Blog | April 26, 2012

By Karen Kleiss, Postmedia NewsEDMONTON — Albertans can expect a fundamental reshaping of Alberta's social services sector if Premier Alison Redford wants to make good on her bold election promise to end poverty in 10 years, advocates say.Other provinces with similar poverty reduction strategies have passed new laws, introduced new programs and changed the way they measure success. Some boosted the minimum wage, improved early childhood interventions, or indexed welfare cheques to inflation. Some have spent billions.And they have seen success. Newfoundland and Labrador saw its poverty rate drop five per cent over five years ending in 2009, Quebec saw a 2.5-per-cent drop over the same period. During the 2008 recession, Ontario lifted 19,000 children and families out of poverty using a poverty reduction strategy.Redford and Human Services Minister Dave Hancock haven't said what Alberta's plan will look like, but advocates who have been pressing the province to adopt such a strategy say the process of designing it will involve dozens of groups across multiple sectors, from volunteers to business to not-for-profits."I think it's a big undertaking, and it's one that a lot of people are ready and geared up to tackle," said Joe Ceci, co-ordinator of the advocacy group Action to End Poverty. "It will take political will not just by one party, but by all parties, to entrench that goal in an act and regulations."There are at least four sectors that need to be at the table, it can't just be government," Ceci said. "Instead of continuing to spend on alleviation strategies, these (poverty reduction plans) are seen as investments that lift people out of poverty and break the cycle."Nearly 400,000 Albertans live in poverty and 78,000 of those are children — a number that has increased 40 per cent in recent years. A report released in February by a coalition of anti-poverty groups showed that failure to address the root causes of poverty costs Alberta as much as $9.5 billion each year in "management" costs through the health and justice systems, among others.Midway through the election, on April 11, Redford promised that she would implement a 10-year plan to end poverty, making Alberta the 11th of Canada's 13 provinces and territories to adopt a poverty reduction strategy.Redford committed no new money to the project and has only said the first step will be to revisit the Human Services budget using the government's new zero-based budgeting model, which starts from zero and rebuilds the budget program by program. She has previously said the province will revisit Alberta's minimum wage, which is among the lowest in the country.Human Services spokeswoman Kathy Telfer said Wednesday the government's next steps will be determined after Redford names her cabinet and gives the new minister a mandate. That will happen in May.The concept of a poverty reduction strategy was first developed in Quebec, which passed an Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion in 2002. Since then, every province and territory except Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. have adopted similar plans.Five provinces have passed legislation that commits governments to continued poverty-reduction efforts, by mandating annual reports, for example, or legislating poverty measurements."It's an ambitious goal, and it's a worthy goal," said John Kolkman of Edmonton's Social Planning Council. "I'm concerned, however, that there were no financial resources allocated to achieve it. It's an extremely ambitious target to talk about eliminating poverty and without resources, I think it's unlikely."Kolkman said his group will be pressing the government to implement a living wage as well as refundable tax credits for Alberta's poorest families."Certainly, consultation will be required to put in place the kinds of measures that we know make a difference in terms of reducing poverty," he said. "It's a huge undertaking."

By Karen Kleiss, Postmedia [email protected]

This article was published in the Edmonton Journal on April 25, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.