A Politician Who Apologizes??!?!
Like a lot of Canadians, I haven’t always paid a lot of attention to what’s happening politically – either in Niagara or Edmonton where I now live.
In large part, it has been the result of my being unable to relate to “old boy” thinking and an emphasis placed on economic metrics. Politics too often seemed removed from my grassroots focus and passion for delivering social impact in our communities.
But, Alison Redford, the first woman to be Premier in Alberta, has definitely ramped up my interest in politics these days, as well as garnered the attention of many others across the country who are part of the meaningful community work being done by non-profit organizations and charities.
While everyone knew Alison Redford was big on improving the quality of life for all Albertans, and a prosperous, fair, and inclusive province, no one was quite sure how that would translate to grassroots efforts.
However, last week Premier Alison Redford delivered an address to the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations that had many sitting up and taking notice.
Unfortunately, because the speech didn’t focus on the oil sands, it didn’t make headlines across the country. That’s not to say it shouldn’t have, because it certainly resonated with every staff and volunteer who cares and is worried about the quality of life being eroding in their communities.
Much as one might expect from a newly elected Premier, Redford began the speech talking in generic terms about her commitment to education and public health care, and her respect for community volunteers.
After that, things changed somewhat dramatically.
Speaking informally and seemingly off the cuff, she apologized. She apologized to representatives of the voluntary sector because in recent years government had downloaded public services for the vulnerable to community agencies without providing proper support.
Redford admitted to that being “an abrogation of government responsibility.”
Over the years, government has played a significant role in not only supporting the voluntary sector to provides services for children, youth, and families who are vulnerable, but also in reducing the gaps between rich and poor with programs such as public pensions and employment insurance.
But, as Alan Broadbent, Chair of the Maytree Foundation and the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, recently pointed out in an address to the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, ” …in recent years we’ve seen pressures to roll back some of those gains…..so, many of us have a sense that the world is changing, and particularly that our former consensus that government was there to protect us is eroding.”
Anyone, anywhere in Canada who works or volunteers for a non-profit organization would agree it is getting more and more challenging to sustain their work. Governments are getting tougher – some would call it mean-spirited, more demanding, and less generous with their support.
Things are made even more complicated because since many organizations rely on the government for grants or contracts, they are hesitant to speak out, question, or criticize the government, for fear of financial repercussions.
This trend should have every Canadian worried. Why?
Because the voluntary sector provides prenatal and palliative care and everything in between, enriches our lives with recreation and sport activities, teaches us about health issues or illness and how to fight it, runs recycling and environmental programs, organizes community festivals and celebrations, delivers services for children and seniors, guides our lives spiritually, keeps us healthy by supporting research to find cures for disease, works internationally, and builds strong, safe, and diversity-friendly neighbourhoods.
Non-profit and charitable organizations are what anchors many communities, and as such are key partners in building the quality of life for which Canada is respected around the world.
Of course, now Redford has the challenge of delivering on her promises with plans, budgets, and execution to ensure there is a greater balance between economic and social growth.
Many veteran policy wonks are hedging their bets as to whether or not she can pull it off being as she is the leader of a traditional conservative party.
But to those doubters, I want to say that Redford is ahead of the pack in terms of understanding what many other politicians have yet to figure out—sometimes you have to do the right thing even when it’s hard. I think that’s what makes it leadership.Posted on 05-20-12
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