Conference to focus on poverty and prosperity

By David F. Rooney

Economic development and poverty reduction — two goals that often go hand-in-hand — will be the main focus of a Community Futures conference to be held here next week.

“There’s a misnomer that poverty is characterized by homelessness and people who are not working,” Communiuty Futures Revelstoke Manager Kevin Dorrius said in a recent interview. “But we know that we have a significant portion of our population that is, in effect, working but poor. That’s what we’re trying to address: The working poverty in our population.”

The two-day conference at the Hillcrest is attracting participants from across the province. The speakers include Mark Holmgren, director of Vibrant Communities Canada, the Tamarak Institute, and Brian Smith, executive director, Community Futures Sunshine Coast on Wednesday, May 18, and on Thursdaty, May 19, Catherine Ludgate of Vancity Credit Union & Living Wage for Families BC. Also on Thursday there is a discussion of the Living Wage Project led by Mike Evans and the UBC Okanagan research team that has been studying this as well as a panel discussion involving local Revelstoke employers who are likewise interested in this issue.

Dorrius said that there is often an expectation that economic development will, naturally, create spinoffs that address social issues.

“What we’re finding is that that’s not necessarily the way things really happen,” he said, adding that here in Revelstoke resort development has led to affordability becoming a “massive issue.”

The wages paid to many of our working people, particularly those in the retail, service and food and beverage sectors are often inadequate. And lead to hardship for families.

This is where the panel involving local business owners talking about what they’re doing will be particularly interesting.

“In terms of how you treat your staff, and how you build your staff… you can make the argument that the more resources you give your staff — and not just wages — the healthier, happier and more productive they’re going to be over the long term,” he said. “Of course that comes with more strain on your margins. It’s not just a question of how much you can afford to pay them but how much to do they need to earn in order to be productive members of the community.”

Revelstokians who can’t make the conference can still catch a free presentation by Mark Holmgren of the Tamarak Institute on Wednesday, May 18, at 7 pm in the Macpherson Room at the Community Centre.