Blog | April 12, 2012

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton JournalCALGARY — Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford on Wednesday promised to implement a 10-year plan to end poverty in Alberta.The two-part strategy will first focus on a five-year plan to eliminate child poverty, then on a 10-year plan to address the root causes of poverty.“This isn’t about handing out money, it’s about…giving everyone equal opportunity,” Redford said. “It’s about doing our best to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from our economy.”Redford said despite Alberta’s wealth, the province has one of the highest rates of poverty among families with children.“In a province like this, with the resources that we have, we know we can do better.…That’s different than simply saying that if you grow the economy, you’re going to fix poverty. Because we all know that doesn’t work.”Redford said her grandparents’ grocery store routinely “ran accounts” for families that couldn’t afford their groceries.“I remember my mom telling me that if people came into that grocery store, looking for groceries for their family, it didn’t matter if their account had been paid. The amount went on the account and the family got to leave with dignity and respect.“When I travel across this province, I see a whole bunch of Albertans like that.…This truly is the spirit of Alberta, it’s not only about taking care of ourselves, and it’s not only about $300 cheques,” she said, taking a swipe at the so-called “Danielle Bucks” promised by the Wildrose party.The 10-year plan to end poverty will be implemented by the newly formed department of Human Services, which will also be the first to undergo the results-based budgeting review process Redford’s Conservative government implemented during the last sitting of the legislature.There is no price tag attached to the plan. Instead, Redford said the first step will be to review all government programs through the results-based budgeting program, and assess whether they are truly meeting the needs of Albertans. From there, the government would look at the entire system with a view to poverty reduction.Human Services Minister Dave Hancock said the plan provides “a longer term strategy.“You need to help the people who are in poverty now, but obviously the better answer is to have the kind of society where everybody gets the opportunity to participate,” he said outside his campaign office in south Edmonton.Hancock said the government will try to figure out whether it has the right programs in place to help people out of poverty. He admitted it’s difficult to gauge the success of social policy, however, and said the plan will have to include a way to measure progress.“That’s a critical piece,” he said.Liberal Leader Raj Sherman called Redford’s announcement “empty rhetoric.”“I think she’s had lots of plans. You know, Redford’s plan is leading Alberta into poverty,” Sherman said. “She’s announcing billions of dollars of spending on top of the fudge-it budget, and we still can’t balance the books. … I don’t know why Redford is making all these big plans when she just tabled a budget.”NDP Leader Brian Mason said “the Conservatives are clearly making it up as they go along, and that’s surprising for a government in power 41 years.”Gayla Rogers, a social work professor a the University of Calgary, called the announcement a critical step forward.“Taking the time to develop a thoughtful 10-year plan makes a great deal of sense,” Rogers said. “It’s not a bunch of false promises, it’s about creating a plan to figure out how we’re going to address poverty as a root cause of many social issues.”“Poor people are sicker, suffer more mental health issues, they have a higher potential for drug and alcohol abuse, are more likely to fall into crime and become affiliated with gangs. There is a lot of isolation and alienation as a result of poverty, which can contribute to anti-social behaviour, homelessness. It costs Albertans a lot to not address poverty.”Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta said his organization has been pressing the province to adopt a poverty reduction strategy for six years and was pleased by the announcement, but said “the devil will be in the details.“If they are going to be cutting from other parts of the Human Services budget, we’re going to need to know where those cuts are coming from,” he said.“They are making financial commitments to all kinds of things, I think making a commitment to eliminating child poverty would be a bolder move,” he said, adding an increase in the minimum wage is also crucial to addressing poverty.Alberta is one of three Canadian provinces that has not implemented a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy, and this is not the first time the province has considered doing so.In October 2010, the Tory-dominated standing committee on the economy recommended the province implement such a strategy, but then-employment minister Thomas Lukaszuk told the legislature: “We have a very comprehensive package for recovery from poverty, and that’s called jobs.”During the Tory leadership race last summer, however, Redford expressed support for such a policy.In the meantime, child poverty rates have continued to rise in Alberta, with a November 2011 report showing the number has increased 40 per cent in recent years, to 73,000 in 2009.Further, a February study by a coalition of anti-poverty groups found that poverty costs the province $9 billion each year and urged provincial leaders to rethink their approach to poverty: Instead of spending to alleviate the symptoms of poverty, invest in preventing people from falling into poverty in the first place.With files from Nicki Thomas and Elise Stolte

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal
[email protected] article was published in the Edmonton Journal on April 11, 2012. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.