As the new Minister of Community and Social Services (CSS), it has been an amazing learning experience to travel the province and meet hundreds of Albertans over the summer.
My passion for helping those in need goes back decades. I have dedicated my career to promoting healthy families and strong communities. In fact, when I came to Alberta I earned a Masters of Social Work, then began serving in a variety of roles in the sector including managing funding for non-profit social service agencies.
I look forward to continuing this goal of helping vulnerable Albertans because I believe the work this ministry and its community partners do to protect and support the most vulnerable among us is critical to creating a strong and inclusive province.
During our summer tour, I was fortunate to meet with many Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) groups and was able to hear direct feedback from each and every one of them.
One of my favourite stories was from Perry Robinson, who was a Sedgwick Town Councillor and attended a Flagstaff Family and Community Services FCSS meeting in January 2015 as an alternate as the regular person could not attend.
Perry didn’t really want to attend and made it clear he did not think much of the “welfare people” that FCSS helped. He adds “I did see a lot of people who abused a lot of assistance opportunities. I wasn't just a hardworking redneck who didn't care. I knew there was a need. It just took me a bit to realize that it was FCSS that was the perfect vehicle to provide that opportunity for people in real need to find actual hope in getting out of the holes they were in.”
As Perry continued to attend meetings and report back to Sedgewick Council and the community he said “It didn't take that much to convince others as I discovered that most people want to see people get the help they need, the 'hand up' rather than the 'hand out'."
I love Perry’s story and I love his passion for FCSS.
This is why we will continue to support our FCSS partners to deliver effective and sustainable programs that improve the lives of vulnerable Albertans now and into the future.
It is my long-held belief that healthy families and strong communities are the building blocks of a better Alberta. This is true whether we’re talking about mental health and addictions, disabilities, healthy relationships, homelessness or poverty. The work this ministry and its community partners do to protect and support the most vulnerable is some of the most important work Alberta’s government does, and it is critical for us to continually innovate and collaborate to help meet the needs of all Albertans.
That’s why we need an Alberta way to provide a social safety net.
Such a system which is deeply rooted in our values of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship, sense of family and community, and a can-do attitude.
Our social services system provides a social safety net for Albertans, to support them when they are vulnerable and give them the extra hands to lift them up and empower them to get back on track to their life journey for success in their own ways.
It is why I want to make transformational change for people with a disability getting into jobs that are matched with their full potential. They treat their jobs as a new life, feel a sense of contribution to society and a sense of increased self worth and pride.
During my summer tour, I’ve met with numerous employers to discuss this strategy and look forward to further engagement with stakeholders across the province.
One of the success stories I was able to hear was from Ann Auriat, who manages the Edson & District Recycling Depot in Edson, Alberta.
The Edson & District Recycling Depot is a multi-material recycling centre that strives to ensure their workforce represents persons from all walks of life and differing abilities. Each person is met where they are at and every personal success is celebrated. Employees and volunteers enjoy coming to work, evident by the smiles, laughter and the exceptional customer service they give.
EDRD believes the impact of hiring persons with differing abilities is immeasurable. When a workplace is a kind place, where respecting differences and positive communication is key, people blossom. They become their best selves. There is loyalty to the employer. The most unlikely friendships are formed. Everyone's communication skills improve – a work task is not explained to an autistic employee the same way it is explained to the employee who understands English as a second language or the person who functions at a Grade 8 level. Ann explained that "Our autistic person takes pride in remembering each employee and volunteer’s birthday, holidays and everyone's work schedules. Our physically challenged employee takes pride in keeping 'his' parking lot clean. Another insists that she be the one to take everyone's temperature in the morning to make sure "everyone is safe from Covid". Everyone is encouraged to find a task they enjoy and take ownership of it. It empowers them, shows them that they are needed, wanted and an integral part of the day-to-day operations.
EDRD's embracing of an all-inclusive environment is far-reaching and spills positively in the community. The employees and volunteers come to understand their value, sometimes for hearing it and feeling it for the first time in their life.
This is why Alberta’s government is investing in Albertans to get them back to work.
A bold investment of nearly $370 million is helping get unemployed Albertans into thousands of jobs, and protect lives and livelihoods in response to the pandemic.
The Alberta Jobs Now program reduces the costs of hiring and training unemployed Albertans for positions, encouraging employers to create jobs for Albertans as the economy recovers. This program also provides grants 1.5 times higher to employers who hire persons with disabilities.
Together, we can work toward building a future where all Albertans, regardless of the barriers they face, are given a fair chance to participate in their communities.
Jason Luan served as Minister of Community and Social Services from July 8, 2021 to October 24, 2022.