Friday, June 27, 2008

Shuffle angers supporters of disabled adults

It's been a rough and chaotic seven years for people with mental disabilities and their families in B.C.
And once again, they have been plunged into uncertainty. Without warning or consultation, responsibility for the $680 million worth of services was swept out the Ministry of Children and Families and into the newly created Ministry of Housing and Social Development.
The main advocacy group calls the change a shocking betrayal.
The clients and their families had big hopes when the Liberals were elected in 2001. They stayed optimistic despite cuts to services for the developmentally disabled.
Most cheered government plans for Community Living BC, the new Crown corporation created to deliver services, and promises of more choice and control for those with mental disabilities.
And then it fall apart, in a tangle of mismanagement, shoddy planning and ministerial fumbling.
Community Living BC would be delivering services by 2003, said then minister Gordon Hogg. It wasn't. In 2004, a report found there was no real plan for the Crown corporation.
It eventually started operating in 2005 and immediately found it had too little money. Waiting lists climbed into the thousands. Exhausted parents - some in their 70s - were told there was no help available for their mentally disabled children. People were pushed from group homes.
But families held on to the hope that, with some stability, things would improve. The cabinet shuffle changed that.
Community Living BC had been under the Ministry of Children and Families. That was intended to allow a smooth transition. Children with these kinds of disabilities received services from the ministry and Community Living BC until they turned 19, when the Crown corporation took over.
But with no warning or consultation, services for adults with mental disabilities were swept over to Rich Coleman's new ministry last week.
No one saw this coming. And no one outside government - and few inside - know what it means.
It wasn't until almost 5 p.m. on the day after the shuffle that children and families deputy minister Lesley du Toit sent ministry staff an e-mail confirming Community Living B.C. was going. It would now only provide services to adults.
That would mean, du Toit continued, that children and families would have to figure out how to deliver services to the 8,000 children who would be dropped by Community Living B.C. (Du Toit also responded to "unclear" communication on program shifts in the shuffle. If government employees couldn't figure out what was happening, the public didn't stand a chance.)
The B.C. Association for Community Living is the main advocacy group for thee people. It has supported the government's efforts, even when things went wrong.
Until now. The shift to the new ministry "undermines the government's commitment and vision to provide a seamless, life-long system of support for people with developmental disabilities," it said.
The association was "shocked and disappointed at the separation of the service delivery system for children with special needs and adults with developmental disabilities." Families had been betrayed.
It all suggests a decision made without consultation with the most knowledgeable people - the ones who use and deliver the services. Parents, hoping for a good life for their developmentally disabled daughter graduating from a special school program. Or wondering what will become of their son when they aren't around to house and care for him.
No one had proposed this kind of change. It was dropped like a hammer from the blue. And now the community wonders if the government has lost interest in Community Living BC and a family-centered approach to support. (And families wonder about Coleman's interest and expertise in their issues.)
It all suggests arbitrary change made in an autocratic way, and yet another lurch in direction for both the children's ministry and services for disabled adults.
It might make sense. So far, there are more questions than answers.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shuffle panned by community living group

As people get a chance to look at Rich Coleman's new ministry, concern is mounting about the government's intentions for some disadvanted British Columbians. I'll take a look in a post soon, but here's the response from the BC Association for Community Living. They are not happy that responsibility for adults with mental disabilities is being shuffled out of the Ministry of Children and Families.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The good and the bad of the cabinet shuffle

It's always a bit weird writing about cabinet shuffles. In our system, where the premier or prime minister is king, even ministers don't have that much influence.
And I'm not sure many people could name more than a handful of the 22 cabinet ministers in the Liberal government.
But it does matter. And there are both welcome and worrying developments in the new cabinet unveiled by Premier Gordon Campbell this week.
Start with the good. Colin Hansen is back in finance after three years in economic development, while hanging on to responsibility for the Olympics. Economic development should have been a good job, but when the government is philosophically inclined to leave most decisions up to the private sector, there's not much to do..
Hansen shone in past stints as finance minister and health minister, where his command of the issues was almost freaky. Reporters would ask about obscure local issues in scrums and Hansen would offer informed, detailed and sensible responses.
And while he was obviously partisan, he was never abusive or foolish inside or outside the legislature. I usually left encounters glad he was the health minister. (I'm not so sure he always left glad I was a journalist.)
His credibility and intelligence should help in defending the carbon tax and - like his predecessor Carole Taylor - Hansen is unlikely to be easily bulldozed by the premier.
Then on to more one of those, I've got good and bad news stories. The good news is that Rich Coleman was moved out of the forests ministry, a change unlikely to be lamented by anyone in the sector.
The forest challenges are huge, and many are beyond government's control. But Coleman did more harm than good and appeared indifferent to mill closures and the loss of thousands of jobs. It was hard to see why the government even had a forest ministry, if it didn't want to take any real role. (Coleman did get the government to spend $15 million on an arena in his riding, with the argument if was a good way to showcase B.C. wood products.)
Pat Bell moves from agriculture to forests. It will be a big challenge, but at least as a Prince George MLA he has a connection with the industry and the people who depend on it. He's more likely to listen and try to develop positive ideas.
The bad news - or maybe just the question mark, to be kinder - is Coleman's new job, which looks a little like a ministry of things Rich would be interested in. He keeps housing, an area has shown some interest and accomplishment in. But he also gets welfare and job training and support for people with disabilities and gambling and liquor sales.
There's little in Coleman's record to inspire confidence in these areas, In fact, while John Les took the blame, Coleman was solicitor general while the Coroners Service went off the rails and lax enforcement undermined the security of both casino gambling and lottery ticket sales in the province. There aren't a lot of accomplishments to point to offset the stumbles.
Back to good news, I'm glad of the return of Kootenays MLA Bill Bennett to cabinet, this time as tourism, culture and arts minister, and the addition of Peace River MLA Blair Lekstrom as community development minister (although that's not much of a job, except for the pine beetle responsibilities that are cobbled on).
Both are smart, will speak their minds and stand up for thbeir constituents and are from outside the Lower Mainland. They will be valuable around the cabinet table.
The other additions, replacing the ministers who have decided not to run next year, are Mary Polak, Joan McIntyre and Iain Black.
I have no real idea how well they will do. Backbenchers on the government side are an enigmatic lot. Black championed the cause of keeping kids in car seats longer. Polak seemed nice.
And that's the shuffle.
Footnote: MLAs, after giving themselves a big raise, are paid $98,000; full cabinet ministers $147,000, more than 95 per cent of the people they represent. And the job brings a different work life. There are staffers to brief you and plan your day and help you look smart. You go to big meetings. It's seductive.

A first look at the cabinet shuffle

I'll post a column in the next few hours, but the Times Colonist has tomorrow's editorial online today.