By Douglas Roche, Edmonton Journal July 10, 2015

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Why do more than 100,000 Edmontonians still live in poverty, about 30 per cent of them children? Why do 143,200 children in Alberta — 16.2 per cent — live below the low-income measure? Why, in the years 1982-2011, did the top one per cent of tax filers get a 65-per-cent increase in their after-tax incomes while the bottom 99 per cent got only a 5.5-per-cent increase?

These statistics come from the Edmonton Social Planning Council, which, in its 75 years, has built a reputation for accurate assessments of the quality of life in Edmonton.

The council states in its latest report, No Change: After 25 years of Promises, It Is Time to Eliminate Child Poverty, continuing child poverty is directly related to the systemic issues that create barriers affecting women, immigrants, aboriginal peoples and people with health issues. The poor do not seem to have been a priority with the Alberta government.

But the old government is gone, and a new political era has begun. Doubtless, Premier Rachel Notley has a very full plate. Many well-off individuals may initially protest the moment she moves, through taxation changes or other measures, to make Alberta a more equitable place. Nonetheless, this is the moment to remind our new government that children’s well-being must become a priority.

I believe Notley and her government will want a fairer society, but market, credit ratings and other structural demands to maintain a “steady course” will weigh heavily on the new decision-makers. She cannot afford to lower investment confidence in the energy and construction sectors by precipitate action to cure fiscal imbalances. She must proceed in a careful manner and head off any spurious charges that, by diverting economic resources to the poor, she is waging “class warfare” against the rich.

Considerable education of the public is required to ensure there is a common understanding of the common good, and a fair society for all. This is a huge challenge.

This new moment in Alberta will coincide with an unprecedented new program, the Sustainable Development Goals, a complex intertwining of economic and social projects, now getting underway at the United Nations. Many will be familiar with the Millennium Development Goals, a global partnership for development begun in 2000, which set 15-year targets on aid, trade, debt relief and improved access to essential medicine and new technologies.

Civil society organizations, the private sector, philanthropic organizations and international organizations were enlisted to expand government efforts to achieve eight goals. These included halving the rate of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, the empowerment of women, reduced childhood mortality, improved maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and environmental sustainability.

Its success in mobilizing diverse sectors in addressing universal poverty has led the UN to attempt its most ambitious project yet. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set to expire in 2015, another plan was organized to take the development process to 2030.

Secretary-General Ban’s document, The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, reveals the scope of the new Sustainable Development Goals he has presented to world leaders. To cope with an increasingly aging, urbanized population expected to jump from the present seven billion to nine billion by 2050, Ban wants no less than a universal agenda for a shared future, one that is people-centred and planet-sensitive.

“We now know that extreme poverty can be eradicated within one more generation,” he said. “The MDGs have greatly contributed to this progress, and have taught us how governments, business, and civil society can work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs.”

At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals is the belief that no society can reach its full potential without including the voices of women, youth and minorities, indigenous people, the aged and disabled, and migrants and refugees.

The ideas underlying the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are applicable in Alberta. Given we have a new government, now is the time to implement them.

These universal ideas speak to the common good. Modern economists no longer speak of the government and business or the government and civil society; they speak in terms of new partnerships for strengthened human development. Business and civil society together form the bedrock of good governance. The genius of the Sustainable Development Goals is to engage the private sector to invest in human development in the knowledge that governments will maintain political stability on the ground.

By building new partnerships among diverse sectors, Notley and her colleagues can build a truly inclusive new Alberta society.

This is an adaptation of former senator Douglas Roche’s address to the 75th anniversary meeting of the Edmonton Social Planning Council on May 21. Roche is a former senator, Canadian Ambassador for Disarmament and chairman of the UN Committee on Disarmament.

The City of Edmonton Youth Council and the Youth Project on Poverty/John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, both led by Arts alumni, were honoured by the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC)

By Donna McKinnon on May 27, 2015

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The City of Edmonton Youth Council and the Youth Project on Poverty/John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights, both led by Arts alumni, were honoured by the Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC) during their annual general meeting last week at the Edmonton Public Library. In recognition of their work addressing gay-straight alliances in schools, homelessness and poverty, the two youth groups were this year’s recipients of the ESPC Award of Merit for Advocacy of Social Justice.

The ESPC Award recognizes forward-looking and courageous individuals and groups that, in the face of controversy, seek social justice for a defined group or for the whole community. “The ESPC Board wanted to recognize the advocacy work of youth in Edmonton during our 75th anniversary year, as a way to focus on the future,” said Erin LaRocque, an ESPC board member and selection committee member.

Third year political science student Claire Edwards is chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council (CEYC), a committee made up of young people between the ages of 13 to 23 who provide feedback and input to City Council. “Our goal is to empower youth in municipal politics,” says Edwards. The group works on projects that deal with issues important to youth, focusing on education, advocacy, and direct, meaningful experiences with the processes of government. This year the CEYC created a motion to oppose Bill 10, presenting it to City Council where it was passed unanimously. In its original form, Bill 10 would have allowed Alberta school boards to reject students’ requests to form gay-straight alliances. After the CEYC advocated for support in the community and organized a public forum called We Are Listening, the Government of Alberta amended Bill 10, removing the controversial clause. The CEYC was also recognized for its participation in the documentary filmThrough My Eyes, a hard-hitting look at the realities of Edmonton’s at-risk, homeless youth.

The ESPC recognized the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights for its Youth Action Project on Poverty, which brought together young people keen on broadening their understanding of poverty in Edmonton. Faculty of Arts alumna Renée Vaugeois (’04 MA, Political Science) is Executive Director of the Centre and is an experienced human rights advocate, coordinating a number of international initiatives both at the University of Alberta and the Government of Alberta. The six-month project was led by two Aboriginal youth, who along with other participants, met weekly with social service agencies and outreach programs, conducting interviews and discussing poverty in Edmonton with a human rights focus. The group prepared a series of recommendations, which were presented to the Mayor’s Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty. City Council has since passed a motion to review bylaws and enforcement that adversely impact those experiencing poverty.

Programs Coordinator for the Centre, Maigan van der Giessen (BA ’12, Political Science), will be launching the next phase of the Youth Action Project in September 2015, building on the recommendations developed in the first phase of the project. “It’s really exciting because we will be bringing the recommendations to life. One of the things I find really powerful about this is that we are not waiting for the City or ‘adults' in our community to act. We are working to support young people in their vision to address poverty and negative attitudes towards those who experience poverty. When youth stand up and take action they are showing that they understand the interconnectedness of human rights and responsibility; collective as well as individual responsibility to not only speak out against injustice but to act, collaborate and investigate.  I am so proud of their courage and dedication to push forward on these issues