Bob McKeon


October 6, 2014

Almost two years ago I was invited to join Edmonton's Poverty Elimination Steering Committee as a faith community representative. City council established this committee to follow the example of other cities and provinces in establishing long-term, multi-sector poverty elimination initiatives that sought to address the root causes of poverty.

This Edmonton poverty initiative sought to complement and build on the success of Edmonton's 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness which had already been underway for a couple of years.

These plans to eliminate poverty and homelessness follow in a direction pointed to by Pope Francis in Evangelium Gaudium when he said "that the need to resolve the structural causes of poverty cannot be delayed . . . because society needs to be cured of a sickness which is weakening and frustrating it."


The pope insisted that "welfare projects that meet certain urgent needs should be considered merely temporary responses."

Nelson Mandela spoke similarly using the language of charity and justice: "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life."

After the last municipal election, the new mayor, Don Iveson, decided that this municipal poverty elimination work needed to have a higher profile and importance. The work of the steering committee I was serving on was brought to a close, and a new high-powered leadership group was established as a task force co-chaired by Iveson.

After five months of work, the Mayor's Task Force for the Elimination of Poverty has just reported back to city council. The vision statement in the report speaks of ending poverty in Edmonton within a generation, defined as 30 years.

This means that government commitments have to be long-term, continuing over multiple election cycles and changes in government leadership. This question of sustaining government commitments over the long term needed is being raised at the provincial level now that Jim Prentice has been sworn in as the new Alberta premier.

One positive sign is that Prentice has sent a mandate letter instructing the new minster of human services, Heather Klimchuk, to "work with communities to align solutions and outcomes around early childhood learning and development, poverty reduction and the plan to end homelessness."


However, it is not clear if Prentice will honour his predecessor's public commitment to end child poverty within five years by 2017. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the federal government to make even an initial commitment to a national poverty eradication program.

The mayor's task force update to city council contains an operational definition of poverty: "Edmontonians experience poverty when they are denied economic, social and cultural resources to have a quality of life that sustains and facilitates full and meaningful participation in the community."

It is important to note that this definition does not speak only to inadequate incomes, but it also addresses social inclusion and participation in the wider community.

When people experience poverty, they can become isolated and distant from family members, neighbours and others in the wider community. Building strong personal relational networks can be a key factor for overcoming poverty.


This understanding of poverty is important for churches and faith communities. At their best, local parishes and congregations can become catalysts for building positive relationships and a lived experience of community internally for their own members and externally between members of congregations and those in surrounding neighbourhoods.

It is not a surprise that one of the first poverty elimination recommendations going to Edmonton city council this summer is to follow Calgary's example and offer subsidized transit passes to those on low incomes.

This not only reduces costs for those on tight budgets, but helps support continuing contacts with family, faith communities, cultural events, work opportunities, social services and health care.


Eliminating poverty and homelessness in our city and province must be more than a government program. It must involve all of us.

It means seeing those experiencing poverty and homelessness as neighbours, and as contributors to the well-being of our city and province. It means building inclusive and welcoming communities in our churches and neighbourhoods, where all individuals and families can live and thrive.

(Bob McKeon: