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Background of the Community Futures Program

The Community Futures Program (CFP) supports community economic development (CED) and builds the self-reliance and capacity of communities to realize their full sustainable potential.

The objectives of the CFP in support of this mandate include:

  1. Fostering economic stability, growth and job creation;
  2. Helping to create diversified and competitive local rural economies; and
  3. Helping to build economically sustainable communities.

The CFP was established in 1985, as part of Employment and Immigration Canada's Canadian Jobs Strategy, with the objective of mitigating the labour market adjustment needs in non-metropolitan areas experiencing chronic or acute unemployment. The CFP created a flexible, national resource to support a bottom-up and participatory approach to community adjustment, diversification and development. The program was transferred to Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) in 1995.

The CFP is delivered through four RDAs in their respective regions: the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Canada Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec (CED-Q), Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev). The Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario (FedNor) under Industry Canada (IC) delivers the CFP in northern Ontario. Departments are accountable for the ongoing management of the Transfer Payment Program (TPP) in accordance with all policies and legislations of the Government of Canada unless otherwise noted in the Terms and Conditions of the CFP.

The CFP is designed to operate in rural communities. Program reach extends to existing and new small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs and community groups and organizations involved in community capacity building. The program works with community stakeholders and partners that include the private sector, non-profit organizations, non-government organizations, financial institutions, equity groups, municipalities, associations, regional networks, educational organizations, labour organizations and First Nations.

The CFP provides financial support to Community Future Organizations (CFs), which are incorporated, not-for-profit organizations with volunteer boards of directors and professional staff. These organizations form a national network of more than 2,0001 volunteers who dedicate thousands of hours annually to their communities. CFs are accountable to government through terms which have been set out in their contribution agreements with Departments.

Community Futures in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia

WD assumed responsibility for the CFP in western Canada in April 1995. There were 78 CFs and two CF Associations in existence at the time. Subsequent to the transfer, WD approved the creation of CF Associations in Alberta and Saskatchewan and 12 new CFs to ensure universal coverage for the West.

As at 2013–14 fiscal year, there are 90 non-profit CFs, 4 provincial CF Associations and one Community Futures Pan West (CFPW) Group in Western Canada. The four provincial CF Associations were established to provide common services and support to their member CFs. The CFPW was established as an initiative of the four western CF Associations to enhance collaboration and consistency in the use of tools and services available to all 90 CFs across Western Canada. CFs are part of WD’s Western Canada Business Service Network (WCBSN) and assist with the delivery of WD’s Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program (EDP), as well as work with the Aboriginal Business Service Network (ABSN). Further, many CFs have been active participants in the delivery of services or programs for other government departments such as Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC).

As per the CFP Terms and Conditions, the maximum amount of financial assistance that may be provided by a local CF to any small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) or Social Enterprise shall not normally exceed $150,000. Two or more local CFs may collaborate to provide financial assistance to SMEs or Social Enterprises in cases where there is a demonstrated benefit to their communities. Each participating CF may provide up to $150,000 in such situations.

Program Activities

As stated in the terms and conditions of the CFP, CFs receive support from the department to engage in the following activities:

  • Fostering strategic community planning and socio-economic development by working with their communities to assess local problems, establish objectives, and plan and implement strategies to develop human capital, institutional and physical infrastructure, entrepreneurship, employment, and the economy.
  • Providing business services by delivering a range of business counselling and information services to SMEs and Social Enterprises.
  • Providing access to capital to assist existing SMEs and Social Enterprises or to help entrepreneurs to create new SMEs and Social Enterprises.
  • Supporting community-based projects and special initiatives by collaborating with other partners in the public sector and the community to implement strategic community projects or deliver special initiatives targeted to communities. These projects would vary considerably from one community to another and could include a wide range of local initiatives in areas such as tourism, entrepreneurship, economic opportunities for specific client groups such as women, youth, Aboriginal people and members of official language minorities, or projects which respond to specific challenges facing a community such as downturns in important industries.

The CFP consolidates these activities as a sub-program under the program activity of Community Economic Growth within WD’s Program Alignment Architecture (PAA).

Specifically, the expected results under the CF sub-program relate to “a strong rural community strategic planning and implementation,” “access to business development services” and “access to capital and leveraged capital.”

Community Futures Program Governance Structure

Although WD is not directly involved in the operation and decision-making activities of the CFs, WD provides annual funding to the CFs. Overall responsibility for the achievement of WD results is vested with WD’s Deputy Minister, assisted by the Executive Team. Four regional Assistant Deputy Ministers report to the Deputy Minister and are responsible for program delivery in each of their respective western provinces.

Regional program managers and officers liaise with CFs to provide the annual funding. Responsibilities of the program managers and officers include:

  • assessing and reviewing CF performance targets and plans in order to determine the appropriateness of renewing contribution agreements;
  • assessing the risk of each CF when developing and negotiating contribution agreements in order to develop an appropriate monitoring system;
  • liaising with CFs on strategic and operational issues;
  • reviewing and approving CF payment claims; and
  • monitoring CFs to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions of the contribution agreements between WD and the CF.

The on-going daily activities of individual CFs are directed by its volunteer Board and implemented through the management and staff of the organizations. CFs typically employ between three to five professional staff. Each CF is headed by a General Manager who reports to a Board of Directors. Typically, a loans officer and a community development officer report to the General Manager, along with administrative staff.

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Community Futures Program Funding Allocations

The annual departmental expenditure for the CFP for the 2008–13 period is presented in millions of dollars (table below).

WD Grants and Contribution (G&C) CFP Expenditures 2008–13 ($ millions)
Year CFP Operating Funds CFP Loan Funds CFP Association Funds G&C
2008–09 27.0 10.0 0.8 37.8
2009–10 27.6 3.5 0.8 32.0
2010–11 28.4 0.02 0.9 29.2
2011–12 26.7 0.02 0.8 27.6
2012–13 28.6 0 0.8 29.4
Total $156.0

Source: WD Finance and Corporate Management

Evaluation of the CFP

The last evaluation of the CFP was conducted in 2008. The evaluation reported that there was a continued need for the CFP and the objectives and mandate of the program remained relevant to government responsibilities and priorities. Impacts highlighted in the evaluation indicated that CF activities supported economic growth and diversification of communities and strengthen community capacity. The evaluation provided the following recommendations:

There were two main recommendations related to the relevance section:

  • WD should introduce one or two specific indicators to capture CFs’ role in pursuing collaborative relationships with other organizations (i.e. informal arrangements, memorandums of understanding, etc.) and acting as a gateway to services for their clients (e.g. number of referrals).
  • WD Program Managers need to review the recent shift in WD priorities to determine how the CF Program should respond in the future.

There were two main recommendations related to the design and delivery section:

  • WD should take the necessary steps to further enhance the management of the investment fund.
  • WD should take the necessary steps to enhance the reliability and use of performance data.

There were two recommendations related to the impact section:

  • WD needs to further define the indicators associated with the long-term outcomes of the program and ensure that data is being tracked against the established indicators.
  • Subject to WD preparing a plan to implement the other recommendations in this report, WD should continue its support and long term commitment to the three services provided by the CF program.

Based on a follow-up conducted in 2011 on the status of the recommendations, most of the recommendations were completed by the department. The recommendation related to the development of specific indicators was indicated as on-going and being is addressed through the development and implementation of the national CF Performance Measurement Strategy (PMS). Decisions related to the development of a new database for the CFP was deferred by the department.

The Community Futures Performance Measurement Strategy

A national Performance Measurement Strategy (PMS) was developed by all RDAs for the CFP and contains a national evaluation framework and performance measurement framework for ongoing data collection. A committee comprised of representatives from all RDAs was responsible for coordination of its implementation. WD’s Performance Measurement Framework (PMF) for 2013–14 includes indicators derived from the national PMS which allow the department to report CFP results publicly and to parliament. The CFP performance indicators are captured in a database hosted by CommonGoals, the developer of the performance measurement software used by the majority of CFs.

Scope and Objectives of the Evaluation

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) Policy on Evaluation2 requires the department to evaluate the relevance and performance of all direct programs spending every five years. As outlined in its approved 2013–14 evaluation plan, the department committed to conducting an evaluation of the CFP in 2013–14. Each RDA is required to complete an evaluation of their CFP by June 2014.

The scope of the evaluation includes CFP activities funded between 2008–09 and 2012–13. All RDAs coordinated on the evaluation of the CFP using the evaluation framework developed as part of the national PMS.

The department is currently undertaking a revitalization exercise of the CFP. The revitalization of the CFP is to ensure that the CFs become more productive, efficient and relevant to the evolving needs of western Canadian rural communities and the priorities of the federal government and the department.

The CF revitalization initiative includes a review of:

  • Governance and accountability
  • Performance and Alignment
  • Role and structure of CF Associations

In order to minimise duplication of effort, the evaluation draws upon findings in the revitalization exercise to support some of the issues in the evaluation framework. The evaluation serves as a complement to the broader revitalization initiative.

A list of the specific questions addressed in the evaluation is provided in the following table.

Evaluation Issues: Evaluation Questions:
Relevance 1. Is there a continued need for the CFP?

2. To what extent are the objectives of the CFP aligned with: i) Departmental strategic outcomes? ii) Federal priorities and strategies?

3. To what extent are the objectives of the CFP aligned with the federal government’s activities, roles and responsibilities?

4. Does the CFP complement, duplicate or overlap other government programs or private services?
Performance (Effectiveness) 5. Establishing incrementality: What impact would the absence of CFP funding have had on the: Business start-up? Survival of the business? Growth of the business? Community strategic planning and development?

6. To what extent have the immediate, intermediate and ultimate outcomes of the CFP been achieved?

6.1 To what extent have CFP activities contributed to the achievement of identified immediate outcomes in: Improved access to capital? Enhanced business services? Strengthened community strategic planning? More effective implementation of CED through projects, partnerships and CED initiatives?

6.2 To what extent have the CFP activities and immediate outcomes contributed to the achievement of identified intermediate outcomes in: Improved business practices and increased entrepreneurship? Strengthened and expanded businesses? Strengthened capacity for socio-economic development?

6.3 To what extent have the CFP activities, immediate and intermediate outcomes contributed to its identified ultimate outcome in: Economic stability, growth and job creation? Diversified and competitive local rural economies? Economically sustainable communities?

7. What are the barriers to achieving the CFP immediate, intermediate and ultimate outcomes and to what extent are these being mitigated?

8. To what extent are the CFP’s performance measurement and reporting structures effective in reporting on the achievement of the CFP outcomes? How is the performance information used by CFs? By departments?
Performance (Efficiency and Economy) 9. To what extent is the CFP efficient in the context of the results being achieved?

10. Is there a more cost effective way of achieving expected results, taking into consideration alternative delivery mechanisms, best practices and lessons learned?

11. Are the CF investment funds well managed? Are the loss rates of the loans acceptable? Do the CFs carry an acceptable level of risk? Are CF clients satisfied with services from the CFs?

12. To what extent are the CFs meeting the needs of clients in terms of services rendered?


[1] 2012 Annual Report of the Community Futures Network of Canada. http://www.communityfuturescanada.ca/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=IlRwGckP3YQ%3d&tabid=58

[2] Treasury Board Secretariat. Policy on Evaluation, 2009. http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=15024