Albertans identify child poverty as priority

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal

EDMONTON - The Redford government has quietly released the results of a six-month, $450,000 public consultation that will govern the overhaul of Alberta’s social service programs.

The sweeping survey found Albertans’ top priority was reducing child poverty, followed by eliminating family violence and homelessness.

The 37-page report was posted online Friday by Human Services, the new super-ministry that oversees every major social program in the province, including those for unemployed, disabled and homeless Albertans, as well as children in care.

The government did not publicize the release of the report, which details Albertans’ priorities for the remaking of the province’s social policy framework — a key plank in Premier Alison Redford’s election campaign.

Albertans who organized meetings and promoted the consultation were disillusioned by the Redford government’s decision to bury the results on an obscure Internet page.

“These are all people she appealed to when she wanted to win the (Tory) leadership and when she wanted to win the election,” said Bill Moore-Kilgannon of Public Interest Alberta, a left-leaning advocacy organization that hosted a meeting of 16 contributing groups on Wednesday.

“This can’t just be a consultation exercise that gets shelved because it’s politically inconvenient and economically inconvenient — she has to deliver on these promises.”

Some political observers attribute Redford’s 2012 election win to votes from progressive Albertans who support her commitment to improved social services, including her promise to end child poverty in five years.

“If you go to the front of the social policy website, it’s not even there,” Moore-Kilgannon said. “I just think the politics here is they want to downplay any expectation of substantive changes to our social policy and that’s a real shame, because there’s so much that does need to change.”

After taking office in October 2011, Redford combined four existing government departments to create Human Services. In her mandate letter to Minister Dave Hancock, she asked him to create a social policy framework to guide the redesign of social policy programs in Alberta.

The first step in that process was public consultation.

More than 14,000 Albertans took part in nearly 400 meetings in 59 cities and towns across the province, and more than 5,000 people filled in an online survey.

Human Services spokesman Craig Loewen said the consultation cost taxpayers $455,100, including $127,100 for community discussion grants and $325,000 for consultants. The figure does not include salaries paid to government staff who worked on the project.

“Given the reach of our consultations … this was money well spent,” Loewen said in an email.

“There was also a lot going on last Friday, being the day after the Premier’s televised address – so the preference was to have more focus on it this week. … Minister Hancock will be publicizing the recent summing up document when he gets back to the office.”

Cabinet will review and endorse the framework over the next two months, and the department will then “begin engagement on identified strategies,” the report says.

Albertans also told the government they believe promoting good health is as important as treating illness.

“Many respondents believed that poverty needs to be eliminated,” says the report, titled Summing Up: Albertans’ Perspectives for a Social Policy Framework.

“In particular, many respondents were concerned about child poverty and its progression to chronic poverty. Many felt that a preventive approach should be used to address poverty.”

NDP MLA Dave Eggen said the government’s handling of the report shows Redford is not prepared to deliver on the promises she made during the provincial election.

“This is something that Alison Redford has to answer for,” Eggen said. “You cannot balance the budget on the back of Alberta’s most vulnerable people … I don’t know why she is so attracted to regressive politics, when Albertans expect something better.”

By Karen Kleiss, Edmonton Journal

kkleiss@edmontonjournal.com
twitter.com/ablegreporter

This article was published in the Edmonton Journal on January 31, 2013. Read the full article on the Edmonton Journal website.

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