Charlotte Whitton is best remembered as the trail-blazing feminist who famously became mayor of Ottawa in 1951. Yet her most lasting accomplishment is likely the founding of the Canadian Council on Social Development—Canada’s oldest anti-poverty group—in 1920. Today, with many other non-profit lobby groups competing to see who can protest the loudest about poverty, Whitton’s successors are blazing a new trail. The remade CCSD is taking a more positive approach to social policy reform, even if it means attracting less media attention.
A financial crisis in 2006 left CCSD with a $600,000 deficit and prompted some necessary soul-searching. The solution, says president Marcel Lauzière, was a drastic cut in staffing and a practical perspective on poverty: “Rather than complaining about the situation, we decided to look for ways to celebrate our wins and ask, ‘how do we learn from success?’ ” Despite high-pitched screams from anti-poverty groups such as Campaign 2000 and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Canada’s poverty rate has actually been in sharp decline for a decade.
So the new CCSD looks for ways to apply local achievements, such as new child poverty policies in Newfoundland and Quebec, to other parts of the country. Instead of issuing scolding reports and media releases, the CCSD prefers to work behind the scenes, and even counts the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police as a recent partner. Lauzière is also bringing municipal groups like boards of education and health authorities together to purchase social data from Statistics Canada. It’s low-profile work, but generates real
savings and greater co-operation among the organizations. “That work is almost invisible for us,” he says, “but it’s one of our proudest accomplishments.” While many groups are content to make a lot of noise, the new CCSD prefers to quietly make a difference. M
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