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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Positive Steps by Stelmach on the Social Infrastructure Deficit

Here is a “get tough” law and order approach that makes sense. The Alberta government announcement of taking on “…the serious problem of repeat offender” is something I applaud.

The Stelmach government has already noted that it is adding a swack of new police on the ground and focused on gang issues. Edmonton and Calgary communities are really feeling the pressure around gang violence especially but the problem is spreading to other Alberta communities too. This new repeat offender effort is a good move if the stats given are accurate, namely 15% of criminals commit 60% of the crimes. This is a focused and concentrated leverage of crucial and expensive justice system resources.

That said, not all is well in the wonderful world of law enforcement, at least judging by the Paula Simons column in today’s Edmonton Journal. There are some significant problems in processing accused people sitting in remand as the system gets them ready for trial. Simons notes 56% of all those in custody in Alberta are awaiting trial - and not convicted of any offence. The reasons (also known as the blame) for these remand delays are many and varied and very much depends on which side of the legal system you are in.

According to Paula Simons, The Justice Minister is blaming the defence lawyers who are accused of gaming the system and causing delays The defence bar is not amused saying the delays are due to a shortage of judges, courtrooms and prosecutors. The defence Bar accuse the Alberta Justice Minister of “playing politics to undermine the public confidence.” Harsh!

These "arguments" are notsurprising. The operating culture in our legal system is based on the tried, true (and sometime tired) adversarial model. So it is not a surprise this hissing would happen between the Defence Bar and the Minister.

This approach may help to fix the blame in some people’s minds but it does not fix the problem in anybody’s mind. We need to fix the problem and Premier Stelmach's showing positive signs with these safe communities announcements focusing on gangs, repeat offenders and then adding 20 more addiction treatment beds.

Justice, like so much of the public roles and responsibilities in Alberta these days, is lagging behind the demands of economic and population growth all over the province. We see this lag in spades in the community based not-for-profit agencies in social services sector who are dealing with kids, seniors and the disabled.

The social services crisis has gotten to the point where parents of developmentally disabled Albertans felt compelled to hold a rally on the Legislature steps this week. They were there to draw attention to the tragedies that result from inadequate public policy responses.

Premier Stelmach is on the right track but he needs a fast track. He needs a significant commitment of funds to fix the staffing shortfalls and resource shortcomings that have built up in the social infrastructure deficits all over Alberta. The recent moves to provide 183 new police officers, 110 new probation officers, 62 more Crown Prosecutors and more to come all represent a serious political-will commitment on the safe community and the serious crime front.

We need the most vulnerable of our citizens including kids at risk, seniors in care and the developmentally disabled in our communities to have the political-will commitment of public resources necessary to ensure they are safe, secure, cared for and can lived in dignity. The first step in solving this problem is to ensure social sector workers, who are the caregivers for these Alberta, when they work for a living can make a living. That is not the case now.

Without this effort the comment about making Alberta the best place to live, work, invests and raise a family is just a political slogan not an express of shared values and political will.