Making a profit out of helping the needy is ‘just wrong,’ says NDP official

Conservatives are fooling themselves if they think the private sector can deliver social programs better than governments, says Al Ens, federal NDP riding president in Chilliwack.

“The Conservatives think the private sector can always do things better, but that’s just an ideological position ... it’s not science-based,” Ens said, in response to the “social finance” drive launched last week by the Conservative government in Ottawa.

The idea behind social finance is to attract private investors and organizations to fund social programs and projects by offering a chance to make a profit, if agreed-upon performance targets are met.

Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl said the social finance model is working in other countries and saves taxpayers’ dollars while meeting social challenges.

But Ens said he believes the idea is dead-wrong, and unworkable.

“Making a profit out of helping those in need ... it’s just wrong,” he said.

It’s the responsibility of governments, federal, provincial and municipal to look after social needs, he said.

“We need our elected officials to be responsible for assisting those in need,” he said, otherwise a “disjointed system” would result.

Like the practice of using standardized tests in some U.S. public schools to measure teachers’ performance led to cheating to boost students’ scores.

“That’s what would happen with this kind of (social finance) thing,” Ens warned.

Investors would cut corners to make sure projects met the criteria to obtain the profit “premium” offered by the government, he believes, or invest only in projects “where the targets are easiest to be met.”

“I think it’s just an absolutely stupid idea,” he said.

But Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation federal director Gregory Thomas saw merit in the government’s idea to call on private investors to come forward with solutions to social problems they’d be willing to fund.

And the government’s offer to back up some of those good ideas with federal dollars “is a positive initiative, for sure,” he said.

Instead of government officials “crisscrossing the country” handing out millions in “pork-barrel” projects, Thomas said, “to us this looks more like smart government looking for good ideas, stepping into something gradually, carefully, without a lot of razzle-dazzle, the kind of initiative we tend to applaud.”

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