Alberta poverty strategy sought

Canada’s richest province, Alberta, is trailing behind others in reducing poverty, says an advocacy group that wants to create a provincial strategy.

Canada’s richest province, Alberta, is trailing behind others in reducing poverty, says an advocacy group that wants to create a provincial strategy.

“We think Alberta, of all provinces, should be a leader in this,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta. The independent public advocacy group is planning meetings across the province — starting with a forum in Red Deer on April 29 — to examine what can be done to give more Albertans the tools to succeed.

The group plans to ask people in business, social service and education fields, as well as municipal and provincial government — what should be included in a strategy to reduce the number of Albertans living in poverty?

Moore-Kilgannon thinks it’s a timely subject, since more and more people are being affected by the poor economy.

Quebec, Ontario, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have all either adopted targeted poverty reduction strategies, or are about to. Ontario’s plan, approved in November, aims to cut child and family poverty by 25 per cent over the next five years and contains some tracking measures to ensure progress is being made, said Moore-Kilgannon.

One method other provinces are using to stamp out disadvantage is strengthening funding to early childhood education programs. “If you can catch kids in their early years and provide good childhood development, experts have found there’s a ripple effect throughout their lifetime,” said Moore-Kilgannon.

He added that Alberta gives the least per-capita funding to day cares and other pre-school programs in the country.

Improving access to post-secondary schooling is another method that many provinces are choosing to combat poverty.

Moore-Kilgannon said colleges and universities need to be affordable, accessible and offer good quality education. It isn’t enough to increase student loans, since more than half of the surveyed Albertans who didn’t complete post-secondary education cited a fear of massive debt load as the reason. “The province of Alberta is also turning away thousands of qualified young people because there’s not enough space in the programs,” added Moore-Kilgannon, who believes this will have a serious impact on future poverty rates.

A surprising discovery is how many employed Albertans live in homeless shelters.

Moore-Kilgannon believes the government can help by reassessing, for instance, how much funding goes to private or non-profit agencies that provide care to very young, disabled or elderly people. Many workers in these “very important professions” are not being paid a living wage, he added.

“We want to open a dialogue about what should be included in a poverty reduction strategy in this province.”

It’s necessary to preregister for the forum, to be held from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29, at the Red Deer Lodge, by calling 1-877-420-0471 or going online at www.pialberta.org/events

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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