Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Premier Stelmach - Alberta Has a Social Infrastructure Deficit Too!

The plight of children under the care of the Government of Alberta is now front page news. It is part of the continuing saga of the social infrastructure deficit in the province that is impacting children, seniors, and those with developmental disabilities, amongst others.

We created an obvious capital and environmental infrastructure deficit in Alberta that is now being addressed with new capital investments and an emerging awareness about reclamation, wetlands, climate change and biodiversity issues, to name a few.

We caused these deficits by paying off the debt and deficit too fast. We applied every loose nickel to debt and deficit and ignored the growth demands of the booming economy as well as the maintenance issues of the as-built infrastructure facilities. We deferred the need to address the environmental implications of our overheated, expanding and accelerating economy as well.

The social infrastructure deficit was caused by the same rush to repayment but it was hidden because those who are harmed by it are the most vulnerable in our society and their over-extended advocates. It was too easy to ignore and the powers that be did!

The last two years has seen more attention being paid to the damage caused to vulnerable Albertans by this neglect – or at least the lack of timely, appropriate and required attention by the powers that be. Recruitment of staff into the Alberta social services sector has been a major challenge because wages, benefits and working conditions are so bad that people rationally take other jobs.

Full disclosure, I am working with the social service sector in the area of supports for Albertans with developmental disabilities. That is a bias but it also provides me with knowledge and facts about the plight of these people and those who support them. I know what I am talking about.

The social infrastructure deficit has been ignored and deferred for far too long. People are being unnecessarily and irreparably harmed as a result. Premier Stelmach needs to get personally engaged in responding to the social infrastructure deficit and investigate what happened and what is happening and then get it fixed.

The first place to start is to start paying the staff who are working in the not-for-profit community based social services sector the same as the unionized provincial employees are paid for doing the same work. Stabilizing the workforce in the sector then enabling the recruitment ands retention of trained staff is foundational to solving the problems of the social infrastructure deficit.

If the social infrastructure deficit is not fixed than Premier Stelmach better stop telling people that Alberta is a “great place to live, work, invest and raise a family.” It is not true for too many Albertans who are at-risk and vulnerable.