Saturday, May 15, 2004

Incompetence leads to children and families flop

VICTORIA - The Liberals have made a remarkable mess of their plans for the ministry of children and families.
The Walls' audit got the headlines this week. But at the same time the government released an assessment of their efforts to restructure the ministry. And it is much more damning.
After two years and tens of millions of dollars, stunningly little has been accomplished. The changes that were supposed to make a 12-per-cent cut in ministry spending possible are mired in confusion. The spending cuts are still being made.
It is baffling that so much time and money could have spent without anyone in government noticing that the entire process was like one of those phoney Hollywood stage sets. Former minister Gordon Hogg kept insisting cheerfully that things were great, even ahead of schedule. In reality, as the report released this week confirms, things were a mess.
The government unveiled its big plans for the ministry back in January 2002. Those included deep spending and staff cuts, justified by a shift to 11 new semi-independent authorities that would deliver services. Ten would be regional authorities - five aboriginal, and five non-aboriginal - to take over children's services. A province-wide Community Living Authority would provide services to mentally disabled British Columbians and their families, with a $600-million budget.
The plan was flawed from the start. The government was warned of the risks in launching a massive restructuring while simultaneously slashing the ministry budget.
But Mr. Hogg was always confident. There was a great show of public consultation. Doug Walls was, we now know, pushing his agenda tirelessly. Advisory committees were named. Why, Mr. Hogg said a year ago, things were going so well that the Community Living Authority would be up and running by the fall of 2003, along with the first two regional child protection authorities.
We now know Mr. Hogg was hopelessly wrong. The regional authorities won't be ready until 2006.
And the this week's "readiness report" on the Community Living Authority paints such a bleak picture of the lack of progress that it too will be delayed. Children and Families Christy Clark says the target is now late 2005.
The report reveals that after two years of work, the most basic questions haven't been answered.
The government's fundamentally flawed approach has "resulted in a lack of co-ordination between the planning and operational components, with the result that there has been no opportunity to develop the organization and systems required."
The ministry hasn't figured out how it's going to cope with the significant transition costs. It doesn't have a plan to meet increasing demand within its current budget. It doesn't have a management team to lead the change. It hasn't figured out how to deal with the labour relations issues, which were complicated by last fall's job protection deal with the BCGEU.
And it still hasn't sorted out the basic question of how services will be delivered.
Remember, this is after more than two years and repeated assurances that everything was moving along ahead of schedule.
Mr. Hogg's chances of returning to cabinet should be non-existent.
But how is it that no one in government noticed the mismanagement - not the premier and cabinet, or the senior deputy ministers, or the government caucus committee that's supposed to be a watchdog. Alarms were raised regularly by people outside government, but they were either ignored or mocked by the Liberals.
It's a hugely incompetent performance. Leave aside the merits of the proposed shift to new authorities, which is widely - though not universally - supported.
The issue here is the government's ability to develop a plan and execute it. And it failed spectacularly.
It is also a huge betrayal. In opposition, Gordon Campbell said the ministry needed more money to do its work. The Liberals' New Era campaign promised a halt to endless to bureaucratic restructuring.
What they've delivered is $185 million in spending cuts and an endless, grossly mismanaged restructuring effort.
B.C.'s most vulnerable children and adults deserve better.


Anonymous said...

May 16, 2004 I find articles such as this very informative and extremely necessary. I was wondering if there was any means of achieving a wider distribution of this type of information (lowering of the working age, the intorductory minimum salary, patronage appointments in the government, etc.). I find I need to actively search out this things. For those who do not have the means or inclination to do so, but do have the right and obligation to vote, making this information more available would be helpful - to say the least. I appreciate you taking the time to at least read this. Thank you, Oana Enick, Port Coquitlam (

Earthworm said...

Was the BC Premier (Gordon Campbell) ever convicted on his drunk driving charge?