Child poverty comes down to choices

To the Editor:

Poverty is a lack of choices.

A single mother parks her child in front of the TV to work a second shift. A family scraping together rent sends their kids to school hungry. These are not choices. They are excruciating moments.

I went into politics to help build this province, to help the Albertans who need it the most. That’s why I ran to become Premier – and that’s how our government has set its priorities.

New Statistics Canada numbers show the power of our choices. Between 2015 and 2017, child poverty in Alberta fell from 10 per cent to five. Over the same two-year period, poverty rates for children of single mothers dropped from 36 to 17.6 per cent.

These numbers should catch our attention. They tell a compelling story about priorities. When you consider the choices Alberta could have made, it’s even clearer.

Alberta’s last provincial election wasn’t called because the economy was rosy. Global oil prices collapsed in the latter half of 2014, slipping more than $30 a barrel in just a few months. By December 2014, Premier Jim Prentice warned the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce that Alberta faced a $7-billion revenue hole. Over the next 18 months oil plummeted even further, hitting a low at just under $30 a barrel.

The next election will give Albertans an even clearer choice. My opponent argues that the only way to deal with low oil prices is by refusing to keep up with Alberta’s growing population. This means increased pressure on emergency rooms, classrooms and public services that Albertans need every day.

Albertans want choices. That’s why we need to keep fighting for a stronger, more diversified economy. Instead of cutting frontline services to balance budgets a year or two earlier, we can choose to keep investing in affordable housing and long-term care beds. Instead of delaying construction of schools and bridges, we can build and hire. This isn’t just how we fight poverty. It’s how we plot a course for the future.

Choosing austerity will only make things worse. I watched the aftermath of the 2008 global economic meltdown. Child poverty rates soared to 15 per cent in Alberta. As non-profits will tell you, that crisis was keenly felt at food banks, in shelters and at community agencies. Donations dried up. Despite an abundance of need, charities had few choices about who they could help.

When people need help, a government that steps back instead of stepping up is failing people.

We refused to make that choice. In the fall of 2015, we introduced the Alberta Child Benefit, which helped nearly 135,000 families last year with credits of up to $2,820. We boosted the Alberta Family Employment Tax Credit, helping 185,000 low-income families with a credit of up to $2,064. In hard times, these decisions have given families on the edge a little bit of breathing room.

We didn’t stop there. We provided daily lunches and snacks to 30,000 kids in schools across the province. We capped electricity rates. We brought in consumer protections from pay-day loans. We increased minimum wage, which had long been the lowest in Canada.

The new Statistics Canada figures show that our strategy is working. They’re more than just stats. Cutting child poverty in half means 44,000 fewer children are going to school with an empty stomach, living in overcrowded or unsafe settings, or having to make do without basic necessities.

It’s a testament to all Albertans that our province could cut poverty in the midst of the biggest recession in a generation. It is clear evidence that we can choose a path forward that is guided by an insistence that we’ve got each other’s back.

If we stay on this path, Alberta’s best won’t be in the nostalgic past, but in an optimistic and hopeful future.

I’m fighting for that future – and I’m not willing to take away choices to get there.

Rachel Notley
Premier of Alberta

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