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.