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Dave Lazzarino, Edmonton Sun
November 26, 2013
Child poverty can be wiped out in Alberta but not without raising taxes, experts say.
A report released Tuesday by a coalition of groups working to lower poverty rates in the province outlines some of the solutions for what they are calling an unnecessary imbalance of wealth in the province.
"Alberta as a jurisdiction collects almost $11 billion less in taxes annually compared to the next lowest province. So we have a huge surplus of funding that we can access but we're choosing not to," said Laurie Sigurdson, with the Alberta College of Social Workers and one of the report's authors.
Sigurdson referred to a 2012 promise Premier Alison Redford made to end child poverty by 2017. Though numbers have lowered by about eight per cent since 2008, she said more has to be done to reach the goal of total eradication of child poverty in the next three years.
"There's still time. We have until 2017," she said. "But really serious investment in social programming has to happen."
Numbers are compiled for the entire province, but according to John Kolkman, with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, they are worst in the capital city.
"Within the province of Alberta the highest rates of poverty, even though it does fluctuate from year to year, are within the City of Edmonton," said Kolkman.
One specific area where Alberta is lagging behind the rest of the country involves families with full-time working parents.
"In 2011, an all-time record of fifty-nine percent of children living in poverty had one or more parents working full-time for full the full year," said Sigurdson.
The report details a handful of investments that could lower poverty rates if they can be paid for including a provincial child tax benefit, increased minimum wage and implementing a living wage for government contracted services.
The cost to turn those trends around, said the report, is about $1 billion.
Kolkman said corporations and individuals who are earning more should be the ones to cover the cost.
"We're not going to apologize. How can a government that is taxing Albertans $10.6 billion less than the next lowest Canadian province plead poverty and say that there isn't money? If they're prepared to make a commitment to end child poverty in five years, we think they should be held to it," he said.
by: John Cotter, The Canadian Press
EDMONTON - The Catholic and public school boards in Edmonton want Premier Alison Redford to do more to reduce child poverty in Alberta.
Both boards have passed motions endorsing a report written by social agencies on the need for better programs to help the poor.
But the boards differ on whether they support the report's call for increasing Alberta's corporate tax rate and replacing the 10 per cent flat income tax with a progressive income tax system to help fund the changes.
The Edmonton Catholic board sent a letter to Redford dated Jan. 10 stating its position.
"I am writing to let you and the Government of Alberta know of the Board's support for the recommendations contained in the report and in particular, the recommendation for modification of Alberta's provincial tax structure in order to help end child poverty by 2017," reads the letter signed by Cindy Olsen, chairwoman of Edmonton Catholic Schools.
The Edmonton Public board passed a different motion Tuesday in support of the report prepared by the Alberta College of Social Workers, Public Interest Alberta and the Edmonton Social Planning Council.
However, some public school trustees said the letter to be sent to Redford should avoid any mention of the tax change proposals over fear of how they would be interpreted by the government.
Public board chairwoman Sarah Hoffman said she will word her letter to the premier to reflect the board's concerns.
"I think we can get this one right and make sure that we don't offend anyone, but at the same time saying something strongly around our commitment to serving the students as best we can," Hoffman said.
Called "From Words to Action," the report released in November says changes to the tax system would generate more than $1 billion per year that could be used to help pay for better child benefits, more affordable housing, full-day kindergarten for vulnerable children and better early childhood development programs.
The report estimates there were 84,000 children in the province in 2011 whose families were below the low-income poverty line.
During the 2012 provincial election campaign, Redford promised to eliminate child poverty in five years.
The report says the government actually chose to cut rather than bolster some social assistance programs in its last budget.
Olsen said members of the Catholic school board are not radicals, they just feel that child poverty has become an invisible issue.
She hopes the Catholic board's letter will focus attention on something that educators see in the classroom every day: Children who are hungry, have health problems, can't concentrate, have low socialization skills or live in inadequate housing.
How does a child learn in that kind of situation?
"The issue is that people can't see it. They don't want to see it," Olsen said in an interview.
"We have to put focus on it. We have to take action so that the government realizes how important that this actually is to Albertans - to our province and to our future."
Olsen said if the government can find the money for programs to reduce child poverty without changing the tax system, that would be great.
But she said the status quo is not acceptable because the problem of child poverty is getting worse.
Alberta's Human Services Department has not responded to the report.
Last spring, the government launched a poverty reduction review called "Together We Raise Tomorrow."
Kathy Telfer, a department spokeswoman, said the government has been seeking input from community groups and is now working on a report that will be presented to minister Manmeet Bhullar in the coming months.
Telfer said it's too soon to say if the tax change suggestions in the report will be considered or if the government will announce any new steps to reduce child poverty in its coming budget.
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by: Leah Germain
Edmonton's child poverty rate is the highest in the province according to a new report, with one in six local children living in poverty.
"It is partly because we are a little bit of a magnet, particularly we have more recent immigrants in Edmonton you tend to earn lower incomes and tend to live in poverty. We (also) have the highest aboriginal population in the province," said John Kolkman, research coordinator for Edmonton Social Planning Council.
The "From Words to Action" report found that in 2011 one in 10 children - approximately 84,000 - were living in poverty in Alberta.
"In the province of Alberta, the highest rates of child poverty, even though it does fluctuate from year to year are within the City of Edmonton," said Kolkman. The report was co-authored by Public Interest Alberta, Edmonton Social Planning Council and the Alberta College of Social Workers.