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Honourable John Manley
Minister of Industry
235 Queen Street
11th floor, East Tower
Dear Minister Manley:
Re: Grants and Contributions Program Budget Office of Consumer Affairs
On behalf of the Board of Directors of PIAC, I am writing to request that Industry Canada and the Federal Government give consideration to an increase to the Grants and Contributions program that would be reflected in the next federal budget. The Grants and Contributions Program constitutes the primary source of funding for consumer and public interest organizations across Canada that are engaged in advocacy on consumer issues within the federal domain. The current amount of funds that are allocated through this program to consumer groups and organizations is one million dollars.
This amount, however, is much reduced from past government allocations. In 1984, this program funded projects and consumer groups to a total of 1.8 million dollars. The equivalent amount in 1999 dollars of the 1984 figure is 2.7 million dollars.
The program dollar amount shrank in accordance with the deficit reduction measures implemented by the various federal governments during the decade of the 1990’s. It was solely the straitened financial circumstances of the government that caused this diminution of the program funding. It was not reduced because efficiencies were found, or the need for funding was lessened.
The need for funds has, in fact, increased. As a result of various deregulation initiatives, market forces play a greater role today as the means for consumer protection. However, this has also meant that problems of market failure are more critical and frequently difficult to address without adequate empirical support. In the result, the problems of enabling access by ordinary consumers to the benefits of newly competitive markets have occupied considerable organizational resources and time by a dwindling number of consumer groups.
In addition, governments consistently require the policy advice and assistance from non-commercial interests to assist them in formulating appropriate policy to meet changing public expectations. Examples of such requirements for such input abound in federal initiatives concerning privacy, electronic commerce, competition law, airlines and financial services, where effective policymaking cannot take place without an informed and engaged consumer presence. The blunt fact is that the federal government cannot continue to expect a contribution from the consumer interest sector towards issues of public and governmental concern when it is funded with less than 40% of the resources (in 1999 dollars) than it received in 1984.
I know that we do not have to repeat the litany of good work and assistance that groups and organizations funded by the Grants and Contributions have rendered to Industry Canada in the past with the assistance of this program. As you may be aware, there is also considerable work and assistance that is provided without actual funding through this program. There is little likelihood that any organization will be able to maintain the expertise to successfully execute project grants or to render unfunded assistance unless there is a major boost to consumer group funding.
We have all heard the floodgates response which is front-line defense the government is currently offering for all new requests for funding. We recognize that the government must hold the line to ensure that the improving financial condition of the government does not become a reason, in itself, for undue largesse.
However, in this case, the Grants and Contributions Program is a cost effective investment in making markets and the policies associated with markets work better.
There are few larger concerns for Industry Canada and the government. We hope that the importance of this program will accordingly be recognized with a substantial increase in funding in next year’s budget.
Executive Director/General Counsel
cc: The Rt. Honourable Jean Chrétien
The Honourable Paul Martin