Manitoba Community Services Council sees funding cut


Kate Jackman - Atkinson
Neepawa Banner & Press

After 34 years, how Manitoba not-for-profits access small grants is changing. Early this year, the provincial government announced that they would be cutting the administrative funding to the Manitoba Community Service Council (MCSC) and re-allocating that money to their own Community Places Program. MCSC is an arms-length organization that received money from the provincial government and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries to fund grants and planning assistance to non-profit community organizations.

Projects it has supported provide sustainable recreation and wellness benefits to communities. Since its establishment, MCSC supported over 10,500 community projects and tended to focus on those of a smaller nature. In 2016-2017 MCSC made grants totalling $2.2 million to over 200 organizations.

Grant applications were reviewed by a 12 member volunteer board, made up of non-partisan appointments from across the province. While the MCSC board reviewed the grant applications, they were assisted by three staff members. Administrative costs accounted for 11 per cent of the organization’s $1.7 million annual budget.

Without administrative funding, the organization was unable to continue and will fold after its last round of grants are awarded this year. Local projects that were supported by MCSC include funding to help purchase a new patrol vehicle for the Neepawa Citizen on Patrol Program in 2015 and the purchase of a new ATV for the Neepawa and Area Cross Country Ski Trails in 2016.

In this year’s provincial budget, the government announced that they were re-allocating money from MCSC to the Community Places Program.  A government spokesperson said, “The decision was made to eliminate administration duplication and streamline access to government grants to ensure more funding is available to non-profits and community organizations”. He added, “Budget 2018 announced an 11 per cent funding increase for the Community Places Program, achieved through a re-allocation of grants previously provided to the Manitoba Community Services Council.”

As with existing Community Places grants, applications will be reviewed by department staff. MCSC supported different types of projects than Community Places, for example, MCSC didn’t cover capital or construction costs, and the spokesperson couldn’t say whether there would be any changes to funding criteria for the Community Places Program going forward.

With the closure of the MCSC, Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries will be re-allocating their funding from MCSC to the provincial government. “This funding will go from MBLL to the government, and government will be the granting authority going forward. This will eliminate duplication and overhead costs and get the money to where it is most needed,” said a different spokesperson.

‘Once it’s gone, it’s gone’

Those who have been involved with MCSC aren’t positive about the changes. Former Agassiz MLA Stu Briese sat on the MCSC board for two and a half years. During that time, he said they awarded many small grants that had a big impact locally, but lacked the fanfare that would have made them attractive to other granting organizations. “Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said. He also doesn’t believe that government staff can provide the services cheaper than what was provided by MCSC.

In an open letter to Premier Brian Pallister, former MCSC executive director Catherine Roberts, who retired in 2014 after spending 27 years with the organization, questioned the government’s decision, which she said came “out of the blue”.  Like Briese, she feels that the extensive work undertaken by MCSC’s three staff members, which includes answering questions, providing support to recipients and following up with applicants to better understand their projects, can’t be done less expensively by government staff. “I know that trust and integrity in Manitoba’s government is one of your priority areas. You have a golden opportunity to further this trust and integrity by showing your belief in and trust of Manitoba volunteers, by reversing this decision to cut MCSC’s funding and finding a way to work with them,” she wrote.