Soon after releasing its 2019 budget and poverty reduction strategy, the Manitoba government announced an overhaul of its community development funding programs, effectively bringing an end to NA!.  Once prominently featured on the governments website, a search for NA! will lead you to this message.

This article published in the Winnipeg Free Press describes why the death of NA! was inevitable. It is quite clear that the reasons are political.

NA! was highly successful and popular, but it was also broadly known as a brand of the previous NDP government. It’s popularity made it difficult to eliminate outright, so in April 2019, the Pallister government cleverly announced that NA! would be folded into  its new Building Sustainable Communities (BSC) program. Some inner-city neighbourhood renewal corporations will continue to receive operating funding, at least for now.  Also a clever strategy that will keep hope alive and quell resistance. But the radically altered criteria for project funding that NRCs and other CB0s rely on, will make it near impossible to access funding for existing programs.

BSC is described as a “streamlined, more flexible” initiative that will “reduce red tape”. But some CBOs say these sweeping changes will create more red tape—not less. The program offers the same amount of funding ($7.9 million), but the funding will now be spread out across the province. Projects eligible for funding must be “new community initiatives”.  This means that a number of existing cost-effective projects will no longer be eligible. BSC will not cover the cost of salaries, and funding for administration is capped at 2.5 %. It isn’t clear how programs will be delivered without funding for staff.

Unlike NA!, BSC does not target low-income communities, and the new criteria will effectively exclude communities in greatest need.  BSC will not fund projects unless proponents can demonstrate 50% of project costs are funded from other sources, with a minimum 10% from non-government sources. This means that more affluent communities will have an edge over poor neighbourhoods with less capacity and access to volunteer and financial resources. Furthermore, unlike NA!, which was exclusively available to non-profit organizations, municipalities across the province are eligible for the new BSC. They will have the greatest capacity to match funds and staff programs. We might predict that the BSC will become a program aiding local governments rather than community-based organizations working on the ground and better connected with vulnerable people.

The loss of NA! is a devastating blow to inner-city neighbourhoods and other low-income communities, but it’s not a surprise. The Conservative government began to chip away at NA! soon after it took office and the decision to eliminate it is purely political. No government likes initiatives associated with the government that preceded. Despite evidence demonstrating that NA! was a cost-effective initiative that created jobs and built capacity in Manitoba’s poorest neighbourhoods, it was destined for the chopping block. Again, not surprising. Inner-City neighbourhoods, with a few exceptions, have historically elected NDP MLAs and history shows that Conservative governments in Manitoba don’t support neighbourhood revitalization. In the 1990s, the Filmon government cut funding to 56 community-based organizations, leaving a 10-year period void of services that build capacity in Manitoba’s most vulnerable communities. The NDP government began to reinvest in neighbourhood revitalization when elected in 2000, and there is a long list of programs supported through NA! that have made an important difference in communities.

Building Sustainable Communities and Poverty Reduction

This year, as required by legislation put in place by the previous government, the Pallister government released its new poverty reduction plan, Pathways to a Better Future. It highlights “facilitating partnerships and supporting community-based organizations” as one of its 6 priority areas and an essential component of a poverty reduction plan. The design of BSC contradicts this aim by making it difficult for communities that need help the most.

As noted in the Winnipeg Free Press oped, “Neighbourhoods Alive! did not solve poverty and it was far from perfect. But it contributed immensely to engaging people living in poverty in the life of their communities.  It created employment opportunities and provided supports and encouragement for people feeling little hope. Strategically targeted, comprehensive revitalization initiatives themselves will not end poverty but they can make an important contribution as evidenced by the success of NA!”

Value Manitoba will keep watch on how things evolve with the new BSC.  The first intake for proposals closed on May 26th.