In Alberta, 1 in 6 children live below the poverty line. This is unconscionable in such a wealthy country and province -- child poverty is a moral obligation for all of us to end.
We teamed up with the Edmonton Social Planning Council and the Alberta College of Social Workers to produce a report called "Invest in Families: Ending Child Poverty is Good for All" which focuses on the impacts of poverty on the development of children, and its wide-ranging detrimental effects, including issues affecting mental health, educational attainment, employment, and housing throughout their lives up to adulthood. The report demonstrates that investment into Alberta’s families, including child benefits, nutrition programs, affordable housing, and subsidized, quality child care, are the key to ending the cycles of poverty that end up blocking children from living lives of dignity where they’re able to thrive.
In the News
Watch: Poverty report condemns provincial funding cuts, Shaughn Butts, Edmonton Journal
CBC Edmonton News, January 14, 2010, 8-minute mark
Cuts to Alberta's social programs harming poor families, children: report, Lauren Boothby, Edmonton Journal
Friday round table: Child poverty, The Ryan Jesperson Show
Opinion: Ending child poverty in Alberta is our moral obligation, Joel French (Public Interest Alberta), Sandra Ngo (Edmonton Social Planning Council), Ajay Hartenfeld Pandhi (Alberta College of Social Workers), Edmonton Journal
Photos from our press conference on January 14, 2020. Joel French, our Executive Director, was joined by Sandra Ngo, Research Coordinator for the Edmonton Social Planning Council, and Ajay Hartenfeld Pandhi, President of the Alberta College of Social Workers, to speak on the report.
PROTECT PUBLIC EDUCATION FROM THE MARKET AGENDA: Respond to the Alberta government’s “choice in education” survey
The government asked Albertans for input on plans for legislation to “protect and enhance education choice within Alberta’s education system.”
“Choice” is a powerful concept. We all want to make our own choices and be in control of our own lives. But the rhetoric of “choice” as it relates to our public services conceals an ulterior motive under its façade of empowerment – one of privatization and removing public funding in favour of private and individualized programs, which erode our ability to collectively provide universal access to high-quality education for all children.
After all, when the government is seeking to enshrine the “right to choose” for students to go to exclusive private schools where the tuition for one child can be more than some people earn in a year, all while the province provides those private schools 70% of the funding it does to the public system, whose “choice” are they prioritizing? It is certainly not the “choices” of working families who don’t get the right to access high-quality education for their children at their nearby neighbourhood school because of increasingly underfunded classrooms.
Instead, we need to reject the purposefully vague but appealing term “choice” and recognize it for what it really is: a “market agenda” with an underpinning free market ideology of increasing competition, system fragmentation, and out-of-pocket costs for education, which instead should be a universal public good, focused on children and their needs.
Promoting this market agenda in education weakens the public system through slowly transferring components of this essential public service into private hands. This ideology has become a rationale for a range of policies and programs that have had the effects of strengthening private alternatives that use public funds to compete with public education, and have further undermined public education by diverting scarce public dollars away from our public, separate, and francophone schools. And within our public schools, this market agenda also appears in the form of some specialty programs with very high fees and exclusive criteria, effectively creating private schools within the public system.
The Alberta public should be highly skeptical of these competition and market-based directions and should see them for what they really are – using public funding to promote private and wealthy interests at the expense of quality public education that should be accessible to all Alberta families.
In responding to this survey, we need to recognize that the government purposefully slanted the questionnaire to give them the answers that they wanted. Their goal is to further the market agenda of privatization and to further weaken and fragment our public educational system. We need to go in a very different direction if we want to genuinely improve the ability of our schools to meet the educational needs of all children in these complex and challenging times.
The actions needed:
- Advise your MLA and the Minister of Education of your concerns.
- Encourage others to take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen public education and resist further efforts that would undermine it.
- Stay in touch with us for developments as we continue to defend public education against the market agenda.
In this backgrounder, we will explore four ways that the market agenda is undermining public education and driving fragmentation, competition, and increased out-of-pocket costs in our education system, rather than strengthening a high-quality universal public system: charter schools, private schools, home schooling, and some alternative programs within public schools.
Charter schools are the most egregious form of the market agenda in Alberta education, as they are in essence private schools masquerading as public schools.
Alberta is the only province in Canada to have established the divisive American model of charter schools; they were started here 1994 as an “experiment,” and were limited to fifteen in number. The original justification was that they would focus on alternative approaches that could provide insights to public systems, which simply has not happened. The UCP government has now taken the cap off, and we face the threat of an unlimited expansion of this highly problematic approach.
The key concern is that charter schools are fully funded by public dollars, and yet are allowed to function essentially as private schools – they can choose (and reject) students, and are not subject to the crucial accountability and control elements of democratically-elected school boards. They are free to serve private interests, with full public dollars.
There is simply no good reason for charter schools to exist in Alberta. Rather than expanding this privatizing direction, we should terminate the experiment with charter schools, and give the much-needed funding to our public systems.
Private schools in Alberta are funded by public dollars at the highest level in Canada (at 70% of the base funding given to public systems.) This funding amounted to $286 million in 2018-19.
Provinces such as Ontario give no funding at all to private schools (and private schools in Ontario are clearly thriving without public funding, with nearly one thousand private schools operating there).
This funding also goes to Alberta’s most elite private schools, some of which charge as much as $20,000 per student annually. Why are public dollars going to subsidize these schools, particularly when our public school systems are increasingly starved of funding?
These private schools are able to select and reject students, and are not subject to the accountability measures, oversight, and directions from democratically-elected school boards. Parents have the right to send their children to private schools – but they do not have a corresponding right to have that decision paid for from the public purse.
Rather than expand supports for private schools, the Alberta government should phase out all funding for private schools, and should re-direct the funds to our public systems to better meet the needs of all children. This redirection of funds should include providing in public schools the high levels of support to children with special needs that the current system often forces them to access through private schools.
Public support for home schooling is another area of concern in the discussion around the fragmentation of public dollars into individualized programs in accordance with the market agenda.
While parents may have a right to opt out of public education under some conditions, that is not an unconditional right - children have a right to an education as well, and that right must be protected. And once again, if one opts out of public education in this manner, that should definitely not imply a right to having the public foot the bill.
Instead of expanding support for home schooling, the government should phase out all funding for home schooling and reassign that funding to public systems, and should strengthen the protections for a comprehensive and effective education for children who are home schooled.
Instead of expanding alternative programs within public school systems, the government should re-examine them in the light of the principles of free and equitable public education, to ensure they are not based on the market agenda and do not increase barriers to full participation.
More specifically, public education is to be free, accessible to and accepting of all, focused on developing the full potential of all children, and democratically accountable (in Alberta, through elected school boards). In that light, has a proliferation of alternative programs and schools within some public systems had the effect of undermining some of these key principles?
Some public schools with specialized programs come with high school fees, which means that they are only accessible to those who can afford them. Is this consistent with the principles of public education? In trying to meet these needs within public systems, are we not in reality offering a form of private schools acting as public schools? And if so, why not simply have them become private schools?
Moreover, these specialized programs have many of the features of a back-door voucher system, long favoured by conservative forces in the United States, despite fierce resistance by public education advocates.
When students can be excluded by imposing entrance requirements, charging substantial fees, or not providing transportation, then such programs are not operating in accordance with the values of public education. Rather, they are operating as private schools within the public system, and such exclusivity simply does not belong in a public school.
We need to urge the government to reject the mantra of the market agenda and competition in our education system and concentrate instead on directions that will genuinely make a positive difference in our classrooms and in our ability to meet the complex needs of an increasingly diverse population in Alberta’s schools.
The tired, ideological, market approach of fostering competition and privatization is simply inappropriate to educating children. The result will be yet more undermining of public education and more inequities in children’s education and achievement.
A genuinely effective approach will instead:
- enhance supports for the work that our teachers and support staff do with children in our schools
- present policies to foster more equity, accessibility, effectiveness and democratic accountability
- deal directly with the problem of large class sizes and the increasingly complex needs of children in those classrooms
- require a commitment by government to substantially increase (rather than freeze and cut) funding to our public school systems to help them develop the full potential of all of our children, and to better fulfill the promise of public education.
I want to stay in touch with Public Interest Alberta and their allies to defend public education from the market agenda.
2019 Alberta Low Wage Data
Public Interest Alberta obtained the following information from Statistics Canada’s monthly Labour Force Survey. It indicates the average number of employed Albertans in each category for the year ending June 30, 2019.
The total number of employed Albertans in this period was 1,960,400. The Alberta government usually increases the minimum wage each year on October 1, but this year it is being frozen at $15 per hour, except for youth, who can now be paid $2 per hour less.
Nearly a quarter million minimum wage workers in Alberta can legally have their wages frozen this year, missing a key opportunity to boost the economy by putting more money in the pockets of the province’s lowest wage workers.
- 245,300 employed Albertans earn the current minimum wage of $15 per hour or less (12.5%).
- 277,500 earn less than $16 per hour (14.2%).
The majority of the lowest wage workers are women.
- 151,000 workers earning the minimum wage of $15 per hour or less are women (61.6%).
- 173,400 workers earning less than $16.00 per hour are women (70.7%).
More than three-quarters of workers earning minimum wage are 20 years of age or older.
- 185,200 are 20 years of age or older (75.5%).
- 121,900 are between 20 and 44 years old (49.7%).
- 53,200 are between 45 and 64 years old (21.7%).
- 10,100 are 65 years of age or older (4.1%).
Regional Fact Sheets
- Athabasca - Grande Prairie - Peace River
- Medicine Hat
- Red Deer
- Wood Buffalo - Cold Lake
Public Interest Alberta in the News
Minimum wage freeze to affect Albertans 'already struggling': report by Diego Romero, CTV News Edmonton
Medicine Hat continues to have most low-wage earners in Alberta, Medicine Hat News
Previous Low Wage Data
In the lead up to the 2019 provincial election, issues related to the province’s economy have been the highest priority for both of the major political parties and have therefore dominated media coverage and the overall public conversation. However, as our Executive Director Joel French wrote in a blog post, "If the goal is to move Alberta forward, not backward, then public services need to be at the heart of the campaign."
Albertans value their public services, and they need to be strengthened. Services like health care, early learning and child care, care for Alberta's seniors, the public education system, and our post secondary system are vital to a thriving and healthy society.
We interviewed activists and advocates from across the province to learn more about the issues, and to hear the concerns of citizens of our province.
On January 16th, 2019, Public Interest Alberta held a press conference at Jasper Place Child Care & Family Resource Centre to release the summary of our 2018 Child Care Survey, which focused on studying the outcomes of the government's $25-a-day child care pilot program. The results are clear: the program is a success. We need universal child care so families are fully supported in the care and development of their children.
What are key issues in health care affecting seniors this upcoming election? Public Interest Alberta and Friends of Medicare held a citizens' forum in Red Deer to talk about critical issues facing Albertan seniors and their families like the need for universal pharmaceutical coverage, expanded capacity and staffing in our hospitals, and major improvements in our seniors' care system. Our government must invest in improvements to care for our province's system because Alberta Seniors Deserve Better.
Classroom conditions are the central issue for K-12 education in Alberta’s election. Voters need to hold political parties to a high standard, demanding that they take action to reduce class sizes and increase classroom supports. Public Interest Alberta recently held a citizens’ forum in Edmonton at the Alberta Teachers' Association to address these important issues.
Post-secondary education is the answer to many of Alberta’s challenges, including our transition to a more stable and diversified economy. To meet those challenges, we need a stronger system that is higher quality, more affordable, and more accessible. Public Interest Alberta recently interviewed students, faculty, and staff at the University of Alberta to get their thoughts on how to address those issues.
The event had three moderated panels with discussion on the need for a universal pharmacare program, expanded capacity and staffing in our hospitals, and major improvements to the state of long-term care for Alberta's seniors.
The event was extremely well-attended, with over 100 citizens listening to experts and advocates from across the province, and voicing their concerns and calls to action.
Public Interest Alberta in the News
by Sean McIntosh, Red Deer Advocate
Robin Grant, Red Deer Express
by Lana Michelin, Red Deer Advocate
Public Interest Alberta teamed up with Friends of Medicare to produce a series of four videos to kick off the campaign Alberta Seniors Deserve Better in advance of the 2019 provincial election. The campaign, with ads directed and written by Abdul Mailk, highlights the issues facing seniors in the continuing care system, and encourages Albertans to sign a petition to call on all of Alberta’s political parties to make strengthening seniors’ care a top priority in the 2019 provincial election.
The campaign tackles four main issue areas facing Alberta’s seniors in the current continuing care system: high out-of-pocket costs shouldered by seniors and their families for essentials like medications and personal items, the complexity of the referral system that makes accessing care confusing and difficult, the lack of legislation to mandate staff-to-patient ratios in seniors’ care, and finally, the profit motivation that comes with corporations providing much of our seniors’ care.
Alberta’s seniors have worked hard their entire lives to contribute to our province and deserve to live in dignity with high quality care. “This should be an election issue,” said Carol Wodak, a senior and member of the Public Interest Alberta Seniors’ Task Force at the March 5 video premiere. She added, “Caring for our vulnerable seniors now, caring for ourselves when we reach that point, ought to be a priority. Much more than saving any money, which in fact doesn't save us money in the end.”
Join us in calling on all of Alberta’s political parties to make strengthening seniors’ care a top priority in the 2019 provincial election. All parties must prioritize the public services that are so important to the health and well-being of Albertans — especially our seniors. Alberta seniors deserve better.
Learn more and take action at ABSeniors.ca
On January 16th, 2019, Public Interest Alberta held a press conference at Jasper Place Child Care & Family Resource Centre to release the summary of their 2018 Child Care Survey.
In addition to overall conditions in the child care sector, the survey sought to gain insights into the impact of of the Government of Alberta’s Early Learning and Child Care (ELCC) Centres pilot program, also known as the $25-a-day program. The results are clear: the pilot program is a success. While the child care sector continues to face challenges such as long wait lists, the ELCC program significantly reduces those barriers to high-quality child care. Through public funding, the ELCC centres are better equipped to support children with complex needs, and are able to hire and retain better-trained staff.
The continuation and expansion of the ELCC program should be a cornerstone of government priorities for strong public services.
Public Interest Alberta in the News
by Carly Robinson, CityNews
by Regan Hasegawa, CTV News Edmonton
by Dylan Short, Calgary Sun
2018 Alberta Low Wage Report
Public Interest Alberta obtained the following information from Statistics Canada’s monthly Labour Force Survey. It indicates the average number of employed Albertans in each category for the year ending June 30, 2018. The total number of employed Albertans in this period was 1,913,200. The minimum wage will increase from $13.60 per hour to $15.00 per hour on October 1, 2018.
More than 300,000 Alberta workers will receive a raise on October 1st because of the minimum wage increase.
- 302,300 employed Albertans earn less than the incoming minimum wage of $15 per hour (15.8%).
- 359,100 earn less than $16 per hour (18.8%).
- 159,500 earn the current minimum wage of $13.60 per hour (8.3%).
More than 60 percent of workers receiving a minimum wage raise are women.
- 189,400 workers earning less than the incoming minimum wage of $15 per hour are women (62.7%).
- 100,100 workers earning the current minimum wage of $13.60 per hour are women (62.8%).
- 223,200 workers earning less than $16.00 per hour are women (62.2%).
More than three-quarters of workers receiving a minimum wage raise are 20 years of age or older.
- 233,300 are 20 years of age or older (77.2%).
o 163,300 are between 20 and 44 years old (54.0%).
o 59,300 are between 45 and 64 years old (19.6%).
o 10,700 are 65 years of age or older (3.5%).
Read our media release showing what the data means for Albertans working in the province.
Regional Fact Sheets
- Athabasca - Grande Prairie - Peace River
- Medicine Hat
- Red Deer
- Wood Buffalo - Cold Lake
Public Interest Alberta in the news
Minimum wage debate Segment on Alberta Primetime (CTV Two)
300,000 Albertans to benefit from minimum wage boost Interview on The Ryan Jespersen Show (630 CHED)
Minimum wage increase to benefit Red Deer workers by Susan Zielinski, Red Deer Advocate
300,000 Albertans will be getting a raise next month by Daily Hive Calgary
One in six working Albertans can expect a raise when minimum wage goes up Oct. 1, advocacy group estimates by Hamdi Issawi, Star Metro Edmonton
Thousands of Red Deerians to receive minimum wage increase by Troy Gillard, rdnewsNOW
Pending minimum wage hike will boost local economy: PIA by Tim Kalinowski, Lethbridge Herald
Chamber joins poverty-reduction group in opposition to minimum wage increase by Collin Gallant, Medicine Hat News (Low Wage Report mentioned)
Group takes issue with minimum wage approach by Collin Gallant, Medicine Hat News
Better wages won't fix poverty: Thrive by Collin Gallant, Medicine Hat News (Low Wage Report mentioned)
Minimum Wage Increases in Alberta by Ania Werbeniuk, Lexology
Who's driving the Thrive bus? Letter to the Editor, Medicine Hat News
Minimum wage increase will have major pain by Dayla Lahring, St. Albert Gazette (Low Wage Report mentioned)
25% of workforce gets raise by Collin Gallant, Medicine Hat News
A guide to Alberta's new $15 minimum wage and what it will mean for the economy by Kieran Leavitt & Brennan Doherty, Star Metro Edmonton
Alberta's minimum-wage workers tell us what $15 an hour really means for their bottom line by Hamdi Issawi & Brennan Doherty, StarMetro Edmonton
What does the increase in minimum wage mean for you? Alberta at Noon (CBC Radio)
Goes too far or about darn time, Alberta minimum wage hike continues to divide by David Bell, CBC News
$15 minimum wage increase met with mixed reception from public by Evan J. Pretzer, The Stony Plain Reporter
Minimum wage increase draws mixed reviews by Eric Bowling, Westlock News
Previous Low Wage Reports
Public Interest Alberta has launched this new campaign calling for the provincial government to fix Alberta's revenue shortage to protect and revitalize our public services.
Albertans need public services. They must be strengthened, not cut.
Resource revenues should be saved for future generations, not relied upon to fund government's basic operations.
Alberta's revenue shortage is best solved by renovating our tax system with changes to personal income taxes and a sales tax.
To learn more about our campaign and to take action, please visit www.RevenueReno.ca
Public Interest Alberta in the news
Lobby group pitches sales tax in Alberta to save public services by Crystal Laderas, 660 News
An Alberta sales tax: The unpopular idea that just won't die by Robson Fletcher, CBC News (makes mention of the Revenue Reno campaign)
The Return of the Leg, Pipelines, and prep for the 2019 election by Dave Cournoyer and Ryan Hastman, Daveberta.ca podcast (mention of campaign begins at the 1 hour 8 minute mark)
The revenue reno campaign. Taxes could be good thing Interview with Joel French on the Rob Breakenridge show (News Talk 770)
Public Interest Alberta's revenue reno campaign Interview with Joel French on the Ryan Jespersen show (630 CHED)
Sustainable public services unattainable without 'revenue renovation' by United Nurses of Alberta news
Public Interest Alberta to host Revenue Reno in Red Deer Red Deer Advocate
Alberta’s revenue shortage concerns Central Albertans by Sean McIntosh, Red Deer Advocate
Alberta's tax system fair but failing, experts warn by Brodie Thomas, Star Metro Calgary
Advocacy group says tax reform, sales tax needed to get province off revenue roller coaster by rdnewsNOW
Globe editorial: It's time for Alberta to bite the bullet and impose a sales tax by The Globe and Mail
Opinion: Albertans face choice between service cuts or a sales tax by Joel French, Edmonton Journal
Alberta needs to renovate its tax system to generate more revenue by Joel French, Calgary Herald
Public Interest Alberta hosts meeting in Lethbridge for new 'Revenue Reno' campaign by Malika Karim, Global News Lethbridge
When Does "Advantage" Bring Structural Deficits? Ask Alberta Interview with Joel French on The View Up Here podcast
Alberta's tax regime today's SACPA topic Lethbridge Herald
Taxes only way to reduce deficit by Dave Mabell, Lethbridge Herald
Provincial Sales Tax Recommended by Public Interest Alberta 94.1 CJOC FM
Public Interest Alberta joined 18 other organizations in calling on the Government of Alberta to:
1. In Budget 2018, reduce public funding to private schools from 70% to 50% (with the exception of special needs schools).
2. Re-allocate the $30 million in savings to fund a classroom conditions improvement project in select Public, Catholic, and Francophone schools.
This call to reduce public funding to private schools would be the first step towards completely phasing out this funding over a three year period. Please see our previous media release from 2017 for more details.
- Public Interest Alberta
- Progress Alberta
- Alberta Teachers’ Association
- Public School Boards Association of Alberta
- Edmonton Public School Board
- Support Our Students (SOS) Alberta
- Calgary and District Labour Council
- Edmonton and District Labour Council
- Edmonton Catholic Teachers
- Edmonton Public Teachers
- Calgary Board of Education Staff Association
- Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Alberta
- CUPE Alberta Education Employees Committee
- CUPE Local 40 (Calgary Board of Education staff)
- CUPE Local 474 (custodial staff for Edmonton Public Schools)
- CUPE Local 1099 (St. Albert Public Schools support staff)
- CUPE Local 3550 (support staff for Edmonton Public Schools)
- CUPE Local 4625 (Sturgeon Public Schools support staff)
- Unifor Local 52A (support staff for Edmonton Catholic Schools)
Public Interest Alberta and partners in the news
Public school proponents push for cut in funding to Alberta private schools by Janet French, Edmonton Journal
Joel French interview on CBC Radio CBC Radio Active with Portia Clark
Une coalition demande à l'Alberta de réduire ses subventions aux écoles privées Radio-Canada/ICI Alberta
ATA joins call to scale back private school funding by Jen Janzen, ATA News
Should Private Schools Get Public Funding? by Joel French and David Staples, Alberta Views magazine
Think-tank calls for increased private school enrolment in Alberta by Janet French, Edmonton Journal