Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Surprise shuffle all aimed at children and families

VICTORIA - So the revolving door spins again at the ministry of children and familes, sweeping Stan Hagen out and Tom Christensen in.
Based on past history, he shouldn’t unpack. Christensen is the fourth minister in less than six years for the Liberals; tenth in the last decade if you include the NDP follies.
Premier Gordon Campbell’s shuffle caught everyone by surprise Tuesday. He was supposed to be on holidays and all was to be quiet. The only warning was a news release at 12:15 p.m. that said there would be a shuffle in Vancouver less than two hours later.
It wasn’t a giant shift. Four ministers got new jobs, with the change at children and families driving the rest.
The premier wanted Mike de Jong to replace Christensen at aboriginal affairs, an important ministry for the Liberals now.
That left a hole at labour. Richmond MLA Olga Ilich, who had been minister for tourism, sports and culture, got the labour job, which not coincidentally left her pleasant ministry as a landing spot for Hagen.
Campbell didn’t just shuffle, he added. Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg is back in cabinet as a junior minister responsible for getting us all to eat right, exercise and quit smoking. Hogg, who resigned as childen and families minister in 2004 after a troubled tenure, is to champion the ActNow BC program announced by Campbell last year.
The most significant changes are in children and families and aboriginal relations.
The Liberals’ 2001 platform included a promise to stop the endless shuffling and re-organizations at the children and families ministry. They’ve failed badly. Hogg resigned after three chaotic years of stumbles; Christy Clark lasted about nine months before quitting; and Hagen has been in the job less than two years. Community groups desperate to get the minister’s attention are constantly starting work all over again.
Hagen had said that he wanted to keep the job. It was important to provide some stability while making the changes flowing from Ted Hughes’ report on ministry problems, he said.
But Campbell didn’t agree. The premier’s office has already installed its chosen deputy minister in children and families. Leslie du Toit was recruited from South Africa to work as an advisor to the premier before being installed in the ministry. She’s in charge of the ministry’s rather vague future direction.
And now she gets a new minister.
Christensen looks like a good choice. It’s been tough to judge his effectiveness in aboriginal affairs, in part because the premier’s office has played such a large role. But he succeeded in bringing people together when he followed Christy Clark into education. Now he has the chance to tackle one of the government’s critical problem areas. (And his experience in aboriginal affairs will be useful; the children and families’ ministry has large aboriginal focus and significant challenges in dealing with First Nations communities.)
De Jong is a reasonable choice to move into aboriginal affairs. He showed in the labour job that he could temper his natural tendency to love to give reporters a good quote. Caution will be a good thing in aboriginal affairs.
Ilich’s promotion is surprising. She was considered a strong candidate in 2005. But she hasn’t made any particular impression in her current tourism, sports and culture post. The elevation to labour - even at a time when things are likely to be pretty quiet - is a surprise.
But her promotion did open up a place fo Hagen.
I don’t know what to say about Hogg’s return. It seems odd that the Liberals, once the champions of small government, are now creating a fitness minister. The gesture will cost another $200,000 and it’s hard to know what the minister will actually do beyond some cheerleading. And it’s baffling that the junior minister is under tourism, sports and culture, where he will be lost, and not health.
But who can argue against getting people to exercise more, eat less and quit smoking and drinking?
It shouldn’t be hard to tell if this cabinet shuffle was successful. If Christensen is still minister of children and families in three years, and if the ministry is adequately funded and delivering effective services, then it succeeded.
If not, it is just another in a long series of failed efforts.


Anonymous said...

Seems some other columnists figure the new guy at Children and Famies won't last as long as you suggest. But we can't think of anyone who could try to bafflegab folks more than Good ol Stan, so it's no loss to see him gone. Hopefully the clients of the ministry and the staff will be geting better results under the new guy

Anonymous said...

It barely matters who shows up in the suit on any particular day in the ministry for children and families. The policies are designed to fail. The constant restructuring, the lack of addressing a consistant method of assessing risk and responding to need in place of keeping in check the number of kids in care will keep putting horrific cases in the media. As well the political soft shoe around aboriginal issues in self government over the rights of the child and child safety will keep the numbers of aboriginal child fatalities well above a provincial average. Beyond that, the number of children in care absent plans of care, lacking the mandatory visits from workers done in a meaninful capacity to check on whether or not the needs of the child are being met, the lack of an adequate number of trained workers working for qualified supervisors less concerned with protecting careers than voicing concern will continue to insure the foundation of this stucture will never support its desperate need.