August 22, 2020

There are two crucial ingredients for a shared recovery

This is a joint opinion piece with Vibrant Communities Calgary, Momentum and End Poverty Edmonton. As appeared in Calgary Herald.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all Albertans in some way or another, but it has impacted those with lower incomes or living in poverty even harder. As Alberta recovers and rebuilds, it is important to ensure that the recovery, and plans to make it effective, help to generate prosperity for all. We cannot afford to leave any Albertans behind.

As of 2018, there were approximately 316,000 Albertans living below the poverty line, or about seven per cent of the population. Of those, 60,000 are children. Early signs indicate that the economic impact of COVID-19 could send tens of thousands more Albertans who were living close to the poverty line before, below it now.

We propose that shared prosperity—prosperity for all Albertans—be the goal of our recovery. What is prosperity? Our definition is the intersection of opportunity, security and belonging. How do we achieve shared prosperity for all? As a baseline, we must ensure Alberta is welcoming and open to all who choose to make it their home. After that, the evidence is clear: the way to achieve opportunity and security is a good-paying job. We will address many of the challenges of poverty— and achieve prosperity—when more Albertans have well-paying, stable, secure jobs, supported by effective social safety measures.

Governments and businesses around the world are working to figure out how to restart economies. It will not be easy, and it will not be quick. Until a vaccine is found, our comfort to go out, travel, shop, do self-care, and eat out will be constrained, and the lower demand for jobs that support these activities will continue to disproportionately impact women. It will be imperative that business, government and the non-profit sector work together to ensure we all remain healthy and that we find ways, as small as they may seem, to try and grow demand for goods and services.

But this alone will not be enough. Our organizations, representing Alberta’s vulnerable populations and its most successful businesses, agree that there are two essential ingredients necessary for a meaningful, sustained and prosperous recovery: accessible and affordable childcare and procurement innovation that provides opportunities for Alberta businesses and entrepreneurs.

Child care is one of the most essential components of an inclusive recovery. The July report from the Canadian Child Care Federation and Muttart Foundation says the Alberta sector was “significantly more exposed” to the negative economic and social impacts of the pandemic because of a lack of direct and immediate emergency cash to childcare centres that were required by public health orders to close. Quality care environments can contribute to children’s growth and development, which in turn helps prevent intergenerational poverty. Now more than ever, easy access to care will increase a family’s capacity for gainful employment, and help prevent a “she-cession,” with women unduly impacted by loss of work and ability to re-enter the job market compared to men.

In procurement, there are immense opportunities for Alberta governments and businesses to support our home team, to create demand and buy locally. It will create jobs—and with that opportunity and security. 

We must be more purposeful about procurement than simply asking people to buy local. We should think about how we can, within appropriate trade agreement rules, provide opportunities for local firms to gain customers. Public procurement innovation was a recommendation from the Business Council of Alberta in its Framework for Prosperity submitted to the government of Alberta. The Innovation Capital Working Group report recommended to the government that, to help grow the Alberta tech sector, it should find ways to be the first and biggest customer of Alberta-based technology. Several countries in the European Union proudly work to support their local industry as part of the Procure2Innovate program, which supports local adoption and growth of technology solutions.

The City of Edmonton has adopted a social procurement policy, and Calgary has one in the works, to consider impacts and benefits to local community through their purchasing. Many of Alberta’s oil and gas companies have worked closely with Indigenous communities to support economic development and prosperity through procurement and employment agreements associated with projects in and around nation lands. We would encourage the government of Alberta, other Alberta local governments, and major private sector purchasers to adopt a social procurement policy.

Another opportunity to create jobs and opportunities for Albertans is through Community Employment Benefits. This program associated with infrastructure spending requires that percentages of projects include employment or procurement opportunities from under-represented and more marginalized populations such as new Canadians, Indigenous and persons with disabilities. As federal and provincial infrastructure dollars are announced and deployed, Community Employment Benefits should be part of that spend to maximize the impact locally and to create the pathways to prosperity for all Albertans.

As the federal government develops its economic recovery plan, and the provincial government refines its plan, childcare and procurement are two critical ingredients to sustained and meaningful recovery and prosperity. Everyone is facing the COVID-19 pandemic and its realities. Let’s find ways to ensure that everyone has the chance to emerge from it prosperously.

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