Edmonton aspires to eliminate poverty within a generation

More than 100,000 Edmontonians live in poverty – that’s 1 out of every 8 residents. Nearly 30% of those who live in poverty are children. Thousands of Edmontonians are unable to fulfill their true potential in life due to poverty. Furthermore, the cost of poverty to Albertans is estimated to be between $7.1 and $9.5 billion each year. We cannot continue trying to simply manage poverty – we need to invest in ending and preventing it. Can we eliminate poverty in Edmonton within a generation? I think we can.

Poverty Elimination Steering Committee

Over the last year, I’ve been a member of the Poverty Elimination Steering Committee, led by Councillors Henderson and Sohi and the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region. Made up of 26 members, our committee was established in 2012 and initially aligned its work with the United Way’s “Pathways out of Poverty” initiative, as well as the Province’s Poverty Reduction Strategy. The committee’s summary report was presented to City Council on March 3:

“The cost of not responding to poverty now will have enduring intergenerational effects on individuals, families and society. Investing in eliminating poverty today is creating a better future for all Edmontonians. We can end poverty in Edmonton in a generation and build a truly inclusive and vibrant city where prosperity is shared by all. A new conversation along with dynamic and nimble partnerships will bring us successfully to this goal.”

Shifting our approach from charity to investment and transforming the public conversation accordingly were key motives behind our work. I was happy to be able to contribute in a number of ways, including building the website and making poverty a key issue for candidates to consider during last year’s municipal election. Most of all, I was grateful for the opportunity to learn so much about this complex issue from some of the local leaders I most respect and admire.

Over the last couple of months it became clear that a Mayor’s Task Force would be established, so the committee shifted its efforts to identify focus areas for action. Based on community engagement sessions, research conducted, and other input, we identified five areas for the new task force to consider.

“These five Focus Areas for Action are all critical and strategic opportunity areas to advance real change and progress as Edmonton shifts the conversation from one of band aid solutions to comprehensive long-term change towards ending poverty. It is important to note that each focus area is related to, and dependent on, the other. None can be tackled in isolation, and it is essential to avoid creating new silos.”

focus areas for action

All of these areas are important, but I’m particularly interested in transportation. It was eye-opening to see how significant a barrier it can be during the poverty simulation I participated in. I was also surprised to learn throughout my time on the committee that for an increasing number of Albertans, transportation accounts for the greatest portion of monthly expenses, even more than housing. City Council is already very focused on transit and transportation in the city, and I hope they’ll seriously consider the impact of their decisions on poverty as they progress that work.

Our last committee meeting took place a few weeks ago, to finalize the report and prepare to pass the baton to the new task force.

Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty in Edmonton

City Council passed Bylaw 16765 establishing the “Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty in Edmonton” at its March 12 meeting. In his comments about the initiative, Mayor Iveson said:

“I think we are unafraid to dream of a more inclusive Edmonton and though it will take time and a shift in our thinking I really think Edmonton is perhaps one of the best places to show leadership on this, because we are the kind of city that can bring together business, academic experts, people in civil society and leadership, non-governmental organizations, faith communities; that is the Make Something Edmonton piece of this. We can rally the whole community around this the way we have around other complex challenges.”

If you get a chance, listen to the comments Council made about the initiative. Councillor Walters shared a personal story about poverty and talked about how important it is to help all Edmontonians reach their potential. Councillor Henderson and others also spoke passionately about the importance of the work.

The task force’s mandate is to prepare and present to City Council a report on poverty in Edmonton which includes:

  • information on the nature, extent, and causes of poverty within the Edmonton region;
  • a concrete plan for eliminating poverty in Edmonton within a generation;
  • recommendations to Council on how to implement the plan.

The volunteer members of the task force are:

  • Bishop Jane Alexander
  • Justin Archer
  • Jeffrey Bisanz
  • Kate Chisholm
  • Yvonne Chiu
  • Joseph Doucet
  • Sarah Eadie
  • Dr. Louis Francescutti
  • Mark Holmgren
  • Sandra Huculak
  • Eugene Ip
  • Tiffany Linke-Boyko
  • Maria Mayan
  • Carman McNary
  • Janice Melnychuk
  • Zahra Somani

There is also one spot reserved for an aboriginal member (to be selected by Aboriginal Round Table), one spot for a provincial government representative, and one spot for a federal government representative. Councillors Henderson and Sohi will still be involved, and of course Mayor Iveson will co-chair along with Jane Alexander. Additionally, the task force will have the ability to engage others via working groups.

By September, the task force will bring a report back to Council “providing possible amendments to include in the bylaw regarding definitions for ‘poverty’ and ‘generation’.” The bylaw states that the task force will fulfill its mandate by providing its report to Council on or before December 31, 2015.

What’s next?

Just three of the task force members (Yvonne, Mark, and Janice) were also on our Poverty Elimination Steering Committee. I point that out only to express a hope that the task force doesn’t end up repeating work that we’ve already done (in many ways, the committee was repeating work done by other organizations over the years). What’s needed is ownership and action, not more research and report writing. The bylaw does explicity state that “the task force will continue the work of the Edmonton Poverty Elimination Steering Committee” so I’m hopeful that will be the case.

On Thursday, March 20, dozens of Edmontonians will come together at the Shaw Conference Centre for the Mayor’s Symposium on Poverty. It’s an opportunity to review previous work and discuss next steps. I’m looking forward to meeting the members of the new task force and contributing to the direction it will go.

The work to eliminate poverty in Edmonton will not be easy nor will it be quick, but it is important. I want to end with this passage from our committee’s final report:

“We need to shift our focus from charity to investment, from poverty alleviation to poverty elimination, recognizing that social infrastructure is as important as physical infrastructure. We have to be people centred and place-based, seeking made in Edmonton solutions involving Edmontonians.”

Our goal is to end poverty in Edmonton within a generation. How can you help?

  • Tammy Horne

    Mack – is this symposium open to the public, and is registration required? All I’ve been able to find (from your link) is location and time.
    Thanks
    Tammy

    • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

      I believe the symposium is invite-only, so not open to the public. Sorry!

  • Justin Archer

    Great post Mack. I’m very excited and honoured to be working on this task force. I echo your thoughts that duplication of studies is not what this needs to be. Would love to hear from you and others on where this should go. We haven’t had our first meeting yet so I’m sure there’s lots of info to come, and it will be important to communicate with the public about what is happening with this initiative.

  • Graham Hicks

    Mack – How is “poverty” defined these days in hard numbers, i.e. for a family of four, is it $30,000 a year or less? I don’t like all this talk about “eliminating” poverty when we don’t have a clear understanding of what “poverty” means.

    • http://blog.mastermaq.ca Mack D. Male

      There are some well-defined measures such as LICO (low income cut-off) and LIM (low income measure) but I think there’s also a recognition that our definition of poverty should be about more than simply income.

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