Alberta and UN Sustainable Development Goal #1: End Poverty

Alberta Poverty SDG #1

In this series of articles I will attempt to present a portrait of Alberta’s performance with respect to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The first UN SDG is to eliminate Poverty. On an international level the UN’s goal is to: By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day.’ Of course there are presumably no Albertans earning $1.25 a day or less!

A more meaningful and relevant goals of the UN that would apply to Alberta is a) By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions and b) “By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.

According to these goals, Alberta might pursue the goal of ensuring all Albertans earn a living wage (at least $15 per hour or higher depending on the city or town you live in). I’ve estimated that roughly 32% of Albertans were not earning a living wage in 2014. A living wage (unlike a minimum wage) is the amount of income a family needs to bring home based on the actual costs of living in a specific community. Current estimates of living wages for Calgary are $18.15 per hour, $16.31 per hour in Edmonton and $13.65 per hour in Medicine Hat.

Major Alberta cities including Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat have set lofty goals for eliminating poverty. EndPoverty Edmonton set an ambitious goal of eliminating poverty within a generation and is now in the process of attempting to ‘lift 10,000 Edmontonians’ out of poverty. But what does this really mean? Does it suggest that 10,000 Edmontonians now living below a living wage and spending more than 30% of their household income on housing will enjoy a living wage or better in 5-years time?

When we look at ‘poverty’ statistics over time for Alberta, we seem to be making good progress? Using Statistics Canada’s data on the number (%) low-income (after-tax) Alberta households who lack sufficient income for what might be considered a decent life the following graph shows that Alberta’s unofficial ‘poverty rate’ has been declining since 1993, the last time Alberta’s economy was in the oil economy doldrums. The percentage of low-income Albertans in 2011 was 8.2% compared to the Canadian average of 12.6%. Statistics Canada has not updated the low-income statistics since 2011 but we might expect to see a rise in the percentage of Alberta households that have slipped into impoverished financial conditions.

Alberta Poverty SDG #1

Poverty is more than simply lack of sufficient income but includes lack of other personal life assets including financial literacy as well as negative impacts such as mental health, depression, anxiety as well as the impacts of domestic violence and physical, mental and psychological abuse that has impacted so many Albertans.

Poverty may never be fully eliminated, however, we can do our best to ensure our friends, neighbours and employees earn a fair and living wage and receive the compassion to overcome some of the other life challenges that are at the root of poverty.

Income inequality in Alberta, measured by the Gini Coefficient, has been rising steadily since the early 1980s and reached an all-time high in 2015 (see graph). Income inequality has risen in relative proportion to Alberta’s GDP per capita. This suggests that wealthier households in Alberta are doing better than lower income households.

Alberta Gini Coefficient and GDP











The Canadian Index of Well-being has developed an alignment of the Canadian well-being indicators, both objective (from statistics) and subjective (from a community well-being survey) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The following image shows which indicators could be used to track Canada’s and Alberta’s progress towards these goals.

UN SDG #1 End Poverty and CIW


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Alberta’s Progress Towards UN Sustainable Development Goal #2 (End Hunger)

In this series of articles I will present a portrait of Alberta’s performance with respect to the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The UN SDG #2 is to achieve zero hunger. On an international level the UN’s goal is to: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. Alberta is not a province which experiences hunger or malnutrition as some developing countries.

One of the sub-goals relevant to Alberta that By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.

According to provincial food security statistics, an estimated 11.5% of Albertans (the lowest rate in Canada) experience have inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints, the lowest in Canada.

UN SDG # 2 Zero Hunger

There are still too many people using food banks in Alberta despite having one of the highest average household income levels in Canada. According to the Alberta Food Bank Association food bank usage across all 84 provincial food banks increased with usage doubling in the past two years (since 2014). In Alberta, food bank usage climbed by 18 percent to a record number of clients in 2016 reaching 79,293 people who accessed Alberta’s food banks in March, 2016. That is the largest number of people to visit food banks in this province in the 35- year history of food banks.It has been eight years since the provincial low point of 33,837 individuals served in 2008.

Roughly 25% of Albertans who accessed a hamper program in 2016 were employed.

Food insecurity has a lot to do with financial constraints: not earning a sufficient income to pay for affordable housing and food. As per the first article, roughly 32% of Albertans were not earning a living wage (about $15/hour) in 2014. This number has likely increased over the past 3 years with a sluggish economy. Yet, median household income in Alberta has grown 21.6% between 2005 and 2015, reaching $93,835 median household income, according to the 2016 Census by Statistics Canada. Despite having the highest household income amongst the major provinces, too many Albertans do not earn a living wage, that is, the amount of income a family needs to bring home based on the actual costs of living in a specific community Alberta. In 2015, living wages are estimated at $18.15 per hour in Calgary, $16.31 per hour in Edmonton and $13.65 per hour in Medicine Hat.

The Canadian Index of Well-being suggests a number of other indicators that can be used to measure Canada’s (and provincial) progress towards Goal #2 to End Hunger (see diagram).

CIW and UN SDG #2 End Hunger

Alberta’s Ecological Footprint was calculated in 2011 by my associate Jeff Wilson and I for Alberta Environment showing that the average Albertans consumed about 8.8 hectares of land per person to sustain our lifestyles in 2005. The Ecological Footprint is a measure of how much land and sea space each person needs to support their current economic life including land for food, energy, transportation, housing, and other services (see following diagram). The Ecological Footprint is calculated based on annual household expenditures on food, shelter, transportation, energy (heating, electricity), clothing, and other goods and services. As a rule, the Ecological Footprint goes up with rising expenditures and is generally correlated with household income; poorer households tend to have a relatively smaller Ecological Footprint requiring less land to meet their needs.

Alberta Ecological Footprint 2005
Source: Anielski Management Inc. 2011. Alberta Ecological Footprint Report: Measuring the Sustainability of Alberta’s Progress – Report I –Ecological Footprint Accounts. Prepared by Jeff Wilson and Mark Anielski

The following figure shows the trends in Alberta’s per capita Ecological Footprint from 1961 to 2005.

Alberta Ecological Footprint 1960-2005

Source: Anielski Management Inc. 2011. Alberta Ecological Footprint Report: Measuring the Sustainability of Alberta’s Progress – Report I –Ecological Footprint Accounts. Prepared by Jeff Wilson and Mark Anielski
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Habitat for Humanity: Building Equity, Well-being and Interest-free Mortgage Living

Jimmy Carter and RosalynJuly 9, 2017 (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)

I’m a big fan of Habitat for Humanity.

In my view, they are the only genuine affordable housing program which provides the benefit of zero-interest mortgage, mortgage payments that never exceed 25% of a low-income household’s income and builds hope and improves well-being of those families most in need. The Habitat model is remarkable as it combines the benefits of 500 hours of sweat-equity of the low-income families, volunteer labor, building materials, financial donations donations, and government affordable housing grant money into a interest-free home equity mortgage for the households most in need because of their low-income conditions (i.e. poverty). No interest is charged on the mortgage saving a low-income household thousands of dollars over time and making more disposable income available to them. The economic benefit to these families is that effectively enjoy the equivalent of a living wage thus solving one the key poverty issues: the lack of sufficient disposable income to live a good life. Habitat has figured out a way to architect a mortgage, cover its operating costs and forgo a profit providing not only low-income households but all of society with a measurable economic well-being benefit.

This week (July 9-14, 2017) former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn Carter are here in Edmonton to help build 75 new homes in Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan and Fort McMurray for low-income families in the space of one-short week. This is part of the Carter Build project that will see 150 new affordable homes built in Alberta and Winnipeg in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Continue reading

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What happened to our investment in the Great Canadian Oilsands? Now Suncor?

Great Canadian Oil SandsThere is talk today about the future of Suncor and who should own Suncor shares, as shares are trading at $42.28 today (February 9, 2017), exceeding the $40/share highs of November 4, 2015, with dividend yields of 3.04%. As oil companies grapple with the downturn in oil prices (languishing just above $50/bbl), slashing spending, cutting thousands of jobs and delaying around $200 billion in mega-projects around the world, I believe NOW is the time to pause and remember the historical development of Alberta’s own Suncor going back to 1962 when Ernst Manning was premier of Alberta. Continue reading

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Alberta is on its way to create a resilient economy


Saturday, January 8, 2017

Good news for oil and gas rich Alberta. Having abundant, inexpensive and environmentally friendly energy will make any economy, future-proof, resilient and will be the foundation for well being of society for a long time.

While it is expensive at first, renewable energy generates electricity that has no cost of fuel, and with time will become the least expensive energy available. Even today, in jurisdictions with significant renewable energy, electricity cost dips close to zero at various times of the day when the sun is shining and/or wind is blowing, just look at Texas. The reality is that power over-generation is a curse when you have to pay for fuel and create emissions and air pollution. On the other hand, over-generation from renewables is a blessing to the economy as the cost of energy goes to zero. While dropping energy cost is bad news for traditional energy providers and distributors, make no mistake, it is very good news for the whole economy.

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