Case Study: Canadian Caregiver Coalition
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The Canadian Caregiver Coalition is the national voice for the needs and interests of family caregivers. It is a not-for-profit organization comprising caregivers, caregiver support groups, national stakeholder organizations and researchers. The vision of the Coalition is a Canada that recognizes and respects the integral role of family caregivers in society, and supports this role with the understanding that it is not a substitute for public responsibility in health and social care.
The Coalition uses a variety of strategies and tactics. Some are aimed at making the Canadian Caregiver Coalition a strong, credible organization; some at gathering research, information and tools and making them widely available; and others focus on engaging constructively with governments at both political and bureaucratic levels to influence public policy.
As the 2011 federal general election drew near, the Coalition perceived an opportunity to leverage recent media attention on family caregiving issues. They sought to develop this attention into election platform commitments from the main political parties.
The Coalition was mindful that, in terms of administrative and governmental responsibility, the provision of caregiving services (deemed either as a health or social service) was an area of provincial jurisdiction (primarily). Yet, clearly, there were several caregiving-related issues that could involve the federal government – e.g. potential caregivers’ tax credit; changes to Employment Insurance family-leave provisions; funding for caregiving research etc.).
The Engagement Process
The Coalition habitually undertook a “strategic inquiry” process to update its understanding of the relevant political and public-policy environment regarding family policies. This involved meeting directly with the key stakeholders – a mix of ministerial political staff, MPs, Senators and their assistants and public servants – or more often, arranging a 40 minute telephone discussion of about 40 minutes. The ongoing maintenance and continuous updating of their key contacts in and around government was an important task for the Coalition. The maintenance of these relationships (and the continuous forming of new ones) facilitated the discussions which made the Coalition aware of the prospect that the political parties might consider including caregiving planks in their platforms.
Mindful of maintaining these relationships, they invited carefully selected representatives from all parties (MPs, Senators, political staff) to their annual Caregivers Day on Parliament Hill, demonstrating they were interested in communicating on a non-partisan basis with all the parties.
To focus the Coalition’s messaging and provide their advocacy targets with succinct, useful documentation, the Coalition submitted a point-form, 2 page briefing note to selected MPs and members of the platform apparatus of each of the parties. This brief (amenable to “cut and paste” reproduction by the parties), suggested practical steps the federal government could take to support caregivers, while still recognizing the paramount role of the provincial governments in this field.
These options included:
- Establishment of a Canadian Caregiver Strategy
- Enhancements to existing caregivers tax credits
- Modifications to the Canada Pension Plan
Immediately prior to – or shortly after – the beginning of the 2011 federal general election, each of the political parties announced platform planks in support of some type of enhanced caregivers tax credit. The Liberals made it a central plank in their platform, as did the NDP.
The governing Conservatives waited until later in the actual election campaign before they also included a somewhat more modest caregivers tax credit provision in their election promises. Upon re-election, the Conservative Government implemented the provision in its next budget. The enacted family caregiver tax credit allows family caregivers taking care of an ill family member to claim an enhanced caregiver amount for a dependant under one of the existing dependency-related tax credits.
Much can be learned from the constructive engagement process undertaken by the Canadian Caregivers Coalition, including the importance of:
Building and maintaining relationships and developing a “key contact list”. Over the preceding several years, the Coalition followed personnel changes at both bureaucratic and political levels of federal government. When a new appointment came, contact was made. The CCC was always quick to provide a concise briefing note on the issues for anyone who was interested.
Being non-partisan in one’s approach. The Coalition purposively reached across party lines and identified MPs in each party who had an interest in caregiving, especially for the disabled and elderly. Members of all parties were invited to the Coalition’s Caregiving Day on Parliament Hill.
Practicing “strategic inquiry” before framing and crafting your “ask”. Through its on-going strategic inquiry processes, the Coalition was kept alert to changes in the government’s and the opposition parties’ objectives, priorities, strategies and narratives. These developments were reflected in the Coalition’s propositions to the political parties in advance of the election.
Making it happen yourself. If one wants an issue dealt with in election campaign, you have to make it happen. The Coalition systematically made contact with the election campaign platform offices of each of the major political parties, and provided them with concise, easy-to-adapt summaries of potential options to support caregivers. It paid off, with each party including a plank in their 2011 campaign platforms dealing with family caregiving.