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Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Early Childhood Education and Care Reform in Canadian Provinces: Understanding the Role of Experts and Evidence in Policy Change

L. A. White and S. Prentice

Summary: there are robust policy reasons for implementing full-day kindergarten, but it should designed as one element in a broader early years strategy.

Three facts to know:

1. Currently, BC, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and PEI fund and deliver full-day kindergarten (FDK) through public schools, and other jurisdictions are considering or are in the process of adopting the policy. FDK is presented as a way to support children’s early years in a context of the changing family.

2. Widespread enthusiasm for FDK as the sole policy instrument to meet the needs of the early years is counter-intuitive both because FDK is more expensive to deliver than tax breaks or subsidizing parents’ child care expenses, and because there is also good evidence supporting other early childhood development programs, including childcare services.
3. Public administration scholars fiercely debate whether or how much evidence and expert opinion really matters in how governments make decisions: looking at the wave of FDK adoption in Canada provides empirical evidence about how both were used.

Three myths or misconceptions to dispel:

1. FDK was usually adopted as a consequence of an expert commission/panel that recommended changes, citing child development arguments that were presented as evidence-based, yet would be considered narrow by academic standards. A broad consideration that holistically addressed early childhood care and education seemed beyond the reach of most expert actors.

2. Governments rarely fully implement the programs recommended even by their own experts. Political remedies appeared restricted to possibilities easily incorporated into provincial education mandates.

3. In the case of FDK, policy change was driven by highly selective path dependency that used evidence to justify predetermined policy preferences. FDK seems to be the contemporary provincial government “hammer” for every “nail” of family policy (child development, socio-economic disadvantage, parental labor market participation, and economic competitiveness).

White, L. A. and S. Prentice (2016). “Early Childhood Education and Care Reform in Canadian Provinces: Understanding the Role of Experts and Evidence in Policy Change.” Canadian Public Administration 59: 26 - 44.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Funding Policies and the Nonprofit Sector in Western Canada

Peter R. Elson

There is mounting fiscal and accountability pressure across Western Canada to create program efficiencies and align policies to increase effectiveness, particularly in relation to the delivery of community human services by nonprofit agencies. At the same time, economic growth, particularly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, has brought other unique challenges to the fore, including increased rates of income inequality and strains on the social fabric of communities.

What everyone should know: 

Serious change: Excluding hospitals, colleges and universities, government funding to nonprofit accounts for more than 30% of nonprofit revenues and is in the order of $9 billion ($2.7 billion in Alberta).

Serious size: There are more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations in Western Canada of which about 10% (5,000) are social service organizations directly engaged in delivering services to communities.

Serious relationships: Funding relationships in the nonprofit sector in Western Canada are characterized by demands to demonstrate impact in programming and funding (Alberta); reinvented and more integrated contracting models (Manitoba); emerging forms of community mobilization (Saskatchewan); social innovation and new business models (British Columbia)

Myth busters:

Location doesn’t matter Indeed it does. Street level bureaucracy is alive and well and in this edited book, funding and relational variations across ministries and across departments within the same ministry are profiled (Chapter10).

In real life, David doesn’t beat Goliath: If you believe this, you need to read the profile of the provincial lottery fund in Saskatchewan (Chapter 8) and funding policies for nonprofit housing in BC (Chapter3).

Productive funding relationships are hard to find: Every province in Western Canada has examples of exemplary partnerships that are mutually supportive and community enhancing. The Alberta Mentoring Partnership is but one example (Chapter6).

Peter R Elson, PhD is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Public Administration, University of Victoria and Senior research Fellow, Institute for Community Prosperity, Mount Royal University. He is editor of the newest publication in the IPAC Public Management and Governance series, Funding Policies and the Nonprofit Sector in Western Canada.

The Myths and Realities of Digital Public Administration in Canada

By Geoff Salomons

The transformative nature of the Internet has ushered the world into a new era of digital public administration. Today, our world has been revolutionized by digital technology (the Internet, social media, and smartphones). It has changed our conception of space and time. It has also changed our understanding of public sector management. While federal, provincial, and municipal governments have embraced digital public service, fine-tuning is required to adapt e-government to the dynamic complexities of citizen needs.

Three Myths about Digital Government in Canada

Myth #1: Every Canadian has access to the internet, and therefore access to e-government.

Reality: About 87 percent of Canadian households are connected to the internet. Across the country, 86 percent of British Columbians and Albertans have internet access, while Quebec and New Brunswick have the lowest with 78 and 77 percent respectively (Cira factbook). In fact, the lack internet access is highly concentrated among persons with disabilities, seniors, people in rural Canada, and the urban poor.

Myth #2: Digital public administration ensures all-inclusive public governance.

Reality:  Digital government has created new forms of social exclusion, specifically, among persons with disabilities; people living in remote parts of Canada; newcomers and immigrants with low proficiency in English and French; and individuals with inadequate computer literacy (Media Awareness Network).

Myth #3:  Digital public administration promotes organizational flexibility, decentralized service delivery, and grassroots governance.

Reality: Pubic sector leadership turns to centralize because of democratic accountability and responsibility. This reality is deeply rooted in the historical legacies of the Weberian public bureaucracy and the democratic regime in Canada (Aucoin 1997).

To learn more about  digital public administration in Canada, visit the CafĂ© Pracademique website.