Case Study: PLAN
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The Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) is a membership-based non-profit organization, established by and for families committed to ensuring the safety, security and well-being of relatives with disabilities.
PLAN had no direct government funding during their engagement process, and was funded entirely by memberships, private foundation grants and some fee-for-service.
In its work with families with disabled children, PLAN become aware of parents’ concerns about how their disabled children would fare when they were grown. Concerns tended to focus on how the children would do when the parents are no longer around; how they would be provided for; and who would care for them.
PLAN helped parents create networks of support for their children, but also determined that there needed to be new mechanisms to help families plan and save for the well-being of these children as they aged.
PLAN began discussions with government, and worked to propose a model for a potential solution built upon the success of other savings vehicles, like Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs).
The Engagement Process
The engagement process on the work to support a new disability savings model took a great deal of time. After many years of all manner of advocacy, technical discussions and numerous revisions, acceptance of a proposed new model for disability savings as government policy was announced in principle by the Liberal Government just as it headed into the 2006 election. The election resulted in a change of government with the election of the Conservatives.
The process started all over with a new Conservative Government that showed no enthusiasm for any of the policy initiatives of the recently defeated Liberal Government (e.g. Kelowna Accord; National Child Care Strategy; Social-Economy initiatives etc.)
PLAN worked diligently to make vital new contacts with key individuals in the new Government and explored the new Government’s political and policy instincts, its priorities and its preferred narratives. PLAN understood the need for champions within government, and was successful in attracting the personal interest of the Finance Minister and key policy staff in the Office of the Prime Minister (PMO). Recognizing the need for a fulsome and cooperative process, PLAN also listened carefully to advice offered from within the Government on the proposed model.
To help with the technical elements, and to provide some in-house policy expertise, PLAN also retained a former Finance Department official who had previous experience in dealing with the roughly similar RESPs, to help in designing some technical features of proposed the proposed new model.
In his first Budget Speech since taking office 4 months before, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced:
"Also Mr. Speaker, parents and grandparents of a child with severe disabilities face an important consideration. They need to find a way to secure their child’s long-term financial security when they are no longer able to provide support.
This government will appoint a small group of experts to examine ways we can help to ease this concern."
The Expert Advisory Panel reported within six months to the Minister of Finance (December 2006).
In January 2007, the Government announced introduction of the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) as part of federal budget. RDSPs are similar to RRSPs in that growth of assets within the plan is tax exempt. However, they differ in that contributions are not tax deductible by the contributor, and anyone (e.g. a relative or friend) can contribute. Budget 2007 also announced two other related features, also supported by PLAN, in new matching grants for everyone and special grants for lower income beneficiaries.
Knowing the value of showing public appreciation for government’s role throughout the engagement process, PLAN still makes a point of acknowledging and crediting the Government in general and the Finance Minister in particular with their leadership on this issue. The RDSP is cited globally as an important innovation in disability policy, and is being considered by governments around the world for replication.
In subsequent years, there were many issues and instances that involved PLAN having to work with officials from Finance Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (now Employment and Social Development Canada), as well as virtually all the provincial governments, to iron out administrative and implementation problems with the RDSP. PLAN also had to advocate with Canada’s financial institutions to get them organized and active helping Canadians set up RDSP accounts.
Provincial governments had to adapt their laws to accommodate and support the initiative. Overcoming the welfare mindset of the provinces and convincing them to exempt RDSPs as an asset and eliminate claw back policies was one of the biggest challenges. This work again necessitated innovative, collaborative and extensive engagement efforts lead by PLAN in order to bring the provinces on board with the initiative. There has been significant success in these efforts. However, the overall engagement process is still unfolding, and work continues to this day.
Much can be learned from the constructive engagement process undertaken by PLAN including the importance of:
Clarifying the goals that you are trying to achieve (e.g. long-term income security for people with disabilities) and the barriers to achieving them.
Identifying, meeting, and getting to know new key players in the process as personnel change, particularly in Minister’s offices and central agencies such as PMO, Privy Council Office, Finance Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat, and relevant line departments (e.g. ESDC); and be sure to ask for their advice.
Listening carefully to what public servants, ministerial staff and politicians are saying when they are asked for advice and craft a proposal that they will be able to support.
Identifying (or creating) a sponsor or champion within Government who can serve as informants and advocates for your cause (e.g. PLAN was lucky to have the Minister of Finance as a champion and key policy staff in the PMO).
Being persistent. It took PLAN more than 10 years to achieve success, through three different Governments across two parties (Chretien, Martin and Harper).
Being prepared for Do-It-Yourself-Public-Policy through in-house policy capacity for key tasks like preparing documentation and analysis for government (e.g. having a former public servant prepare technical analysis of how the program would work).
Thanking and recognizing – on an on-going basis – those in government who have helped and sponsored the initiative.