Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 3, 2005
Use Alberta surplus for the poor
Quality of Life Commission calls for investment in vulnerable people
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
The Alberta government should focus more on social issues and allow more debate on how to spend the province's forecasted surplus wealth of $8.8 billion, politicians and community leaders told a town hall meeting Sept. 26.
"The voices of vulnerable Albertans need to be heard in this new debate about surplus wealth," said retired senator Douglas Roche.
"In deciding what to do with the extra money, the government of Alberta needs to hear about the long-term needs of low-cost housing programs, First Nations' requirements, single mothers, children left behind in education, not to mention the question of health.
"In short, our society is very much in need of public discussion that focuses on investing in human resources."
Roche chaired a public meeting called Alberta's Wealth: A Call to Conscience, organized by the Quality of Life Commission, an advocacy group that focuses on poverty. More than 100 people attended the meeting at the Robertson-Wesley United Church hall.
Former Senator Thelma Chalifoux said the Klein government originally balanced the budget through cuts to social programs and now owes a debt to those most affected by those cutbacks.
"We accepted the cuts that affected our quality of life in 1993; now it is the time to restore balance in our social and infrastructure deficiencies," she said. "Every child in Alberta that has to go to school hungry is a debt that has to be paid back.
"We know that on any given night in Edmonton there are over 1,000 people homeless, including children and families - this is a debt that has to be paid back. Every senior and disabled person that has been neglected is a debt that has to be paid back."
Jim Gurnett, executive director of the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, chastised the government for a lack of ethics in using the province's wealth and its plan to hand out $400 rebate cheques to every citizen.
"The use of our economical resources is an ethical issue and we need to seriously address the idea that maybe there is something wrong about this and not just differences of opinion," he said.
"Economics is not just about politics and fiscal issues; the word actually means the stewardship of resources for the good of the whole household."
What should we do with Alberta's wealth? "We should not spend this away by giving every Albertan a cheque for $400," said Liberal MLA Bruce Miller, a United Church minister.
"We need a plan, we need a strategy. I would like to see more emphasis on the need for social housing for our poor. And of course I would like to see a shift in the direction of narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. We need to rebuild our whole welfare system from the bottom up on the basis of the values of social justice and especially the value of respect."
As a result of high oil prices, the government expects a budgetary surplus of as much as $8.8 billion this fiscal year. At a caucus retreat in Cold Lake earlier this month, Premier Ralph Klein announced his intention to spend about one third of the surplus on rebate cheques of about $400 to every Albertan. Another third will go to government capital projects and the remaining third to savings.
Rather than distribute cheques across the province, the Alberta government should use the surplus money to "fund social programs at the local level," said James Lavers, a concerned citizen.
Meeting organizers urged participants to write, email and phone their MLAs requesting a full debate in the legislature on how to use the surplus. A report on the meeting will be presented to the provincial government within a few weeks, Roche said.