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Photo by Carolyn Pogue

Rag dolls in the Legislature

A playful campaign asks Alberta MLAs to take a serious look at child poverty

By Carolyn Pogue

In the visitor’s gallery of the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton, 35 members and supporters of the Child Well-Being Initiative (CWBI), waited for the MLAs to file in. From my seat, I glanced around in anticipation at the Speaker’s chair and the 83 empty desks, about to be occupied. Sitting there, I swear I heard women’s rights pioneer Nellie McClung cheering us on.

The CWBI, a campaign organized by United Church women, has been raising awareness about 77,595 Alberta children living in poverty since 2007. They’ve organized petitions, letters and a rally at the Legislature. This year, CWBI organized a student writing and art competition in which participants responded to the question, “What if . . . every child in Alberta had a safe home and enough to eat?”

Then women girls and youth around the province started stitching rag dolls. We made 83 dolls, one for each MLA and more to spare. Attached to every doll is a list of four requests to help children, a paraphrase of the Persistent Widow parable, and a quote from Jesus who asked, “If a child asks for bread, who of us would give a child a stone?”

The visitor’s gallery gives a bird’s-eye view of the floor, and it was fun to watch the pages moving purposefully to deliver a colourful rag doll to each desk. When the MLAs entered the chamber, we watched as they spied their doll and picked it up. We saw a couple trade dolls. We saw men examine their dolls and read the message even before sitting down. We saw a little derision, much curiosity and many smiles.

Harry Chase, Liberal critic for children and youth services, introduced us. The first part of question period was taken with Opposition questions focusing on child poverty. David Swann, leader of the Opposition, called for the creation of a child nutrition program to end hunger in Alberta children. Raj Sherman, subsequently ousted from the Conservative caucus, tabled the CWBI petitions.

Elsewhere in the province, individuals and small groups of people were taking a moment to pray for the deliberations in the Legislature. In Lethbridge, Alta., 30 people rallied on the frigid steps of Southminster United to listen to speeches and readings of young people, and to pray.
At a press conference held just before our appearance at the Legislature, Lillian Stewart, CWBI co-chair, told reporters, “We are asking our elected representatives to lead the way. We want a bold, well-resourced, accountable child poverty reduction strategy. We want firm goals and timelines. Quebec, Newfoundland/Labrador, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia already have strategies.”

Lillian also told a Premier’s assistant, “We’ll be back next year to see how you are doing and what new initiatives are working.” But Yvonne Fritz, minister for children and youth, has already summoned the CWBI to meet with her in Edmonton before Christmas.

Nellie McClung was a United Church woman who believed in the power of women working together. She was imperfect, faithful, creative and had a great sense of humour. I hope that she will continue to travel with us. Nellie makes the journey way more fun.

Author's photo
Carolyn Pogue is a longtime Observer contributor. New posts of The Pogue Blog will appear on the first and third Thursday of the month. For more information on Carolyn Pogue, visit www.carolynpogue.ca..
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