When Worlds Collide

Canada's non-profit social services need to be protected in the new round of trade agreements
June 16, 2003

OTTAWA--A new study jointly released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD) has concluded that government support for non-profit social services could be at risk despite Canadian government assurances that social policies will not be adversely affected by international trade obligations.

"The problem," says co-author Andrew Jackson, "is that US and other transnational corporations see social services as a new world of opportunities for profit, and trade rules as the means to gain entry." Trade tribunals could side with corporations, says Jackson, and rule that public policy measures to support non-profit services unfairly inhibit the ability of commercial firms to establish operations in Canada.

In When Worlds Collide: Implications of International Trade and Investment Agreements for Non Profit Social Services, Jackson, a former research director of the CCSD and now senior economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, and co-author Matt Sanger, a trade and labour specialist and Research Associate at the CCPA, explain that there are dangerous loopholes built into trade agreements such as NAFTA and the GATS. Safeguards for the non-profit sector tend to apply only to sectors which do not include any for-profit actors - not the case in health and other social service sectors in Canada, where for-profit delivery and private-public partnerships proliferate.

The not for profit sector includes thousands of social agencies which operate at arms length from the state, but are funded and supported by governments to help meet our social needs. They include providers of child care and elder care services, residential and community-based services, and services to persons with special needs such as persons with disabilities and women fleeing domestic violence. At its best, the not for profit sector can deliver high quality social services which are responsive to the needs of communities. In practice, this requires stable, long-term partnerships with governments.

"Cultural support measures and postal delivery, which the government thought were protected, turned out to be open to challenge under international trade agreements - why shouldn't social services be next?" says Matt Sanger. "The recommendations of the study are clear: The federal government must maintain, clarify and strengthen the current reservations and exclusions for social policy to ensure these two worlds do not collide and domestic social policy priorities take precedence."