Someone Has to Pay: The Awesomes and the Worries of the New Social Policy Framework

Have you read the Alberta’s Social Policy Framework?

While reading it, a few key things jumped out at me.  Overall I think the document is very promising. I’m not going to get into a detailed description of the Framework here, but if you want to know what it says, read it here. That being said, what I would like to focus on are the awesome parts, and the worrying parts.


Like I said before, overall the framework is pretty good and it is excellent to have on paper the recognition that nonprofits have a track record of success when it comes to providing the sorts of services that we have all come to want and need. Along these lines what I really liked was the commitment to the organizing principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity means that the lowest, smallest or most decentralized body is the most appropriate authority to address an issue. Essentially, the organization closest to the issue is the most competent organization to deal with the issue and deliver the solutions.

The Framework addresses this by stating in Roles and Responsibilities that:

“communities, local groups, and organizations are often best situated to respond to social challenges. They can develop solutions that reflect their needs, priorities, and capacities.”

This is true.  When you’re closer to the ground, as Alberta’s nonprofits and voluntary sector organizations are, you can get a more accurate read of trends and complex, nuanced issues, as well as be more precise and effective in implementing solutions. Additionally, being separate from the formal structure of government makes nonprofits more agile and flexible in how they respond to changing trends evolving priorities.

As the GOA’s role shifts from “service provider, funder, and legislator” to “influencer, convener, and partner,” more responsibility for providing services will be placed in the hands of the nonprofit/voluntary sector, which could ultimately stand to benefit Albertans.



With great power comes great responsibility; with great responsibility comes great costs. Nonprofits already provide a huge array of services on lean budgets, however an increase in programs and services means more resources, facilities, supplies and staff will be required. For all of those things, someone has to pay.

What worries me about the Framework is the Government’s shift in focus away from “funder” to “influencer,” and no clear mention of a plan to underwrite the cost of downloading these responsibilities to the nonprofit sector. I’m not necessarily saying that the government has to pay, but someone has to, whether it be through private donations, user fees, direct billing, pay-for-delivery funding schemes, etc.

What we need to see is a long term strategy for funding. We need to make sure our donation incentive system is effective, and that user fees don’t make important programs and services inaccessible. This solution for nonprofits that isn’t one size fits all, and it must also include a realistic grasp of the cost of delivering services to Albertans, including personnel, operating, and administrative costs.

And so, it is with this in mind that I look forward to the Budget announcement tomorrow, March 7 at 3pm.

Ellie McFarlane, Program Coordinator