Most media and political watchers are focused on today’s release of the provincial budget, but last week Human Services Minister Dave Hancock focused on the human-side of government with the release of the much anticipated ‘Social Policy Framework.’
“It’s part of taking an intelligent look at the social policy agenda,” Human Services Minister Hancock told this blogger in a recent interview. Minister Hancock described the framework’s contents as guiding principles for government decision-makers to use when making decisions that could have an impact on social policy in Alberta.
The government undertook extensive consultations before publishing the Social Policy Framework, engaging Albertans through discussions in-person and online.
“The discussion is often part of the solution,” said Minister Hancock. “We are bringing together people who haven’t necessarily been in the same room or had the chance to discuss these challenges together. The process has done that in many different ways.”
“It validates some of the other things we’ve been doing, like the Homelessness initiatives.” he said, while speaking about collaboration with already existing not-for-profit groups to effectively delivering services on the ground. Across Alberta, municipalities are working with local organizations and social agencies to accomplish the provincial government’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Critics like Calgary-Shaw Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson and Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley criticized the framework for its lack of specifics and vague wording. Ms. Notley honed in on some specific wording that she found troubling:
“The most specific elements of this document talk about the government moving away from being a service provider, moving away from being a funder, moving away from being a regulator. That says to me we’re going to see a fractured system and an increase in patchwork service delivery.” – NDP MLA Rachel Notley (Edmonton Journal, February 28, 2013)
Not surprisingly, Minister Hancock disagreed with claims that the provincial government intends to use the framework to download responsibilities. “It is not downloading or offloading but taking an intelligent look across the social agenda and saying how to we do this well together,” said Minister Hancock.
The resident policy-wonk
A self-described “policy-wonk,” Minister Hancock has become known for holding these types of broad consultation and visioning processes since he first entered cabinet in 1997. Similar broad consultations were held while he served as Minister of Advanced Education from 2004 to 2006 and Minister of Education from 2008 to 2011.
Government media releases tout that more than 31,000 Albertans participated in the Social Policy Framework consultations through in-person meetings and extensive online discussions.
Minister Hancock deserves some credit for taking some big steps in the government’s online consultation for this framework, which included online surveys, stakeholder blogs, and wikis where Albertans could provide feedback and upload their own response documents for public viewing. These types of online tools allow government’s to engage with citizens in ways that were not possible, or very difficult, only a decade ago.
Hancock on the hyper-partisan Legislature
Asked about the aggressive tone of Danielle Smith‘s Wildrose Official Opposition, Minister Hancock described last fall’s Legislative session “not a shining point for the democratic process.” Minister Hancock, who also serves as Government House Leader, said that he hopes the tone will improve in the spring sitting that began this week.
“I think the opposition will come out of it fairly quickly when they realize that the Alberta public does not connect with it,” said Minister Hancock. “I think it will get better, because I don’t think there is an inhernent value in that kind of partisanship, on either side.”