Friday, September 29, 2006

Liberal MLAs stall search for child and youth representative

VICTORIA - I can't recall any MLAs behaving quite as irresponsibly or arrogantly as the three Liberals on the legislative committee charged with finding a new representative for children and youth.
The new office was a central recommendation in Ted Hughes' scathing report on the government's many failures in the children and families ministry.
Hughes said the representative should be appointed "as soon as possible" to restore effective, independent oversight. Among other things the new representative would advocate for children in care, investigate trends in child deaths and monitor and report on the effectiveness of the support and care government provides.
The overall report was sharply critical of the role budget cuts and mismanagement had played in hurting services for children and families.
Right, said Premier Gordon Campbell back in the spring. We're on it. The government would work "around the clock" to get the representative's office up and running, he vowed.
But now, in the most blatant way, the three Liberals on the selection committee are stalling the process. Their indifference to Hughes' report, their lack of urgency, are outrageous.
The three are John Rustad of Prince George-Omineca, the chair, and Ron Cantelon of Nanaimo-Parksville and Mary Polak of Langley.
The committee is already far behind schedule. Now the three Liberals say they can't find a single time to meet and work toward finding a representative in the entire month of October.
It's just impossible for the Liberal members to attend a meeting, says Rustad.
"We went through everybody's calendars and October is a zoo," he told Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines. "There are so many committees and so many issues that are out there that everyone is booked solid." (The more important meetings include the annual five-day convention for municipal politicians.)
What a pathetic excuse for inaction. This is supposed to be a government priority, according to the premier. It's a rare chance for backbench MLAs to take on a specific, important task.The two NDP committe members, Diane Thorne of Coquitlam and Maurine Karagianis of Esquimalt, say they are available any time for meetings.
But the Liberal MLAs are treating this responsibility like an unwanted intrusion on their time.
The application deadline for the representatives' position closed six weeks ago. The committee's original work schedule called for interviews to be completed in September and a candidate to be selected by now. The legislature would then quickly meet for a day or two to approve the committee's recommendation.
Then the new representative would get on with the important job and begin setting up the office.
Now Rustad and the Liberals propose to finish the interviews in November.
The new representative might not be in place until spring, almost a year after Hughes made his report.
It's hard to accept that the MLAs' behaviour is just a result of indifference. Rustad claims he understands the urgency of the work. "It's very important to have this position in place as soon as possible for the children of the province," he says. "The Ted Hughes report was very clear in terms of that."
Which leaves observers searching for some other explanation for the Liberals' failure.
Do they want to stall the return of an independent officer who would report publicly on the children and families ministry performance? Is the idea of the representative still something the Liberals don't really accept?
Or is the Campbell government worried about having the legislature sit this fall, even for the day or two required to approve the committee's choice for the representative's post? After all, the Liberals did cancel the fall session, eliminating the chance for MLAs to raise issues from health care problems to the softwood agreement to forest safety.
The reasons don't matter. The Liberal MLAs' negligence does. The Hughes' report indicated that the government really didn't care much about its responsibilities to children and families.
Rustad, Polak and Cantelon are showing that not much has changed.
Footnote: When asked about the delays, Rustad initially told Kines that the process was still on track and a representative would be named by mid-October. But 24 hours later he revealed the long delay in the search. It's alarming that the committee chair has such a poor sense of what's going on.


Dawn Steele said...

Paul, I've just written the 3 MLAs and asked that they provide you and other journalists covering this with copies of their appointment schedules to explain what appears to be an inexcusable failure.

Even their own Minister Christensen, who must surely have a more weighty workload than a bunch of backbenchers, is finding the time to meet with community groups to dicuss our various beefs. So getting on with the key recommendation of their own Hughes enquiry must surely be at least as important.

It doesn't add up--looks like politics is being played, with vulnerable kids as the losers once again.

Anonymous said...

Using the old, my schedule is so heavy I simply can't show up is being used by the government majority on the committee. The T?C Editorial this morning says it better than I can. The opposition leader has stated as recently as yesterday , her two members are prepared to meet the rest of the committee, any time, any place. So who is blowing smoke? I don't think Carole James is being the cause of the delay.

Let us know what if anything the three liberal MLA's have to say Dawn Steele.

Anonymous said...

The 2006 UBCM Convention will be held in Victoria, BC from October 23-27, 2006.

Seems like a good as time as any for the leg to sit... unless the BC Libs don't want the UBCM pols to see how MLAs squander the big $$.

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Anonymous said...

The T/C had a column around this subject this morning. (Tuesday)It seems Ted Hughes isn't amused by the Liberal stickhandling. Ex Judge Ted Hughes says, if they can't find the time to meet better get some other back benchers who will make the time. I sure wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of Ted as he eats those sort of clowns with his cornflakes.

Anonymous said...

The Victoria Times Colonist's Lindsay Kines writes in the Oct/03/06 online edition of the paper: "''I think everyone expects this selection to be deliberate, to be thoughtful,'' Campbell said during an appearance on CKNW’s Bill Good Show." "Campbell said the all-party committee in charge of the search ''is doing the best they can'' to choose the province’s first Representative for Children and Youth."

Meanwhile former judge Ted Hughes, who recommended the position in his scathing review of the province’s child-welfare system earlier this year, "urged the premier to either get the Liberals MLAs on the committee ''on the ball'' or replace them with other backbenchers to get the job done."

Hmm... Who has more credibility?

Anonymous said...

And some folks keep saying. No need for the house to sit this fall as there is nothing urgent. a lot of people think otherwise. Our local ppaper had about six pages of articles around pretty serious issues in my view. The Premier of course sees nothing but the Tsunami of debt heading this way!