Federation of Ontario Public Libraries

Some next day thoughts on the just announced Ontario Budget.

Here is the link to all the documents on the Ontario government’s website: http://www.fin.gov.on.ca/en/budget/ontariobudgets/2016/index.html

The main budget documents do mention public libraries.  There are a few specific references to public libraries in the budget that the government points to as positive examples:

Forward: p xv the report highlights the budget talks and includes the following quote about public libraries:

“In small communities in Ontario, particularly northern Ontario, the public library service as a gateway to connecting our world… I consider a vibrant public library system an integral and vital part of this province’s infrastructure”

And

In Chapter 1: Building Prosperity an Creating Jobs, two projects are cited that include the building of public libraries as partnerships and strengthening communities.

The budget document and speech in the legislature serves a few purposes:

  • They highlight the top-line initiatives of the government in power. (Follow the money)
  • They show where the government in power intends to take the province. (This government is a majority and is well-aligned with the Federal government so this budget is real, in the early part of their mandate and is likely to come to fruition.  This is not an election budget.)
  • They give hints as to future endeavours on policy as well as the ‘language’ that is current in political (governing party) and senior mandarin circles.
  • They give hints as to the emerging balance between revenue and spending initiatives between municipal, provincial and federal strategies.
  • They show their priorities in a public manner.

‘Language’

In the past we have seen language that supported using words like “Early Years”, ‘Infrastructure” and the like. Using the words of the listener you intend to influence is a fair strategy. Aligning our talking points with funding priorities is not just smart – it’s essential.  Strategic words and phrases in this Ontario budget that are in play include the headings on the Ministry of Finance highlights page that give some clues as to the frames this government is using in its priorities:

  • Ontario’s Economy is Growing and Creating Jobs
  • A Fair Society: Creating Opportunities for Ontarians
  • Making College More affordable and Accessible
  • Making Everyday Life Easier
  • Creating Jobs for Today and Tomorrow

Specific new initiatives are highlighted and funded that may or may not relate to public libraries (although there are opportunities here for future discussions and communications.  These include:

  • Services for children and youth with autism
  • Adequate and affordable housing
  • Addressing chronic homelessness with 10 years
  • Increasing support for Ontario Works and people with disabilities
  • “Cap & Trade”
  • Funding strategies for higher education targeted at families with financial need under $50K for free tuition, interest free or low cost loans for middle- and upper-income families, and mature and married students as well as improving indigenous access to post-secondary education and training.
  • Simplifying or reducing some small government fees (electricity, Drive Clean, auto insurance, Green Investments, shingles vaccine)
  • Reducing commute times
  • “Number One Priority is to grow the economy and create jobs (This is in huge investments in public infrastructure, clean technologies, job funds, export strategies, and global competitiveness added funding).

Some observations related to public libraries and the Ontario budget:

  1. There is infrastructure money here.  As the raw details emerge over the coming year we need to communicate the infrastructure effects of building public library branches in the context of the government’s goals. (Note there is no election on the near horizon and this same positioning applies to Federal and Municipal funding as well.)  That means that we emphasize:
    1. Public Libraries are strategic institutions that revitalize communities and enhance town and regional centres as destination sites with strong roles to play in community vitality, community hubs, and cultural activities. As anchors in main street strategies we create hubs for small businesses to locate and succeed.
    2. Public Libraries are desirable and impactful partners with schools, community centres, social agencies in delivering government priorities – especially around economic support for business, jobs, education and social agendas (like autism support and education).
    3. Public Libraries are ‘Green’.
    4. Public Libraries are essential support services for students in high school and higher education – especially those in lower income families and First Nations communities.  Our staff, locations, digital and print collections, and technologies support students in classroom and distance education and ensure affordability with proven impacts on student success.  We are the only fully available and fully programmed public service that is in EVERY community.
  2. There are a number of initiatives that are in discussion and study at the cabinet and senior mandarin level that have not been funded YET in the budget although there are new revenue sources, targets and tools in this budget. Each of these consultations and task forces will – eventually – result in policy and funding. These include
    1. Ontario’s First Culture Strategy
    2. Community Hub consultations and reports
    3. Seniors isolation consultations
    4. Municipal Act and governance consultations
    5. and more can be expected on other government policy and program initiatives . . .

We need to continue emphasizing the strong role public libraries play and can increase in these agenda and plans. This government is broadcasting that they have a two key priorities in their agenda –  social and economic – that focus on a balance between the social agenda (autism, poverty, homelessness, education) and the economic, competitiveness, and jobs envelope.  Public Libraries have a long and successful track record in making a difference for Ontario’s residents on both of these agenda.  We need to continue to position ourselves as vital deliverers of the government agenda who have a footprint in EVERY community and professional staff and resources to enhance these programs’ success.

FOPL will continue to monitor and advocate for public libraries in Ontario over the coming year with targeted meetings and submissions as well as marketing our sectors and impact and value to Ontarians.

Stephen Abram

Executive Director, FOPL