Group gathers to discuss the "Alberta (dis)Advantage"
by Erin Krekoski
February 14, 2008
Back to Main In the News Page
EDMONTON--A small but passionate group of activists, researchers,
front-line workers, and volunteers gathered in Edmonton on January 25
to discuss the inequalities that are a result of Alberta's current
economic climate. The conference, entitled the Alberta (dis)Advantage
for Families and Youth was co-hosted by the MacEwan Institute for
Research on Families and Youth and the Edmonton Social Planning Council.
The conference sought to unpack the concept of the 'Alberta Advantage,'
to exchange the province-building slogan for a narrative that more
accurately describes the effects of the current economic boom on the
lives of Albertans.
In two panel discussions, speakers from various Edmonton anti-poverty
and social justice organizations explored the disproportionate
distribution of new wealth and the rapidly rising cost of living, and
how those factors compound to marginalize vulnerable and low income
Edmontonians. Six break-out sessions allowed participants to share
their experiences of working for change.
The Tory concept of the 'Alberta Advantage' promises a favourable
business climate: low corporate taxes, a mild regulatory regime, and
ample opportunity for investment. Despite the fact that, as one speaker
noted, the political slogan has since "been purged," Alberta continues
to market itself, both within Canada and internationally, as a
destination for big business.
For conference participants however, the slogan has come to signify the
widening gap between Alberta's wealthy and Alberta's poor.
Panelist Jim Gurnett of the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers
defined the Alberta Advantage as "a prideful rejection of Ghandi's
famous statement that 'the Earth has enough for everyone's need but not
"It is an oil-drenched lie that everything is well as long as I am well."
And while for some the Alberta Advantage may mean better investments
and bigger profits, for many others it has had devastating
consequences. As the name of the conference suggests, the Alberta
"disadvantage" is perhaps a more apt slogan for a province that
neglects its citizens and allows its natural resources to be plundered.
In Alberta, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to widen,
with close to a four-fold difference in household income between the
richest and the poorest neighbourhoods in the City of Edmonton.
This 'disAdvantage' affects social groups disproportionately. "More
often than not poverty has a colour; it has an accent," noted panel
speaker Marilyn Fleger, a director of the Bissell Centre, an Edmonton
inner city anti-poverty organization. She explained that most often
lone mothers, people with disabilities, recent immigrants, single
adults without family, and urban Aboriginal residents have borne the
burden of poverty.
While average wage rates are on the incline, and earners in the upper
tax brackets are earning more than ever, the minimum wage in Alberta is
still $7 -- the lowest rate in Canada. The wage increases workers have
been able to attain are barely able to compensate for inflationwhich
averaged 5% for most of 2007. The cost of living is increasing more
rapidly than wages. While the average wage is closer to $20 per hour,
lower wage earners simply can't keep up.
The promise of lucrative employment continues to draw migrants from
across Canada and internationally. However, the reality for the many
who arrive with no plan, no contacts, and no place to live is a sad
one. "Sure, there are opportunities," Hope Hunter, director of Boyle
St. Community Services, an inner-city anti-poverty organization stated,
"but you need support and resources to take advantage of those
It is a struggle, within the non-profit sector, to help provide some of
those supports and resources. Panel speaker Heather Day, a program
coordinator with Ben Calf Robe Youth Intervention Program, described
how even full-time social agency workers are struggling to make ends
meet. Social agencies cannot recruit the staff they need and turnover
rates are higher than ever, making it even more difficult to tackle the
effects of poverty. Workers become clients, snowballing the effects of
the Alberta 'disAdvantage.'
With acute awareness of these contrasts, conference participants
declared--defiantly, passionately, and optimistically--their
intolerance for the social injustices they encounter in Canada's
'richest' province. While some asserted the importance of simply
working around government social policies that seem to hamper progress,
others emphasized the importance of participatingactivelywithin our
To outside observers, Alberta can appear to be a province of
complacency, inaction and apathy. The Alberta disAdvantage conference
shows, however, that there is also resistance, collaboration, action,
and hope. for those disadvantaged by the province's economic direction.
"We are still in a democracy, despite years of one-party rule," one
panel speaker told the conference-goers. "We have education,
motivation, research, knowledge, and examples from history of what
individuals can do... we have the opportunity to make change."
Back to Main In the News Page