by Karen Ball
Investments that benefit the economy and those that benefit the community are not interchangeable - they are both required to create a prosperous province. Many of our greatest social challenges such as addiction, racism, and issues related to mental health cannot be solved by simply “getting Albertans back to work”. For Alberta’s economy to recover we must invest in both community recovery and economic recovery. They are interdependent, reinforce each other, and the strength of each relies on both being equally valued.
As I read through this year’s 2022 budget and business plans, I am struck by a substantial shift in language from 2021 – a shift in community-facing Ministries from centring community towards centring the economy. Let me give you a few notable examples from the Ministry of Community and Social Services which added participation in the workforce into its mandate which now reads: “The Ministry of Community and Social Services provides a social safety net to support Albertans’ participation and inclusion in their communities and Alberta’s workforce through the delivery of high-quality social programs”. Also newly included are a couple of statements that shift the benefit from Albertans to the economy. Statements such as “A continued focus on helping unemployed Albertans and people with disabilities or other barriers to employment find meaningful work will benefit the economy while making Community and Social Services programs more sustainable.” And “While the pandemic has created several challenges for the economy, through collaboration with our partners, we will make opportunities available for more Albertans to participate in Alberta’s recovery”. Although the language of “ensuring families and communities will recover, grow and thrive” remains within the mandate statement, this new mandate introduces the economy as another priority area for this Ministry to help grow and thrive, under what can be best described as a hold-the-line maintenance budget.
I don’t dispute that economic recovery programs are needed, I don’t dispute that having a job is a contribution to society, but I strongly question why we need to focus Community and Social Services’ mandate towards serving the economy at this time. Particularly when our community and social support system have been deeply damaged by the pandemic and need real investment to protect the social safety nets provided by the government and nonprofit partners. We know inflation is rising, we know need is growing, we know many community-serving nonprofits will have to close their doors due to diminishing supports, and we know that just getting people back to work will not be enough to respond to all the needs of Alberta families and communities.
I have lived in places where there are strong job opportunities and limited community services. They are not places where people put down roots, they are not prosperous, and they are not the communities Albertans deserve.
About the author: Karen Ball
Karen has been a thought leader and collaborator in key cultural planning initiatives in Alberta over the last 20+ years, including leading multi-stakeholder consultation for the potential 2026 Olympic and Paralympic bid; the creation of the City of Calgary’s Culture Plan; and as part of the Premier’s Council for Culture to advance Alberta’s cultural prosperity and contribution to Canada 150. Karen also served on CCVO’s Board of Directors until 2019. Her work focuses on innovative communities and systems to support healthy nonprofit operations, capital development, and place-making, providing expertise to organizations wishing to build deep and meaningful connections with their communities of stakeholders and supporters. Karen currently serves as the President & CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, a charitable organization that promotes and strengthens the nonprofit sector by developing and sharing resources and knowledge, building connections, leading collaborative work, and giving voice to critical issues affecting the sector.
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