Lethbridge-West candidates speak on non-profit issues

·5 min read

As the provincial election looms ever closer, concerns about funding and support take centre stage for members of the non-profit community.

Two candidates in the Lethbridge-West riding answered questions about the not-for-profit industry in Alberta during an event at the Galt Museum and Archives on Thursday.

Volunteer Lethbridge hosted the event in collaboration with the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO).

The largest problems facing the non-profit industry, according to CCVO, are a lack of funding as demand rises and the slow recovery of staffing shortages from the COVID pandemic.

Alexa Briggs, director of policy and research with CCVO, says the government should create a plan to add addition funding to the non-profit sector.

“We’re asking for a total of $300 million, $100 million each year for three years. We’re looking to address the impacts of inflation, the growing stress on community needs and opportunities for organizations to be able to innovate,” said Briggs.

She says a more concentrated workforce strategy from the government is also required since the industry is still feeling the after-effects of the pandemic.

“We heard a lot about retention and recruitment issues and so we would like a strategic plan to be able to build and attract the workforce that we need to fill the thousands of vacancies,” said Briggs.

Both the UCP’s Cheryl Seaborn and the NDP’s Shannon Phillips were at this event, though no other candidate from the Lethbridge-West riding was present.

Seaborn says the impact of the non-profit sector in Alberta is immense, with a massive workforce and far-reaching effects.

“Non-profits employ nearly 300,000 Albertans and make a difference in the lives of countless others,” said Seaborn.

She says issues surrounding excessive bureaucracy are a significant point of blame for the problems plaguing the non-profit sector, though the government still needs to be available when needed.

“The non-profit sector needs to be able to share challenges, successes and opportunities in partnership with the Government of Alberta, cutting red tape and empowering our not-for-profit organizations,” said Seaborn.

Meanwhile, Phillips says there are currently big problems with pension programs within the non-profit sector, something she says her party will change.

“There are things, very practical, low-cost things that the Government of Alberta can do to help non-profits deliver either a better-defined benefit, or a certainly a better-defined contribution,” said Phillips.

The incumbent MLA says the NDP also plans to investigate the idea of creating longer-term contracts with non-profit organizations to ensure stable and committed growth.

However, she says it should be examined on a case-by-case basis.

“I think for some places and in some contexts, longer contracts make sense,” said Phillips.

For the UCP, Seaborn says collaboration is the focus for her as an MLA, since it would provide Lethbridge-based non-profits a voice in Edmonton.

She says collaboration between the provincial government and non-profit organizations is crucial to creating a more effective industry.

“Collaboration is key to addressing the complex challenges facing our community,” said Seaborn.

However, Phillips says more needs to be done than the current government has provided.

She says her party understands the challenges facing the non-profit sector following the ever-increasing rise of inflation.

“There must be a commitment to ensuring that budgets keep pace with the explosion in the cost of living and the difficulty in attracting and retaining workers,” said Phillips.

Furthermore, she says mental health must also be considered when adding new employees into the workforce.

“We do need to ensure that any investments we make are paired with mental health supports,” said Phillips.

For example, she says every police officer recruited will also see a new mental health worker hired.

“When we hire 150 new law enforcement officers to replace some of the cuts of the last four years, they are paired with 150 mental health support workers at the same time,” said Phillips.

Meanwhile, Seaborn says the UCP understands the necessity of a strong economy before dabbling in other ventures.

“We have to have a strong economy and that’s just the reality to support all of our public services that we offer,” said Seaborn.

She says she understands the difficulty the non-profit sector faces though, knowing firsthand what problems arise when collaboration is not met.

“Having worked for a large organization myself, as a registered nurse, I often saw the separation of services provided to individuals,” said Seaborn.

Keeping with her theme of teamwork, Seaborn says every organization, whether non-profit or government, need to simply understand one another.

“I think that through encouraging greater collaboration between non-profit organizations, government agencies and the private sector, we can pool our resources and expertise to develop more effective, efficient and holistic solutions,” said Seaborn.

Phillips says her experience over the past eight years in office give her the best understanding of the needs in the non-profit sector.

“I’ve been the finance critic for the last four years which I think gave me a birds eye view of the whole of government … as finance critic, I have been able to engage with a broad swathe of non-profits,” said Phillips.

The election will be held on May 29, with advanced voting occurring from May 23-27 at various polling stations throughout the city.

Justin Sibbet, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald