Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith apologized today for comment and a retweet she made on Twitter suggesting that E.coli tainted beef from the XL Foods meat packing plant in Brooks be fed to “the hungry.”
Many of Ms. Smith’s critics compared her ‘let them eat tainted beef’ attitude to former Premier Ralph Klein‘s unfortunate late night visit to a homeless shelter in 2001. While Ms. Smith’s comments were awkward and misinformed, I do not believe they were meant to be malicious. It is a shame that so much meat from the XL Foods plant was contaminated with E.coli and that it needs to be disposed of.
It did not take long for Ms. Smith to apologize for her comments, likely hoping the comments would not derail her caucus’ first opportunity to criticize government ministers in the fall Legislative session beginning today in Edmonton.
During this year’s provincial election campaign, Ms. Smith spent some time at Calgary’s Mustard Seed Shelter helping prepare supper, and now in her role as official opposition leader and self-appointed cities critic, she could benefit from exposing herself to Alberta’s less fortunate.
Last week, hundreds of Edmontonians (including myself) volunteered to enumerate our city’s homeless population in the biennial homeless count. Also held last weekend was the biannual Homeless Connect event at the Shaw Conference Centre, which helps provide free services to our city’s homeless population.
In 2010, the Homeless Count showed a decrease for the first time since the count began in 1999, dropping to 2421 from the 3079 counted in 2008. While the downward trend from 2008 to 2010 was positive news, the count also identified startling racial inequality in our cities, with 38% of Edmonton’s homeless population as being identified as having of Aboriginal heritage.
Since 2009, thousands of Albertans have been housed as a result of Housing First programs, coordinated by not-for-profit organizations in cities across the province, like Homeward Trust Edmonton and the Calgary Homeless Foundation in Alberta’s two largest cities. Housing First is a key strategy of provincial and municipal plans to end homelessness in Alberta.
Looking beyond homelessness to the issue of poverty in Alberta, Premier Alison Redford announced the creation of a ten-year plan for poverty reduction that would also include a five-year plan to eliminate child poverty. While Alberta is an affluent province with a strong economy, a report published by the Edmonton Social Planning Council in 2011 showed the number of children living in poverty in Alberta grew dramatically from 53,000 to 73,000 between 2008 to 2009.
Any plan to end poverty is ambitious, but it is not unrealistic considering the positive steps already taken by the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
A frequent volunteer at Edmonton’s Homeless Connect is Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont Member of Parliament Mike Lake, who greets each and every guest who shows up to access the services provided at the day-long event. I cannot speak for Mr. Lake, but as a nice guy and a conservative politician, I am sure that he would he happy to show Ms. Smith the ropes at next Spring’s Homeless Connect if she would like to volunteer.