You can see why the Liberals didn't want a fall session of the legislature.
Barely minutes into what they hoped would be a one-day sitting to appoint a new Child and Youth Representative, Solicitor General John Les was facing tough questions. The New Democrats were accusing him - with evidence in hand - of misleading the legislature and the public when he claimed last year that all child deaths in the province were being properly investigated.
And NDP leader Carole James offered up evidence that she said showed a government attempt to get around the freedom of information act. The government attempted to cover up facts that contradicted Les' earlier claims about child-
Both charges are the latest events in a scandal the Liberals hoped they had put behind them. After months of denials and stonewalling, the Liberals admitted last year that bungling and cost-cutting had led to the abandonment of hundreds of incomplete reviews into the deaths of B.C. children. The failures were among the raft of problems in the children and families ministry that led to the appointment of Ted Hughes as an independent commissioner to investigate. His scathing report included a call for the creation of the new Child and Youth Representative position.
Throughout the scandal Les continued to insist that the problems were limited and things were back on track. All child deaths since 2003 were being properly investigated, he said, and the Coroners Service had the authority and money to do the work.
But the NDP had done a freedom of information request. It turned up memos from the Coroners Service sent to Les months before he offered the reassurances, saying the coroner couldn't investigate all child deaths. It didn't have the authority to collect evidence, the Coroners Service said. New legislation was "urgently needed." This before Les claimed the service had all the authority it needed to investigate any child's death.
The coroner said 40 per cent of child deaths weren't even reported to his office. Les claimed every child's death was reviewed.
And an internal review from the extremely diligent manager of child death reviews summarized the situation in mid-2005. "No research has been conducted in relation to child deaths ... no education or prevention initiatives have taken place. ... The actual formation of multidisciplinary child-death review teams has not yet taken place." Les acknowledged none of that.
Wait, as they say on the late-night infomercials for miracle vegetable choppers, there's more.
Because when the NDP got the big freedom of information package, a hand-written note from the top executive in Les' ministry was tucked in the pages.
The deputy minister was reviewing the material to be released to the NDP under the freedom of information law, which is in itself kind of alarming. The law provides for open government. The ministry CEO shouldn't really need to vet all the material released under the legislation.
The deputy minister wasn't happy. Wait a minute, he noted. Some of the information makes it seem the coroner didn't have enough money to do child death reviews. Some of the material to be released "contradicts what we have said to this point. . . . Suggest [this section] be severed," he wrote in his note to staff.
Les tried to explain the comments away, unconvincingly. The government is allowed to keep advice to cabinet ministers secret, he said, and his deputy was suggesting the material qualified. No big deal.
Except the deputy minister didn't write a note saying the material should be secret because it was advice to cabinet. He said it should be concealed because it contradicted what the government had told the public.
The New Democrats have managed to keep the legislature going for two days so far and can probably manage another two before the Child and Youth Representative is approved and everyone goes back home.
That likely can't come soon enough for the Liberals.
Footnote: Almost lost in all this is the appointment of Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond as child and youth representative. She appears an excellent choice - aboriginal, a provincial court judge in Saskatchewan with an excellent academic background, a good record on the bench and an interest in child and youth issues. She starts work in February in the important new role as the advocate for children and families and watchdog over the ministry.