Social policy shift draws ire
Alberta’s government will be shifting away from its role as service provider, funder and legislator to more “influencer, convener and partner” according to its new Social Policy Framework announced on Thursday.
Fred Scaife, executive director of Red Deer Food Bank, said that’s government-speak for reduced funding to impoverished Albertans.
“It’s absolutely reprehensible. No matter how you slice this, this is nothing short of them saving money on poor people,” Scaife said in reaction to the policy blueprint developed for the social challenges Albertans face.
He said the province has a $6-billion shortfall and they’re picking on the most vulnerable Albertans, the people with no voice.
“What they’re doing is no different than what they’ve done with hospitals, what they’ve done with schools,” Scaife said.
“When I went to school, my mother never had to do bingos. We didn’t have to pay for the field trips. When I was a kid in hospital for the first time, I wasn’t in a hospital wing that had been bought with charitable dollars and treated with equipment that had been bought with charitable dollars. That equipment and that hospital wing were the responsibility of the government. That’s why we pay taxes.”
The framework says social policy change is being driven by the growing complexity of individuals’ needs as the population becomes more diverse, and significant demographic changes and sustainability challenges from population growth, changing immigration patterns and aging baby boomers. Rapid increases in the cost of living and housing are intensifying pressures on Albertans and increasing the disparity between the rich and poor.
The framework has been released prior to the March 7 provincial budget.
Robert Mitchell, CEO of United Way of Central Alberta, said non-profits are worried about the upcoming budget.
“Is it going to be just talk and rhetoric or are they going to put some dollars in here and partner potentially with the non-profit sector,” Mitchell said.
Over 31,000 Albertans participated in the creation of Alberta’s Social Policy Framework — online, in community conversations, and through surveys. They identified four main goals for social policy: reduce inequality; protect vulnerable people; create a person-centered system of high-quality services; and enable collaboration and partnerships.
Mitchell said the goals do align with goals of United Way agencies.
Both Mitchell and Mayor Morris Flewwelling applauded the creation of the framework.
“Social issues tend to get sidetracked quite easily in tough economic times,” Flewwelling said.
And he preferred to believe Premier Alison Redford was not out going to take the province’s financial woes out on the least-abled Albertans.
Collaboration and partnerships are a big part of the framework.
Flewwelling said Family and Community Support Services, where the province provides 80 per cent of funding for communities to design and deliver social programs, is an example of how well partnerships can work.
“You don’t build an enormous provincial bureaucracy. You have local agencies responsive to local needs and we’ve had huge success.”
Flewwelling said the province has also put a real effort into ending homelessness.
“Ten years ago the province didn’t put any money into homelessness and housing at all, nor did the federal government. Communities were just left to drift. Now what you’ve got is the provinces and feds coming together and there are housing programs and rent subsidy programs and so on. And this is managed all locally, but funded largely by the province.”