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Federal cuts force child-care, welfare groups to crowdfund

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CBC News | By Amber Hildebrandt | September 15, 2014

Childcare unit latest federally cut group to crowdfund

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National child-care data is among the key information that non-profits are hoping the public will help pay for after the federal government cut funds for it. (Source: CBC)

How many day-care spaces exist in Canada? How much do the country’s poorest receive in welfare income? Are freshwater fish harmed by cleaning products?

For decades, the federal government paid to answer these questions. Now, non-profit groups are asking the public for donations in a desperate bid to save the data from extinction.

In the past year, three groups turned to crowdfunding, using the trendy but time-consuming online campaign that raises one small donation at a time. The trio — who seek to save child-care, welfare and environmental data — have a combined goal of $70,000.

As the onus in Canada for collecting some key data passes over to a non-profit sector reliant on one-off donations and small fee-for-service contracts, some worry about the impact of such a fragile arrangement.

“Certainly, it’s a bit of a stop-gap measure,” said Evidence for Democracy’s executive director, Katie Gibbs. “It’s pretty hard to do research under that condition of very short-term funding.”

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Two of the campaigns successfully achieved their goals — including a think-tank rescuing welfare data and a fundraiser held by the world-renowned Environmental Lakes Area research group, the near-demise of which garnered widespread media attention.

'Flying in the Dark'

A third — Toronto-based Childcare Resource and Research Unit (CRRU) — is in the final week of its months-long campaign to raise $25,000 to publish its biennial report on childcare and has reached half of its goal.

crowdfunding experimental lakes - Federal cuts force child-care, welfare groups to crowdfund

The Experimental Lakes Area covers 58 small lakes in northern Ontario where the research groups studies environmental impacts on fish. (Source: Experimental Lakes Area, Handout/Canadian Press )

CRRU Executive Director Martha Friendly remains optimistic, but stresses that the non-profit shouldn’t be in the position of fundraising in the first place.

“Lots of people have commented, … ‘You have to ask somebody on the internet to know how many child-care spaces there are in Canada… that’s crazy!’” said Friendly.

The head of the Canadian Child Care Federation, who uses CRRU’s biennial report, calls the data “absolutely vital.”

“Without it, you’re really flying in the dark. You’re guessing: how’s it going out there?” said Giesbrecht. “They give you really the lay of the land in terms of how child care is funded in Canada … all that critical information that tells you: Is the sector growing? Is it not growing? What kind of spaces are there? Where are the gaps?”


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For nearly 20 years, the federal government funded the unit, paying for it to nationally house research on childcare and also publish a report detailing how the provinces and territories, responsible for early childhood education but partially funded by Ottawa, were performing.

In 2007, the Conservative government shut off the tap. The non-profit CRRU produced a pared-down version in the years that followed, relying on foundation donations and one-time contracts.

Idea Spreads

Unlike the U.S., where a large stock of wealthy foundations can fill a funding gap, Friendly warns that Canada doesn’t have the same steady supply of donations.

Friendly stresses that she doesn’t see crowdfunding as a long-term solution. “What we do should be funded by the government,” she says.

The organization decided to try crowdfunding after an employee noticed a successful Giveffect campaign by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

Dubbed a “data rescue,” the think tank’s campaign sought to save a welfare report that the National Council of Welfare (NCW) published each year. The arms-length advisory body, created 40 years ago to study and help improve the lives of Canada’s poorest, was dismantled after the federal government slashed its funding to zero in the 2012 budget.

Caledon Institute President Ken Battle and Vice-President Sherri Torjman felt personally invested in the annual report on welfare incomes. Both worked at the council in the 1980s and Torjman helped create the report’s methodology.

“At the time, we had no public information on welfare in Canada,” said Torjman. “People really didn’t know their entitlements or what to expect if they were on welfare, because everything was a closed-door system.”

Caledon Institute’s successful crowdfunding campaign gave the think tank an extra boost in money it needed to take on the welfare incomes report. News of the NCW's closure was too sudden for the institute to find funding for it elsewhere.

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