Canada Case Study. Co-Construction of Public Policy for the Social Economy
International Forum on Social and Solidarity Economy, FIESS 2011
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The social and solidarity economy in Canada has a long and rich history of practice, although the conceptualization of these activities and the language used to describe them has varied and continues to evolve.
The representation of co-operatives in Canada has been established for more than a century, but non-profits and community groups combining social and economic objectives have only begun formally organizing as a sector in the last 15 years. This is most advanced in the province of Québec, where strong community sector mobilization in the mid-1990s led to the creation of the Chantier de l’économie sociale. In the rest of Canada, grassroots community action combining economic and social objectives, has tended to identify under the rubric of community economic development, organized under the Canadian CED Network since 1999. More recently, the concepts of social enterprise and social finance have begun to gain currency as well, though the term “solidarity economy” is rarely used in Canada.
The last decade has produced significant research and new literature on the social economy in Canada. Public policy is a prominent theme in this work. While the absence of a nationally consistent definition has made precise measurements of the size and scope of the social economy difficult to establish, it is clear that the social economy is active in all the five theme areas under discussion at FIESS.
In Québec, where the sector is highly organized, an ‘innovation system’ to support the development of the social economy includes several activities that are key to the strategic development of the social economy, including: consultation, representation and promotion; support for the development of collective enterprises; financing; human resource training and development, and partnership research.
The paper presents some of the most notable illustrations of collaborative processes between civil society actors and all three levels of government in the development and implementation of supportive public policies. In Quebec, these include a provincial Summit that represented a breakthrough in civil society’s role in public debate; a government partnership for the administration of co-operative development activities; a provincial conference that laid the groundwork for the co-construction of a government action plan to support the social economy; and a municipal partnership to support the social economy by the City of Montréal. In the rest of Canada, a federal initiative to enhance access to capital, training and research as well as a vehicle for co-construction; a provincial program to create local investment funds; a provincial tax credit to support co-operative development, and various place-based programs and initiatives are profiled.
On the whole, Québec offers the only example of co-ordinated and systematic strategies to develop the social economy, although the federal social economy initiative offered the potential of this during its short existence. In provinces other than Québec and in other federal initiatives, measures supporting the development of the social economy are targeted to specific sectors and tend to be fragmented. The Government of Canada is generally not as advanced as many European countries in using co-construction to develop social policy, or in supporting the unifying structures needed to facilitate strong and inclusive civil society participation in the process. Where policies have achieved a degree of prominence at the provincial level within Co-Construction of Public Policy for the Social and Solidarity Economy: Canada Case Study (October, 2011) Canada, they are often associated with strong civil society movements, as with the federated structure of the Chantier in Quebec, and the coalition around community economic development in Manitoba.
Web site of FIESS www.fiess2011.org