Monday, April 24, 2006

Campbell’s evasions leave children and families’ worries

VICTORIA - I don’t understand why Premier Gordon Campbell doesn’t want to say he’s sorry the government mismanaged the children and families’ ministry.
Acknowledging error and promising to do better - sincerely - is usually well-received.
But it’s the premier’s call. If he doesn’t want to say sorry, no one can make him.
What’s worrying is that Campbell may actually believe that the government did a competent job of managing the ministry. That would mean he has misread the Ted Hughes’ report on the ministry. And worse, it would mean that he had failed to learn from five years of fumbling.
And that would be bad news for children and families who need the ministry’s help.
The legislature was back Monday after a two-week break, giving the opposition its first chance to ask about Hughes’ report. Will Campbell admit mistakes and apologize, asked NDP leader Carole James? (OK, it’s a political question.)
Here’s how Campbell responded. “What we should all learn from Mr. Hughes' report is that the government undertook initiatives which Mr. Hughes endorses,” the premier said. “He also says that we, perhaps, took on too many initiatives at once.”
That’s not really what Ted Hughes said. "The strongest impression I have gleaned from this inquiry,” he wrote, “is one of a child welfare system that has been buffeted by an unmanageable degree of change. . . Much of this has gone on against a backdrop of significant funding cuts, even though it is commonly understood that organizational change costs money."
Campbell went on to say if the government had any failing, it might be that it was trying too hard to help children. “We did not carry that out as well as we should have,” he said. “There is no question about that.”
He acknowledged problems, including budget cuts. “In fact, in December of last year we pointed out that there may well have been challenges with funding,” he said. “In this budget this year we provided an additional $100 million, which Mr. Hughes endorses, to allow us to move forward and to build on the regionalization concept which we announced in the throne speech.”
But the budget cuts started in 2002. Campbell didn’t explain why he didn’t know about the problems until last fall.
And here’s Hughes on the move to create regional authorities. "Decentralization can not be done off the side of a desk. It requires a dedicated team, and resources. It can not be accomplished in an environment of instability and ever-changing priorities.”
Campbell sees a government trying to do a little too much.
Hughes reports "a climate of instability and confusion" and a ministry "stretched far beyond its limits." Basic elements like support for children who had problems with the system and help for teens who left foster care at 18 were chopped. Things fell apart all over the place.
If Campbell doesn’t want to acknowledge the problems, that’s one thing.
But if he really doesn’t see them - as he apparently didn’t see them over the past four years - that’s another, far more serious problem.
“I can tell you this: at no time was there anything in front of this government except for what is in the best interests of young children and their families in British Columbia,” Campbell told the legislature.
Really? How was it considered in the best interests of young children to cut the budget to help them by 11 per cent?
Maybe it’s just politics. I remember Campbell in opposition, arguing passionately for more money for the ministry, pledging to work with the NDP government to help make things better.
He was rebuffed.
Now it was James, writing Campbell two weeks ago, asking for a meeting to talk about making things better.
She was ignored.
I think the government has much to apologize for.
But right now, I’d settle for a sign they had really learned from the mistakes and failures of the last four years.
Footnote: Back in December Solicitor General John Les called off an internal review of how 713 incomplete child death reviews were forgotten in a warehouse. The government had messed up, he said. Hughes would provide more answers. Hughes immediately wrote Les and said he couldn’t, a fact Les never revealed. Now he says the file is closed.


Dawn Steele said...

Our Premier: " no time was there anything in front of this government except for what is in the best interests of young children and their families in British Columbia..."

Yeah, yeah, Mr Campbell, everyone knows that money talks, and the rest of it walks. And the record on the money aspect is clear to all, with current budget increases restoring but a fraction of what you have cut.

I'm more concerned about the future than the past, though, and Paul raises an important aspect, in terms of the enormous additional drain posed by the "endless bureaucratic restructuring."

It's hard enough at the best of times to do a good job in living up to the challenging mandate of this Ministry. Ted Hughes zeroed in on the enormous additional burden imposed by ongoing reforms.

The true test of whether the Premier has learned anything at all from the failures is whether he plans to continue to keep this Ministry bogged down in the trap of endless bureaucratic restructuring.

Anonymous said...

The Premier would rather die before admitting that he botched up the whole process. He is always right no matter how wrong. He has been there since being a junior coucil member in Vancouver.

His attempts to twist Hughes report would be laughable if it wasn't such a serious thing.

Dawn Steele said...

That's the real fear -- condemning MCFD to perpetual bureaucratic restructuring to save face for the Premier, vs. admitting it's all been baloney from the start.

Lisa said...

I'm a former foster child and current child advocate.

Have you ever heard of "cognitive dissonance"?

We all want to believe that we are good people. We'd like to believe that we act in a reasonable and forthright way. It violates our conscience not to.

So when (Mr. Campbell) has to look in the mirror and see that he'd done something wrong, what are his options?

1.) Deny it.
2.) Rationalize it away.
3.) Admit it and apologize.

It doesn't sounds like he's chosen option #3.

Anonymous said...

You're Missing the Point!

Children don't vote.
The developly disabled don't vote.
People needing help from MCFD
don't vote for the BC Liberals.

Where did the BC Liberals give the money?
To those who already have money - to those who vote for (and donate to) the BC Liberals.