October 22nd, 2018

We all need a ‘Vital Conversation’

By Letter to the Editor on October 10, 2018.

On Oct. 4 I was engaged in a ‘Vital Conversation’ that went well beyond the Community Foundation’s formal program for the day. Chris Hellman, co-chair of Thrive Medicine Hat, made the effort to correct one of the false assumptions I made in an earlier letter to the editor entitled “Who’s Driving the Thrive Bus?”

In that letter I hinted broadly that the Thrive leadership was heavily influenced by business interests, “which is likely the case” and that the Thrive board was comprised of local business owners. This was totally in error.

Chris patiently explained that he is the only businessperson on this board. If I had researched the Thrive website, thrivemh.ca, I could have seen that the board has representatives from nearly every area social agency, a lawyer, a school superintendent and — what is most significant to me — persons with lived experience of poverty. Regretfully, Hellman has lived unfairly with the weight of criticisms directed at Thrive’s opposition to the minimum wage hike.

I want to thank Hellman for taking the time to politely inform me. I owe him and the Thrive board, all tireless community volunteers, a sincere apology for my false characterization.

However, I still fail to understand why Thrive would blatantly oppose a provincial government strategy designed to bring relief to minimum wage earners. And, yes, I know that even minimum wage increases still do not meet the standard of a “living wage.” If providing a “secure income” is one of Thrive’s pillars, why oppose a provincial government initiative meant to improve the lot of our most needy?

Hellman shared the local and Alberta Chambers of Commerce position paper that makes the case against minimum wage increases as the only means to improve standards of living. The Chambers rightly argue that increased wages are only one of several strategies to deal with poverty. Their position was clearly known well before the province’s change was implemented. It was an advocacy position and not simply political opposition.

For Thrive to oppose the increase at this late stage fosters the perception — one that I clearly adopted — that this organization is simply anti-government. This perception may have been reinforced by the fact that only our local MP was represented on the THRIVE board. The provincial politician with a direct pipeline into government policy — and it’s not the mayor — was never invited to sit on the Thrive board. Why not?

I have been wrong before. But I know one certainty. Thrive will need all of us to make local poverty disappear. Frankly, the website alone is not enough to engage our community or to explain where their bus is heading. And political confrontation is a poor strategy to win the support that is needed.

Les Pearson

Medicine Hat

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