Fort McMurray Food Bank Association – Candidate Questionnaire Denise Wollard, New Democratic Party 1. Several provinces have set in motion ambitious poverty reduction strategies. Does your party have a plan to address hunger and poverty in Alberta? The NDP has been raising in the Legislature for a long time the fact that other provinces have been developing poverty reduction strategies and Alberta has ignored the issue. PC MLAs have said the strong Alberta economy is all that is needed for a poverty reduction strategy and that anyone can get a job and then would not have to be concerned about poverty. This is a troubling misunderstanding of the realities in the province and a very different approach is needed. It is noteworthy that a significant percentage of the families struggling with all the diverse issues created by economic poverty have one or more adults in the home working full time. Much of the challenge in Alberta is to have people able to earn a better income. This begins with moving from having the lowest minimum wage in the country to moving away from the dependence on temporary foreign workers in many lower‐skilled jobs and instead paying a living wage for people who have homes and families to support in Alberta. Hunger and poverty should not be addressed as marginal problems where individuals are often blamed for their circumstances and bandages are put of deeply rooted social issues. A good poverty reduction/elimination program will be built on a cross‐ministerial understanding of how to address the social determinants of health.
2. Welfare rates in Alberta are far below the poverty line. What will you do for people with disabilities and for people in general, living on social assistance? It is commendable that there have finally been some reasonable increases in AISH payments this year, but for those depending on the income support of Alberta Works the payments do not come anywhere near what is adequate for a reasonable quality of life. Yet we know that income support programs have an important role to play to address the circumstances of some, especially those unable for temporary or longer times, to earn an adequate income for themselves. Cuts nearly 20 years ago have continued to create problems and have never been overcome. 3. What is your party’s platform on food security in Alberta? As part of an overall social determinants of health commitment, food security needs particular attention. Having an adequate income to have enough protein and fresh fruit and vegetables in a diet from the earliest years is important for health and development. Adequate housing that ensures places to prepare and store a variety of food also matters. Public transportation that makes it possible to shop properly for food makes a difference. Supplementing family challenges around food security with lunch programs in schools or good day care where children receive nutritious meals are all useful too. The NDP’s election platform makes commitments to
all these issues. The volunteers and donors who support food banks are wonderfully caring citizens but food banks do not constitute good public policy to ensure food security for all.
4. What is your party’s platform on affordable housing in our region and in Alberta? In many ways, assuring housing security is a larger challenge than even food security because the cost of housing is so great and Alberta has been through 20 years of severe cuts to spending on all aspects of social housing. The population has grown greatly and the supply of available affordable and appropriate housing of all sorts has declined. Waiting lists are thousands of families long for limited spaces available. What is needed to start is a comprehensive housing policy—much more than the current limited 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. This needs to ensure more housing of a wide variety is being built and also that issues such as rent supplements and controls on the size of rent increases permitted are also addressed. Not only must the amount of money committed to having affordable housing of a variety of types built but the criteria for funding projects need to be more transparent and free of potential abuse. Good plans also need to address making housing more affordable and the NDP commitments around issues such as regulated prices for electricity and interest‐free loans for retrofitting homes to reduce energy costs will make a difference. 5. If elected, what will your party do (or, what is your party doing) to enable welfare recipients to enter the workforce successfully? Every Albertan should be able to benefit from Alberta’s prosperity and nearly everyone wants to do that to address more people entering the workforce and making the incomes of which they are capable. There are many things known about how to do this. For many newer immigrants the inadequate availability of English classes so otherwise well qualified people can gain the language proficiency to be successful and measures to have more of the professional associations do more to recognize foreign experience/education/qualifications is vital. Special initiatives need to focus on FNMI Albertans, older Albertans, and people with disabilities. Too many employers still do not accept any responsibility to accommodate so they can employ a wider range of people. Alberta has also not begun to seriously look at the documented connections in Canada between low incomes and racism. Shared funding approaches with mentorships and internships will assist those who have not got successful records in the labour market to begin to transition to such success. Better child care will open up new job possibilities that are now closed because of the needs of children.
6. It has been commented that some parties may be planning to privatize social assistance and child welfare? is this something your party plans to do? The NDP is concerned there has already been too much shifting of programs in the human services to the private (both for‐profit and not‐for‐profit)
sectors rather than being retained as responsibilities within government ministries. The NDP does not support further movement in these directions. 7. If elected how do you and your party propose to assist nonprofits and charities to spend less time raising funds and more time doing the work their organizations were created to do? Attention is needed to the way limits set on what government will fund in calls for proposals for services where the non‐for‐profit sector responds that do not enable these organizations to pay staff adequately enough to have good retention so they are always having to hire and train new staff as others move on to better paying work. Available funding needs to recognize the realities of Alberta’s labour market today. When a social worker can make much better money leaving human services to drive a truck at an oilsands project it will be difficult to ensure high quality services can be provided. The NDP’s modest calls in this election to increase taxes on a few of the most wealthy individuals and on corporations and to increase the royalties paid on bitumen extraction; a little will result in much more revenue and an increased ability for government to properly fund necessary services for the well being of all in the province.