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The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
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June 2003

    Three Part Series on the Corporate Take-over of Our Social Services

    Corporate Trade in Welfare

    Part 2: Suppression of the Facts

    William Proulx


    The BC Liberals have been touting their new JobWave program as an example of successful public-private partnership, or much vaunted P3, the latest buzzword used to describe those for-profit companies managing government projects or delivering government services. Allegedly this is saving government money, although in reality it is at best redistribution from many pockets to few.


    The rationale is that the program is self-funding because the companies are paid out of the money the government saves every time a person or family stops receiving welfare. The assumption is that everyone who gets a job through the program would have been on welfare for a full 19 months, usually not the case, especially given JobWave and Destinations’ admitted practice of taking only the most employable referrals. This means they don’t take people who might have addictions, or social barriers such as mental illness, or even poor hygiene.


    The reality is that one of these private programs alone sucked almost $24 million from the government teat in the last year alone. The reality is that the only definition of success is if the client does not return to the welfare rolls. Following this rationale a person who moves out of province would be considered “placed,” because they would no longer be receiving income assistance in BC, as would a person who went back to the welfare office, didn’t meet eligibility requirements, and ended up homeless, or dead.


    Of course it is in the best interest of the BC Liberals to have this program succeed. Human Resources Minister Murray Coell and his cabinet colleagues have repeatedly defended the government’s tightening of welfare requirements by saying there are jobs available, citing as evidence the number of postings held by JobWave and friends, repeatedly making the simplistic statement that “a job is the best security” for all British Columbians. This orientation towards success is evidenced by the contents of the contracts the agencies have signed with the province.


    The programs are required to refer participants back to the government if they “have been unsuccessful in achieving a placement during the 90 days of pre-employment services” or if they “have advised the contractor that they do not wish to participate in the Program” (usually the kiss of death for further welfare benefits). The clients must then commit completely to the contractor for 19 months to the exclusion of other normally available programs through HRDC or any of several non-profit social agencies.


    The end result of this policy has meant that the other non-profit agencies who have provided both training and employment services in the past are now in the position of having to operate solely with those clients the corporate agencies have rejected as unsuitable, meaning they may be difficult to place. Added to this is a requirement to accept performance-based funding dependant on people finding jobs. This introduces an incentive to work only with the easiest to help, resulting in a paradigm shift from providing much needed social services to survival based upon capitalizing on people finding work, any work at all.


    There has been criticism of the brave new course the BC Liberals have charted into the familiar waters of the capitalist cash flow. The president of ASPECT was particularly vocal about how the Job Wave contract was awarded, being quoted in newspapers throughout the province. As a result of this media coverage the parent corporation West Coast Group won a 2001 court order that silenced criticism. The order prohibited ASPECT representatives from “libeling or slandering the Plaintiffs.” In other words ASPECT was quickly subjected to a SLAPP suit and its opposition silenced. Of course any possibility of a counter suit by ASPECT was ended through the simple means of awarding them a small slice of the pie.


    Not everyone is overly critical of the Job Wave/Destinations model. The Fraser Institute (no surprise here) is a huge fan of the government’s approach. Its report card on BC welfare reform for 2002 praises Job Wave stating; “The use of private sector providers and their particular competencies in delivering welfare and welfare-related services represents an enormous step forward in social policy in Canada and should be expanded, both in British Columbia and throughout Canada.” There is currently a move to expand these programs into Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. No doubt the scent of easy money will cause more corporate sharks to circle provincial welfare agencies across the country.


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