Friday, October 07, 2011

Independent review of CLBC is needed now

From today's Times Colonist editorial:

"The government's refusal to order an external review of Community Living B.C. is baffling. The throne speech, after all, promised reviews of all Crown corporations, beginning in January, "to ensure taxpayers and families are protected and the interests of all British Columbians are well served."

CLBC, as a Crown corporation, would be part of that process. All that's needed to respond to serious concerns about its performance and accountability would be to launch a review now, not in a few months.

The government has acknowledged problems at the corporation, which is responsible for supporting adults with developmental disabilities and their families. Last month, it added $8.9 million to the CLBC budget to meet "urgent health and safety needs" of clients.

When any organization requires emergency funding five months into the fiscal year because clients' health and safety are at risk, something has gone seriously wrong...."

You can and should read the rest here.

As evidence of the problems, the Times Colonist's Lindsay Kines also reports on the huge waiting lists for services for people with developmental disabilities.

Riot TV plan could backfire for Clark

For an astute politician, Premier Christy Clark is making some odd moves.
First there were the attack ads on Conservative leader John Cummins, which worked mostly to raise his profile in a positive way. It was a big boost for a leader still unknown in much of the province.
And now there is the weird push for televised trials of people charged in the Stanley Cup riots, which drew attention to the big problems in the justice system that her government hasn’t fixed - and has in fact made worse - over the past decade.
Clark says the public is interested in the court proceedings ands the riot was televised, so the trials and other court proceedings should be too. (She actually went farther, with comments that indicated she had abandoned the notion that people are considered innocent until proved otherwise.)
Televised court proceedings would be a good thing. Most people have never been inside a courtroom and have little idea of what goes on. Television could help change that.
There are potential problems. Some witnesses might be reluctant to testify if they thought they were going to be on the evening news. Lawyers might be tempted to perform for the cameras.
But cameras covered the Dziekanski inquiry, with no obvious ill effects. In the U.S., proceedings have been televised for years, generally successfully.
Still, if Clark and the government wanted televised trials, they could have started serious work long ago. Leaping in with a poorly considered bid to single out one group of accused people for political reasons is a poor way to advance openness.
That’s only one problem. The justice branch and Crown prosecutors are supposed to have a high degree of independence from their political masters. The idea is that they act in the interests of justice and shouldn’t take orders from politicians, preventing, for example, the use of the courts to harass opponents of government policy.
The justice branch rejected Clark’s throne speech call for televised trials and said prosecutors wouldn’t be making the requests.
That forced Attorney General Shirley Bond to issue an extraordinary order forcing the prosecutors to seek televised proceedings in riot cases.
It’s highly unusual political interference. Bond said it had happened in the past, but Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer reported the government cited three cases. “One was a directive to seek leave to appeal a sentence to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Palmer wrote. “One a directive to ‘consider, if appropriate’ applying to vary a probation order. The third created a brief amnesty from prosecution to encourage people to turn in firearms and other weapons.”
The whole controversy was also a reminder that another hockey season has already started and no one has been charged in connection with the riots.
The effort could also continue to be an embarrassment. Crown prosecutors can apply to open the court to cameras, but the judges decide. Defence lawyers and others involved will want a say. Clark’s ploy could add more delays to an already overburdened system. Excessive delays have resulted in dozens of cases being thrown out this year, including serious offences like drug trafficking and assaults on police. Families are waiting unreasonable times for critical hearing dates.
There are lots of factors in the delays, and some long-term solutions.
But the immediate issue is that there just aren’t enough judges, prosecutors and courtrooms to hold the needed hearings. There were 143 provincial court judges in 2005; today there are 127. The courts simply can’t cope with the volume of cases.
You can see how a few people tossing around ideas for the throne speech might come up with the notion of scoring some points with this gimmick.
But it’s hard to understand why someone didn’t think harder about the many potential problems, both practical and political.
Footnote: A new Ipsos Reid poll confirmed the Liberals are having political problems. The NDP has the support of 45 per cent of decided voters, with the Liberals at 38 per cent. Cummins and the Conservatives, with the Liberals’ help, are at 12 per cent and the Greens six per cent. Adrian Dix has stronger approval numbers than Clark, but she seen as the person who would make the best premier by more voters.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Riot gimmick aside, an adequate throne speech

Throne speeches are supposed to set out the government’s agenda for the legislative session. But they’re typically full of nice-sounding but meaningless phrases, big visions and praise for the party in power’s brilliance.
Clark’s first effort this week offered the usual rehash of past promises - in this case, barely past, since she replayed last week’s jobs strategy.
And it gave a hint of the government’s direction.
But it also featured the kind of poorly thought out gimmickry that threatens to build the perception of Clark as a less-than-serious premier.
First, the positive. Something is apparently going to happen in education, though it’s unclear what.
The B.C. College of Teachers, in charge of ensuring teachers are properly trained and certified, is going to be overhauled or replaced. That’s good. The college has been a captive of the teachers’ union, and locked in a conflict of interest.
And the government is going to do something about the lack of support for special needs students in schools. It doesn’t have a choice; a court ruling this spring found it broke the law in arbitrarily removing class size and composition limits from teachers’ contracts and gave it a year to fix the problem. The changes are a step toward that.
Beyond that, the education changes get fuzzy. The speech talks about abandoning “a 20th century curriculum with 20th century teaching methods.” Teachers skills will be improved and parents will get “in how, when and where education takes place.”
I have no idea what that means. The education budget is effectively frozen for the next two years, so there’s not a lot of money for new initiatives.
The speech sent confusing messages on the current two-year public sector wage freeze. It appeared to announce the freeze would be eased next spring, despite the weak economy. But the government says increases will only be available if unions and employer can find ways to cut costs within existing budgets, freeing some money for contract improvements.
It’s worth a try, and both sides should be motivated: The unions, to get increases for members; the government, to avoid pre-election job action.
There was the usual nod to health care. The government will try to ensure every British Columbian has a family doctor by 2015, promote disease prevention and seek efficiencies. All dandy, but hardly a new direction.
And the speech acknowledged the problems of delays in the justice system. The speech promised legislation to encourage people to settle family law disputes - divorce, child custody and the like - outside the court system. That should be a priority.
Then it rather bizarrely floated the idea of allowing cameras in the courtrooms when anyone charged in the Stanley up riot appeared.
Cameras in courtrooms, despite some potential problems, would be good. Most of us have no real idea how the system works, or the kind of cases that occupy the courts.
But the criminal justice branch and Crown prosecutors - independent of the politicians - have rejected the idea of singling out people charged in connection with the riots, as opposed to gangsters or other offenders. Judges might have similar qualms.
And spending more court time dealing with the issue, when people are being released across the province because of excessive delays, would be foolish. This week, in Rossland, the B.C. Supreme Court released a man charged with possession of meth for the purpose of trafficking and assaulting an RCMP officer by driving a truck into him because of delays. There simply isn’t enough time to deal with complicated trials in the region.
The speech didn’t address the shortage of prosecutors, judges and courtrooms, beyond a proposal to have retired judges work part-time on occasion.
There was the promise of a February Family Day holiday, beginning in 2013. There wasn’t anything on forestry, housing affordability or poor British Columbians.
Footnote: The speech was a departure from Gordon Campbell’s tendency to float grand visions, often forgotten, in his throne speeches. There were the five great goals for a golden decade, the conversation on health, the new relationship, the war on climate change, the focus on the Heartland. A more modest approach, given the tough economic times, was pragmatic.