letters to identify issues affecting the nonprofit sector as a whole.

If you’re interested in subsector-specific items such as poverty reduction or greenbelt preservation, please see the individual ministry letters.

The Good News and Challenges & Opportunities

The good news

Having reviewed Cabinet’s mandate letters, ONN is pleased to see continued attention paid to transfer payment modernization, open government, social enterprise/social procurement, community hubs, and community benefits. We’ll watch with interest to see the basis on which the Social Impact Bond pilot(s) will be evaluated.

Not what we expected

We’re disappointed there are no plans to ensure the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act will come into effect any time soon. This remains ONN’s top priority.

It’s worth highlighting the nonprofit sector’s under-acknowledged role in advancing both the Ontario government’s workforce development strategy and its innovation agenda.

Challenges and opportunities

ONN encourages the Government of Ontario to draw connections between the need for innovation in the nonprofit sector and the risk-averse regulatory and funding framework that gets in the way of developing innovative programming.

We also emphasize that the government’s objectives on workforce development, such as tackling the gender wage gap, improving employment standards, and “advancing safe, fair and harmonious workplace practices” can be met in the nonprofit sector only if investments in the sector reflect the real cost of meeting these goals in the context of delivering on program outcomes. We’ll continue to advocate the vital role of Ontario’s nonprofit sector, as an employer of over one million workers, an economic driver and community builder.

ONN looks forward to bringing the voices of the nonprofit sector to the Ontario government as a partner in delivering on the priorities in the mandate letters through the remainder of the Government’s term of office.

Cross-government priorities

A number of cross-government priorities were referenced in most, if not all, mandate letters:

– Ontario’s Five-Year Climate Change Action Plan
– Business growth & highly-skilled workforce strategies, building on the recommendations from the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel
– The “digital transformation” of government (including many references to better data collection, information sharing, and evidence-based decision making) and modernizing public service delivery
– Taking action on Truth & Reconciliation Commission recommendations regarding relationships with Indigenous peoples
– Supporting the Community Hubs secretariat (now located in the Ministry of Infrastructure) and the Premier’s Special Advisor on Community Hubs, Karen Pitre, whose mandate has been extended to March 2017; as Premier Wynne’s own mandate letter (Intergovernmental Affairs) suggests, the policy objectives of the initiative have been refined to focus on “making better use of public properties, encouraging multi-use spaces and helping communities create financially sustainable hub models”
– Cross-government efforts to tackle violence against women, including support to the federal government’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
– Efficiency, value for money, and balancing the provincial budget in 2017-18

Our Sector’s Funding and Finances

Mandate letter

Regular readers will know that ONN has been working closely with the TPAM Office at Treasury Board to streamline processes and reduce the administrative burden on nonprofits and government. The mandate letter tasks TBS to, “by 2017-18, facilitating the Transfer Payment Administration Modernization project to standardize the grants administration process and help reduce the burden for transfer payment recipients.” This will build on the roll-out this fall of common registration (using the Canada Revenue Agency single business number). ONN will work with the TPAM Office to ensure that work continues to be guided by the principles our sector co-designed with government officials and that the promising practices piloted through TPAM are scaled up government-wide.

On a related note, the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS) has been named as the lead on human services integration in support of “better-coordination across provincial programs (social assistance and some employment and training services, child care/early years, and social housing/homelessness) that are provided in partnership with municipalities.” We anticipate that this work will have lessons and implications for programs that are delivered through agreements with nonprofits.

Program Review: The Ontario government continues to use the Program Review, Renewal and Transformation (PRRT) process to vet spending across ministries to focus on “modernizing services, finding savings and improving outcomes for Ontarians.” As the goal is for a balanced budget in 2017-18, we’ll continue to see an emphasis on cost-savings across government.

Mandate letter

Social Enterprise: MEDG is responsible for implementing the five-year Social Enterprise Strategy, with the aim to grow the social economy. A section of the mandate letter simply reiterates the commitments made in the strategy. Interestingly, though, it’s the Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science that has been tasked with “completing a strategic review of the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs by spring 2017.” From our reading, the nonprofit sector – with all its resourcefulness and innovative program delivery ideas – is not on this Ministry’s radar as it seeks to determine how different sectors can distinguish themselves through innovation. Read more about ONN’s work to build an enabling environment for social enterprise.

Social Impact Bonds: The Strategy and mandate letter commit the Government to piloting “one or more” Social Impact Bonds. The Province had short-listed four proposals from 83 submissions in 2014. ONN remains cautious about the benefit of Social Impact Bonds and has proposed a set of terms and conditions that should be in place under any such arrangement. As we have said before, SIBs as currently designed are not sustainable for the nonprofit sector unless they include the delivery organization in contract negotiation, program and evaluation design, ensure full cost recovery and include revenue sharing for the nonprofit. Read more on our work.

Mandate letter

Social Procurement: The Social Enterprise Strategy committed the Government to “expand market opportunities for social enterprises through public sector procurement.” MGCS is now leading on “social enterprise procurement” as part of efforts to “transform government procurement” under the purpose of “continuing to deliver modern shared services and support the Climate Change Action Plan.” The MGCS mandate letter also commits the Government to “exploring the modernization of co-operative enterprises to enhance their contribution to sustainability and growth for our economy and communities.” Here’s more on ONN’s work on social procurement.

Mandate letter

Capital Funding: MTCS is responsible for coordinating across government and working with community organizations for Ontario150 and Canada150 celebrations in 2017 to “create a strong economic, social and cultural legacy for Ontarians, with a particular focus on youth.” As we reported before, the Ontario Trillium Foundation (which reports through MTCS) reallocated capital funding normally available to nonprofits to be available this year through the Ontario150 Community Capital Program. ONN has raised concerns about the funding framework for the Ontario150 program and will await the 2017 provincial budget to see if the $25 million that was reallocated will be will be reinstated.

Mandate letter

Community Benefits: The Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015, committed the Ontario government to the principle of community benefits. Community benefit agreements provide a vehicle for ensuring that the Province’s 12-year, $160 billion investment in infrastructure supports communities by creating jobs and training opportunities, and by supporting social enterprise activity and other community amenities. The Ministry of Infrastructure is responsible for “ensuring that infrastructure priorities for the province align with provincial priorities relating to growth planning and community benefit agreements.” The Ministry must also publish a new Long-Term Infrastructure Plan in 2017. ONN will analyze the plan when it’s released to see that community benefits are adequately reflected.

On a related note, the Ministry of Transportation mandate letter also indicated an obligation to implement, with Metrolinx, a “comprehensive community engagement strategy” to ensure that stakeholders can provide input on all stages of transportation projects.

Our Sector’s People (Labour Force)

Mandate letter

Decent Work: The Ministry’s first priority will be to respond to the Changing Workplaces Review by proposing amendments to the Employment Standards Act and Labour Relations Act to provide better protection for employees, given “today’s changing economy” (i.e., the rise of precarious work). The Government will develop a Gender Wage Gap Strategy by spring 2018 and “continue to expand” mental health protections for workers. The Ministry is also expected to reduce average premiums for Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage in the process of ensuring that it “provides a fair and equitable system for injured workers and employers.” Here’s more on ONN’s decent work initiatives.

Mandate letter

Labour Force Planning & Development: While the employment and training sector will be preoccupied with an overhaul expected to deliver a “more seamless and integrated employment and training system,” all nonprofit employers should be aware of the Ministry’s commitment to develop a Workforce Planning and Development Office (by March 2017) in response to the recommendations of the Premier’s Highly-Skilled Workforce Expert Panel. ONN is interested in having the nonprofit sector participate in the promised provincial Labour Market Information (LMI) strategy. We are encouraged by the commitment to “develop a centralized system with accessible and publicly available data.” The lack of data on Ontario’s nonprofit sector is currently a barrier to workforce planning in our sector. More on ONN’s labour force work here.

Mandate letter

Supporting Volunteers: Recently separated from International Trade, MCI is focusing on the integration and long-term prosperity of newcomers, including refugees, in partnership with the federal government, municipalities and nonprofits. At the same time, MCI has been tasked with promoting volunteering through Ontario’s Volunteer Action Plan and partnering with “Ontario’s volunteer network” to support Ontario 150 celebrations.

Mandate letter

A Culture of Accessibility: The Government is committed to increasing compliance reporting rates among nonprofits by an additional 50% in 2017. We can also expect a provincial employment strategy for people with disabilities by the end of 2016. A new health standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) will be developed, and standards on information/communication and employment will be reviewed. A report on overall AODA compliance is due in 2018. Read more on ONN’s work on creating a culture of accessibility in the nonprofit sector.

Mandate letter

Police Record Checks: The Ministry will work with stakeholders on regulations required to support the proclamation of the Police Record Checks Reform Act. ONN is interested in seeing regulations that detail appropriate processing fees and timelines. Read more background here.

Mandate letter

Pensions: The Province will continue to work with the federal government to finalize Canada Pension Plan enhancement. The Ministry of Finance’s mandate letter also notes that the Province will continue to consult with stakeholders on all aspects of a target benefit multi-employer pension plan framework (read ONN’s submission to the consultation process). These commitments have been public for some time and ONN’s pensions task force has incorporated them into their recommendations for a sector-wide pension plan to be presented this fall. More on our work on a nonprofit sector pension plan.

Our Sector’s Regulatory Environment

 Mandate letter

ONCA: Much to ONN’s disappointment, the implementation of the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) was not mentioned in the MGCS mandate letter. Veterans of the nine-year battle to update our sector’s corporate legislation will recall that the Ontario government cannot proclaim ONCA in force until the Legislature passes technical amendments (formerly Bill 85) that died on the order paper in 2014 and the Government has upgraded its technology to allow for e-registration of nonprofit corporations. The MGCS mandate letter includes a reference to “implementing an improved delivery model for business registration services and supporting technology, using the Ontario Business Information System” but with no deadline provided. Despite ONN’s best efforts to see this issue resolved, we are concerned that the sector may have to continue operating under sixty-year-old corporate legislation for the foreseeable future.

Open Government/Open Data: Both ministries are involved in efforts to make Ontario “the most open, transparent, and digitally-connected government in Canada.” The TBS mandate letter commits the Government to enable “the full implementation of a three-point plan on Open Information” by 2017-18 while the Ministry for Digital Government will establish “a modern, enterprise-wide digital standards framework for the public-facing digital channel” working with TBS and ServiceOntario. More on ONN’s work on a data strategy for the nonprofit sector.

One “signature project” of the new Digital Government ministry could affect the nonprofit sector directly: “Support the development of a government-wide digital identity, including a pilot that explores opportunities to collaborate with federal, provincial and municipal governments, community organizations and the private sector, allowing Ontarians to view, apply for and access government services as well as verify their identity with partners outside of government.” ONN will monitor this project’s development.

Mandate letter

Community Hubs: While all mandate letters mentioned the importance of the community hubs agenda, the Ministry of Infrastructure was singled out to ensure that “the infrastructure priorities for the province align with provincial priorities relating to community hubs.” The Community Hubs Secretariat has recently been moved to this Ministry, presumably to reinforce the importance of capital infrastructure to the hubs agenda.

Working with the Special Advisor to the Premier, the Ministry of Infrastructure has been tasked with leading the Government-wide Implementation of the Community Hubs Strategic Framework and Action Plan. It’s worth quoting at length from this mandate letter as there are some specific deliverables:

  • “Establishing a body that will align decision-making for capital and service planning decisions to support community hubs.”
  • “Making recommendations to improve the government’s process for assessing, circulating and divesting surplus public properties.”
  • “Developing a “one window” inventory of public property, including surplus properties that can be expanded to include other sectors, making information publicly available to community partners to support the government’s Open Data initiative. This will also support better local decision-making and community hub development, and build on work underway related to the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015.” [Note: ONN already operates a lands registry with the Ministry of Infrastructure that offers nonprofits advance access to surplus provincial government public lands. ONN has asked that broader public sector lands be made available here.]
  • “Working with the Special Advisor to the Premier and ministry partners to drive a whole of government approach to implement the Community Hubs Strategic Framework and Action Plan.”

ONN is eagerly awaiting tangible progress on the community hubs agenda, particularly with respect to how operating and capital funding flows from the province, and we hope that the prominence given to this policy area across mandate letters can be taken as an encouraging sign.

Mandate letter

Advocacy Rules Affecting Nonprofits: The Premier’s own mandate letter commits the provincial government to “modernizing political contribution rules through amendments to the Election Finances Act.” The Government has already reintroduced the Act as Bill 2 (formerly Bill 201) and it’s going through Second Reading- accompanied by much media coverage regarding the belated introduction of a ban on cash-for-access fundraisers. ONN’s interest in this bill has to do with the identification of nonprofits’ nonpartisan policy advocacy during election campaigns as “third-party political advertising”. This means that nonprofits would have to register and file financial reports with Elections Ontario simply for conducting policy advocacy on issues such as health care, housing, or the environment. The bill proposes a definition of “political advertising” that includes “advertising that takes a position on an issue that can reasonably be regarded as closely associated with a registered party or its leader or a registered candidate.” ONN will intervene when the bill is before the Standing Committee. Our submission to the Standing Committee on General Government in August 2016.

Mandate letter

Overall Sector Relations: MCI continues to coordinate cross-government relations with the nonprofit sector, and has been tasked with “driving progress” in this area, “including information and resources, to support a strong not-for-profit sector in Ontario.” ONN continues to liaise with the Ministry as co-chairs on the Joint Funding Reform Forum and more generally on sector relations.

What did your organization think about the 2016 Mandate letters?