Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 22, 2004
Feed our poor, hungry children
Philanthropist Bruce Saville tells province to step up to the plate
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Edmonton businessman and philanthropist Bruce Saville thinks Alberta should use its wealth to improve the life of the poor, especially disadvantaged inner city children.
"Rather than bragging to the rest of the country that we are debt-free, the province should be bragging to the rest of the country that Alberta has no homeless and no hungry or disadvantaged children," he said.
Speaking at a conference on social policy at Grant MacEwan College Nov. 13, Saville urged Albertans to make the plight of poor and hungry children an election issue.
"Let us not forget that we are the government," he told the conference. "We choose our representatives, we hold them accountable and if we believe that homelessness and hunger should be eliminated and that the government should do more in this area, then we must withhold our vote from those who do not support us."
Saville, president of Saville Interest Group and a member of the board of governors of the University of Alberta, lamented that despite the province's wealth, "our government does nothing for hungry children."
He noted Mother Teresa once said people would be judged by what they have done for the poor.
"On that basis many Canadians, Albertans and Edmontonians would be judged harshly," he said.
Develop social policy
More than 100 people attended the conference sponsored by the Edmonton-based Quality of Life Commission, a social policy think tank and lobby group formed 10 years ago. The goal of the event was to develop social policy in the areas of low income, housing, children and seniors.
Saville said because debt-free Alberta does nothing for poor children, citizens of good will have to operate and fund many programs, including programs to provide lunch to students who otherwise would do without.
"All students deserve an opportunity to compete equally for their future. For example swimming pools, museums, the Odysseum should all be made free to children and the buses that they ride to get there should also be free," he said.
Why do we tolerate hunger in our city and in our province? Why do we disadvantage the children of the inner city?
Saville has his opinion. "Homeless people likely don't vote and if they did there's only 1,800 of them in our city. Far too many (homeless) but far too few votes," he said. As for school children, they don't vote either.
But those who do vote should make their ballot count. "If we believe that children from the inner city should have access to city-supported facilities then we must make that an election issue."
In his presentation, Saville said debt-free Alberta should start giving full funding to Kids Cottage, a charity that provides children 12 years and younger temporary shelter when their home is not safe. The facility serves 18 children at a time and it operates at 100 per cent capacity virtually 100 per cent of the time. Currently the government contributes $300,000 of the charity's operating budget of $900,000. Seville thinks the government should step up, fund the other $600,000 and allow the volunteer base to move on to new areas.
In 2003, the Food Bank collected, sorted, repackaged and distributed more than 5.5 million pounds of food to the hungry, Saville said. In Alberta, more than 54,500 people used their local food banks in March of this year.
And in Alberta food bank usage increased by almost 12 per cent, well above the national rate. Some of the food went to school lunch programs for hungry children. While the federal and the provincial governments contribute nothing to the food bank, the City of Edmonton gives it only $15,000 a year.
"What can I say," Seville said, criticizing governments for banning smoking "under the guise of the health of the citizens" while neglecting the hunger issue. "How can you on the one hand ban smoking for the health and well-being of citizens and on the other hand not ensure the basic needs are provided for innocent children?" he asked. "Hunger, folks, is contrary to the health and well being of our citizens."
h1 class="sub">Equal opportunity?
Alberta's capitalist society was not founded on a class system but on everyone having an equal opportunity, Saville said. "How do we ensure that our children, once fed, have an equal opportunity? I think we can start by giving them free access to city-owned and city-supported facilities," he said, adding the city should also provide free bus transportation to families living in poverty.
Saville vowed to use his position as a member of the university board of governors to fight for inner city and disadvantaged students and for more relaxed standards of admission to university both academic and financially.
Ten years ago the province contributed $10 for every tuition dollar. Today it contributes about $2. "The result of this under-funding of post-secondary education is that thousands of our children cannot attend university," he lamented.
"I believe that we are obliged to provide university education to all those who desire to attend and who exhibit a strong likelihood of success."
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