Friday, October 26, 2007

Booster seats and lost politicians

The great booster seat controversy is mostly depressing.
And it leaves me wondering what happened to Linda Reid, the minister responsible.
I was a big fan when the Liberals were in opposition; in government, Reid looks to have just lost her way.
Things started out fine. The government launched a campaign to encourage parents to get ready for a new law requiring older, bigger kids to use booster seats in cars.
As part of it, taxpayers picked up the tab for 2,000 booster seats. They were to go to low-income families.
But then the Liberals lost their minds. They sent the car seats out for distribution - but only to Liberal MLAs' constituency offices.
The proud Liberal politicos sent out press releases and posed for pictures, the guardians of poor kids' safety.
"Liberal MLA hands out free car seats for kids," said the headline in Burnaby Now. MLA John Nuraney said not all families could afford the car seats. "We did not want people who could not afford them to suffer because of that," he said.
"The giveaway is part of a larger initiative where the provincial Liberals are sending seats to all constituency offices across the province," the story said.
Oh, those good Liberals.
Except they weren't. The taxpayers picked up the bill. The Liberals MLAs just took the credit.
It was both sleazy and dumb, since they obviously going to be caught playing fast and loose with the facts.
And they were. The NDP asked about it in the legislature. Reid fumbled through some non-answers and fared even worse when reporters scrummed her on the issue.
The problem, fundamentally, was that she trying to defend the indefensible. It was just painful.
In the big scheme of things, trying to score phony political points off kids isn't a huge offence. The booster seats seemed to have ended up in the right parents' hands.
But it left me wondering what happens to politicians, to people like Reid.
I had a lot of time for her when the Liberals were in opposition, literally. She was the critic for the children and families ministry; I wrote about the ministry's problems - and there were a lot of them; and Reid offered useful insights.
More than that. She made a compelling case for a whole different approach. The ministry required much more money and an end to constant restructuring, Reid said. Front-line workers needed a lot more support and more work had to be done on prevention.
And the government should start by figuring what families and children at risk need to thrive, and what that would cost, Reid said. Even the government couldn't afford to do it all, the work should start with a needs-based budget.
Reid seemed knowledgeable, pragmatic and passionate about the ministry and what it could be doing to make peoples' lives better. It wasn't political stuff. It was about doing the right thing.
But then the Liberals were elected. Reid didn't get children and families; that went, disastrously, to Gordon Hogg. She became a junior minister for issue affecting young children.
And everything changed. Her government didn't increase support for the ministry; it announced reckless cuts to the budget for children and families.
Instead of stability, the government launched a disastrously botched re-organization. The process is in its sixth year now, and the future is still unclear.
Maybe that's just the way it is. You say one thing in opposition, and then abandon not just the policies you advocate, but also the principles behind them once you're in government.
Or maybe it's all more complicated. You fight for the right thing in caucus or cabinet and then go along, even if you're betraying the principles you once advocated. You can do more good from inside and all that.
And then you find yourself standing in a hallway, or the legislature, defending - badly - a cockamamie scheme to play political games with a kids' safety program.
You know it's wrong, but there are you are. _
Footnote: How embarrassing was the whole deal? Premier Gordon Campbell handed out booster seats; the photos were prominent on his website. But once the NDP started asking questions, they were shuffled out of the spotlight, like some out-of-favour Soviet general erased from the annual May Day parade photos in Red Square.


Gazetteer said...

"In the big scheme of things, trying to score phony political points off kids isn't a huge offence."

Agreed, but only in terms of degree, especially given the piece's description of how the government which Ms. Reid was and still is a part of so recklessly endangered children, both in and out of car seats, for what one can only conclude were 'real' political/ideological reasons.


Anonymous said...

of course her justification was that the NDP had voted against the budget and therefore the careseats,this is a government that is arrogant and out of touch except for those developers who hate people that rent because ...well you ...know they cause problems ...but we will give them some booster seats....God help us from this corrupt bunch of carpetbaggers

Anonymous said...

On Wednesday October 24, 2007 Harry Bains (Surrey-Newton, NDP) stated in the BC Legislature: "This minister (Linda Reid - Minister of State for Childcare, BC Liberal) is desperately trying to make us believe that this is not about partisan politics, but she forgot to tell that to BCAA. When one of the opposition MLAs in Surrey contacted BCAA to get some booster seats for that office, during the discussion she was asked if her MLA is a Liberal MLA. Guess what. That MLA did not get any booster seats after requesting them."

It would seem that BCAA is 'the-missing-link' in this sad little saga... Unfortunately the corporate media is showing its usual reluctance to dig for the real story.

It looks to me - but what do I know - that Allan Lamb, Executive Director of the BCAA Traffic Safety Foundation, overstepped his mandate.

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