Partners sharing a glass half full

When it comes from government, the not-so-good news is always released toward the end of the week. In the context of a cutback provincial budget, the announced new Social Policy Framework suggesting the province wants to reduce its role as a provider of social services, is not good news.

When it comes from government, the not-so-good news is always released toward the end of the week.

In the context of a cutback provincial budget, the announced new Social Policy Framework suggesting the province wants to reduce its role as a provider of social services, is not good news.

So Albertans are told about it on a Thursday, with reaction coming in the next news cycle Friday, and by the following Monday it’s on its way to being forgotten.

Actually, the new framework is a good-news-bad-news report. But the government has already fostered so much anxiety about how communities are going to help their poorest and most vulnerable citizens, it’s the bad news that grabs you most.

“Absolutely reprehensible” is how Red Deer Food Bank executive director Fred Scaife sees it. Talk of government becoming “influencer, convener and partner” rather than “provider,” to his way of thinking, is simply double-speak for giving poor people less.

Red Deer Mayor Morris Flewwelling sees the glass as being half full. In his experience local agencies acting as partners with provincial funders can be more efficient and effective than having government employees provide services directly.

The success of this new policy framework won’t be known for at least a couple of years, when changes in statistics on crime rates, court appearances, ambulance rides and emergency ward crowding can be compared. These are the hidden costs of failing to help people when they need it.

But a glass half full pretty well describes what community agencies get, when they enter service provision contracts with the province. I know, because I’ve helped create one of them.

A case manager working for a non-profit agency, being paid under contract with the province, earns $20,000-$30,000 a year less than someone doing the same work directly on the government payroll. The vacation and benefits package is smaller, and so is the retirement package.

Plus, the non-profit worker is expected to fundraise for services the agency provides, but which are not part of the contract.

In some cases, a non-profit case manager assisting a disabled person receiving the maximum AISH allowance — with a degree or diploma behind her — might earn about the same as her client. And the case manager does not get rent-controlled housing or her medical prescriptions for free.

Would such a worker wish to trade places with her client? Obviously not, but you can see why government would rather be an “influencer, convener and partner” in this scenario, than a service provider.

Fred Scaife sees the new policy framework as dumping part of its budget problems onto the poorest of Albertans. When you’re serving on the front lines of poverty and hunger, it might look that way.

When you’re serving on the front lines of social assistance — mental illness, addictions, homelessness or disability — it might look like the province is dumping its budget problems on you or your agency.

Robert Mitchell is CEO of United Way of Central Alberta. He has already seen the kind of worry that United Way agencies feel when policies like this come out at the end of the week, a few days before a cutback budget.

But he’s prepared to watch and see what government actually does, as opposed to trying to interpret a broadly-stated new policy document.

The goals contained in the government document actually mirror the goals of the United Way — and most other non-profits.

They wish to reduce inequality between people; not inequality of income or lifestyle (that’s effectively impossible), but inequality of security, opportunity and potential.

They want to protect the vulnerable — in too many cases, children and frail seniors. The want to centre services onto people (rather than on the definition of their disability) and to improve the way local agencies and government collaborate in making communities stronger.

Everybody I know would vote for that, and people who would vote against it, I don’t want to know.

The provincial service network I worked on years ago — along with government, professional service providers and families of people needing services — is vastly cheaper than equivalent services provided by Persons with Developmental Disabilities, for instance.

Part of that efficiency comes from paying staff vastly less, and having them volunteer to fundraise while they work. Does the new Alberta Social Policy Framework foresee more of this? Chances are good we won’t see any less.

The question for both optimists and pessimists is: will the glass remain half full?

Greg Neiman is a retired Advocate editor. Follow his blog at or email

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP investigate possible drowning at Pigeon Lake: Man and woman found dead on shore

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

Red Deer Region Highland Dancing Association to participate in national dance-a-thon

Central Albertan dancers have missed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the… Continue reading

Maskwacis teen charged in 10-year-old boy’s death

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

Still no mandatory masks in Red Deer

While a growing number of Alberta communities have made masks mandatory, the… Continue reading

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

69 salmonella cases in B.C. linked to red onions, province’s CDC says

VANCOUVER — The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning people in… Continue reading

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one… Continue reading

Quebec festivals organizers look to innovate as restrictions loosened

Montreal has been having its quietest summer in recent memory, as COVID-19… Continue reading

COVID-19 outbreaks over in federal prisons, staff preparing for ‘new normal’

COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada’s federal prisons have been declared over, and staff… Continue reading

Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief

OTTAWA — The federal government will match all individual donations from Canadians… Continue reading

Protests in Beirut amid public fury over massive blast

BEIRUT — Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in Lebanon’s… Continue reading

Most Read