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Policy priorities in the pivotal year that will be 2021-22

In the wake of the annus horribilis that was 2020, ONN’s board, policy committee, and staff have been strategizing about our role in positioning the nonprofit sector to navigate the changing landscape and playing a pivotal role in an equitable recovery. We’ve overhauled our policy priorities to ensure we’re focusing on what we see is most needed at this time. Although everyone’s eyes are on the federal election, next year also brings us a provincial election and municipal elections.

The well-being of our communities depends on our network seizing these advocacy opportunities to talk about how community-governed organizations can play a more significant role in society and the economy than before the pandemic- and be better supported to do so. This includes the expanded forms in the sector, from nonprofits, charities and co-operatives to grassroots mutual aid networks. Nonprofits must play a bigger role in service delivery, taking market share back from for-profits in areas like child care, long-term care, and home care. And they must also be central to broader policy advocacy and in the policy debates that shape our world- on housing justice, decent work, climate change, taxation, and more. Now, more than ever, our sector must stand in solidarity with partners working in support of Indigenous rights and racial justice.

For many, the call of “normal” is tempting after such disruption. But business-as-usual is not sustainable or healthy, with its racialized and gendered wealth inequality, our environmental breakdown, and the loss of trust in our public institutions. The pandemic has created an opportunity to reverse damaging trends and “build back better.” That cannot be just a slogan; it must be realized at the level of communities and local economies, through community power and resident engagement. 

The challenges we face

Ontario nonprofits have tackled the COVID-19 crisis with their characteristic determination and optimism, but some have closed their doors and many others are under-resourced and ill equipped to deal with a multi-layered crisis that now threatens to last for years. There is already an austerity narrative emerging, highlighting the massive public spending during the crisis that some will say must be fixed with belt tightening. This is even as the prospect of a long and slow economic recovery becomes more realistic and the need for public investment in community resilience and social infrastructure more urgent.

For a sector that improves the lives of every Ontarian, the challenges- starting with lack of recognition- were formidable even before the pandemic. Staff and volunteer burnout increased community needs, and looming austerity budgets mean that we cannot keep going the same way.

A time for ONN – and all nonprofits- to be bolder

It’s time for ONN to be bolder with our policy prescriptions. Our network must not shy away from demanding that government invest in programs and strategies that will generate benefits for Ontario communities. And nonprofits must get better at telling their stories- both the story of positive social, cultural, and environmental impacts, but also the story of their economic impact on local communities — as employers, as purchasers, as providers of essential services that, in many cases, save governments money down the road and come with a low-carbon cost. The pandemic provides an opportunity for nonprofits to build a new narrative about our role in society and the seats we must occupy at decision-making tables.

Our call to action to Ontario nonprofits

ONN has a vision that does not change because of the pandemic: A strong and resilient sector, thriving communities, and a dynamic province. ONN has now publicly committed to initiatives that envision a more sustainable, equitable, and well-being-oriented society and economy. Through our statement on anti-Black racism, we have committed to amplifying the voices of Black and other racialized leaders in our sector. ONN has endorsed the Care Economy Statement, the Well-Being Economy Alliance’s (WEAll) strategic vision (updated with Ten Principles to Build Back Better), the Imagine Canada-led Agenda for an Equitable Recovery, and CCEDNet’s Sector Recommendations for the Recovery and post-COVID Economy. We participate in coalitions that promote decent work for all and universal access to licensed child care. And we advocate provincially (and federally through coalitions) for a new investment relationship between governments and the nonprofit sector that promote resilience and financial sustainability. These commitments help us decide, out of so many possible policy areas, where we should focus so we can be of most service to the nonprofit sector and the communities we serve.

Join us in bringing the voices of communities to government with a view to a better, greener, more equitable economy and more inclusive society. Read our policy priorities and be part of our networked advocacy campaigns. Or start your own campaign and tell us about it!

Sané Dube, ONN Policy Committee Chair and Liz Sutherland, ONN Director of Policy


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