With Alison Redford’s big re-election as Alberta premier last week, Alberta will now join the ranks of provinces with a comprehensive poverty reduction plan. This will leave BC and Saskatchewan as the only jurisdictions in Canada without a provincial or territorial plan.
The Alberta plan may prove to be the most ambitious to date. On April 11th, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives issued a news release that read:
“A Progressive Conservative government is committed to strengthening supports for Albertans in their time of need. Our Plan for Poverty Reduction will focus on a 5-year plan to eliminate child poverty and a 10- year plan to reduce poverty. ‘This community-led initiative will result in equality of access to the economy, better health for the impoverished in our community, stronger families, safer communities and increased civic participation,’ says Premier Alison Redford. ‘The reason I created the Human Services Ministry was to bring all elements of social policy together under one ministry, which makes it possible to create a comprehensive model that will support our most vulnerable citizens.’”
One can’t help but compare and contrast this development with the situation in BC. Both Alison Redford and Christy Clark face a significant challenge from the political right (in the form of the Wildrose Party and BC Conservatives respectively). Christy Clark has been very consciously playing to her right flank, trying to win back conservative voters. She has not been publicly criticizing Conservative party policy, but rather, her mantra has been that “free market” supporters should not split the vote. One consequence of this strategy is that she stubbornly refuses to develop a provincial-level poverty reduction plan, despite a widespread desire for such action.
In contrast, Alison Redford sought to differentiate her party from Wildrose, and to carve out space in the political middle. The electoral promise to bring in a poverty reduction plan was one clear example of this strategy. In the end, it served her very well.
Notably, BC has recently announced that nine municipalities will pilot the development of community-level poverty reduction plans. As Trish Garner (coordinator of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition) and health policy researcher Stephen Elliott-Buckley explain in an opinion piece here, this new approach contains a few positive elements, but it is a far cry from an actual plan. With no new policies or money, its impact will be marginal at best.
And so, for now, BC, despite having the highest poverty rates in the country, remains a holdout in developing a comprehensive response.