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Contracting out employment services in Ford’s Ontario

Canadian PoliticsLabour

Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo from Flickr.

Ontario’s self-styled government-for-the-people has announced new “prototype” projects to run social service employment programs.

Prototype service managers were revealed in February for Hamilton-Niagara, Peel and Muskoka.

Employment services for social assistance recipients will now be integrated into a new regional level of bureaucracy called Service System Managers.

The government seems confident that lessons learned from the prototypes will shine a light forward for province–wide changes by 2022.

But this is a much more complicated file than the recent “Open for Business Invisible-at-Night” car license plate roll-out.

Questions and concerns

These changes are needed, the government maintains, because an Auditor General’s report said key Employment Ontario programs were not effective. In that context, handing over more responsibility to Employment Ontario is a curious step.

Let’s look at Hamilton where the service manager will be an American non-profit company. Fedcap promises “to spread the power of possible.” Hopefully, what’s spread won’t run afoul of authorities like in New York and New Jersey, where in 2018 the Labor Department determined that Fedcap stiffed 443 employees out of nearly $3 million of legally required pay and benefits.

An understanding of and a respect for employment laws ought to be a given for those running employment programs. Knowledge of the local labour market should be too, and Fedcap lacks that knowledge.

In Peel Region, WCG, a Canadian subsidiary of a multi-national corporation based in Australia, will be the manager. Presumably, they’ll have more Canadian knowledge than Fedcap since they have been operating similar programs in British Columbia and Alberta for some time.

They’re a private company, however. And that’s a concern, since the three prototype organizations (Fleming College is the Muskoka manager) will be paid according to how many social assistance recipients they connect to jobs.

A new report by the Maytree Foundation cites research from Australia. Down under, private companies running similar programs had difficulties meeting placement targets on which their funding depended. The companies responded by focussing efforts on helping those clients who had better chances of finding employment.

That raises more questions.

Does this government understand the system it wants to reform? Are there actually jobs out there to place people in?

The job market has changed significantly in the last 25 years since a previous Conservative government applied their dogmatic Common Sense ideology to these matters.

The old economy featured decent jobs requiring routine skills for which many people were qualified. But today about a quarter of new jobs in Ontario are considered non-standard (temporary, part-time, on-call and self-employed work) and not within reach of many.

And what about the people on social assistance? They are staying on assistance longer because of significant systemic and individual barriers that experts say require a range of services and supports.

To be fair, the government seems to recognize this need. They’ve indicated that a wrap-around support model will focus on “life stabilization” for people who would not immediately benefit from employment and training services.

Typically, with this government details are vague.

According to the policy experts at the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), this employment services transformation “prioritizes the needs of employers at the expense of social assistance recipients.”

I’m afraid they’re right.

Bob Wood has worked in social justice, community development and local government for more than 40 years. He has been a freelance writer for more than two decades. Bob lives in Port Rowan on Ontario’s beautiful south coast.

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