Saturday, November 20, 2010

Children's ministry stumbles again

From today's Times Colonist:

"She was 15, with severe developmental disabilities due to Down syndrome. Her mother, with her own issues, died in the home they shared in a Cultus Lake mobile home park.

And for nine days, the girl lived beside her mother's corpse. She had been told not to go out alone.

When rescued, she was emaciated and filthy -- she was unable to use the toilet and had been wearing the same diaper for a week. Her legs and abdomen were raw with diaper rash. Pills and boxes of macaroni were on the floor, apparently left as the girl tried to bring her mother back to life.

The Minister of Children and Family Development had been involved with the family; in fact, the girl's brothers had asked that their sister be taken into care because of their mother's alcoholism and drug abuse and the filth in the house.

The law calls for deaths or such events that cause "serious or long-term impairment" of a child's health to be reported to the Representative for Children and Youth as soon as officials become aware of them.

But the ministry didn't do that. Nine weeks after the girl was discovered, Minister Mary Polak says it's still not clear to her that the girl suffered an injury that required reporting.

That's at once insulting and stupid. . ."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bill Bennett has it right

Cut Bill Bennett’s claims about life inside the Liberal government in half and it’s still ugly.
Reject them entirely and you still face the reality that Bennett is right when he says that each day Gordon Campbell stays as leader is one more blow to the Liberals’ chances for recovery.
The East Kootenay MLA was fired as energy minister Wednesday for saying Campbell should step down now for the good of the party. Next step is expulsion from caucus.
The firing wasn’t unexpected. Bennett noted he had broken the “no surprises” rule by not warning the premier¹s office.
But what happened next was surprising.
Finance Minister Colin Hansen maintained the cabinet had fired Bennett. They might have approved, but only the premier can hire and fire cabinet ministers.
And Hansen and others said Bennett had broken his cabinet oath. That’s not true. Ministers promise to maintain confidentiality about cabinet discussions, not to shut up about everything.
Bennett left the meeting and came to Victoria to face the media.
The scrum was about 35 minutes and, by the end, Bennett had carpet-bombed Campbell. The premier was a bully and autocrat who ignored cabinet, caucus and stakeholders. He had reduced MLAs to tears in meetings. One shouting incident had left Bennett wiping the premier¹s spit from his face, he said.
“He¹s lost the public entirely,” Bennett said. “He should just leave. Every day that Premier Campbell stays around is one less day we have to start a renewal.”
A lineup of ministers denied Bennett’s charges, as did Campbell. Health Minister Kevin Falcon said he had been in shouting matches with the premier, but that was just the way things were done in cabinet.
So who should you believe?
MLAs and ex-MLAs have complained, usually quietly, about Campbell’s bullying. The HST introduction, dropped on a surprised caucus with no discussion or consultation, confirms the tendency to one-man rule.
And Bennett, in my experience, has been a straight shooter.
Maybe he exaggerated or his perceptions were skewed. But if he sees the problems, they exist.
Certainly he’s right that Campbell’s long goodbye is doing great damage to the Liberals.
Campbell acknowledged the public doesn’t trust him. That’s why he’s leaving.
But by staying on until a new leader is in place, likely in March, he’s condemning the party to months of growing unpopularity and tainting the leadership selection process. Cabinet ministers considering a leadership run should be focused on demonstrating they offer a new vision and direction for the party and the government.
Instead, Falcon and George Abbott, both possible candidates, responded to Bennett’s comments by defending Campbell’s leadership and achievements. They stepped forward as apologists for a terribly unpopular premier, as ministers and MLAs have since the HST was introduced to such anger.
Bennett’s concerns about political life need to be addressed, no matter what people think about his criticism of Campbell.
Power has increasingly been concentrated in the leader’s office. MLAs have had little role in shaping policy; if they had, the HST debacle might have been avoided.
And cabinet ministers are often out of the loop. Bennett noted that the sweeping reorganization of resource ministries announced by Campbell was done without the involvement of the ministers responsible for those areas. The deputy ministers working on it were told not to let their ministers know what was going on.
Bennett spoke highly of most of his cabinet colleagues and the people working in government.
But his frustration came through in almost every sentence. And it was based, I’d argue, not on anger at being fired from cabinet but on years of disappointment. MLAs start their time in Victoria with great hopes of making a difference. Those hopes are often replaced by bitterness and disappointment.
“I¹m tired of the bullshit going on in politics,” Bennett said.
He speaks for many British Columbians.
Footnote: Bennett recounted his first-term interest in starting an outdoor caucus - MLAs from both parties interested in hunting, fishing, hiking and snowmobiling issues that are often neglected. Campbell tried to bully him out of the idea, Bennett said, especially rejecting the idea that New Democrat MLAs could be involved. Bennett went ahead anyway.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Bennett tapes

I have always had time for Bill Bennett.

When he made it back into cabinet in a 2008 shuffle, I had this prescient comment:

"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 their constituents and are from outside the Lower Mainland. They will be valuable around the cabinet table."

Bennett was bounced from cabinet Wednesday for saying Gordon Campbell should step down as premier now to let the party begin rebuilding.

He did not go quietly, accusing Campbell of being a bully and one-man government. The Times Colonist has offered an audio file of his comments in a scrum here.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recall ups destructive political uncertainty

Things are turning into a mess in B.C.
Recall, leadership squabbling, a lame duck premier who won’t go away, a referendum that might axe the HST – it’s a formula for political chaos.
And political chaos is a formula for government paralysis on issues that matter to British Columbians.
First, recall. The Fight HST forces announced their recall targets Monday. Universities Minister Ida Chong is first on the hit list.
She won her Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding by a skinny margin - 561 votes - in 2009. Lots of recall canvassers have signed up in her riding and nearby Saanich North. And Chong has not been effective in representing the riding on key local issues.
She is thus vulnerable, even given the tough threshold for a successful recall effort. Proponents will need to get signatures from 40 per cent of the people registered to vote in the last election - about 18,000 names. (Chong won with 11,877 votes.)
The recall campaign starts Monday. Proponents have 60 days to get enough signatures to oust the MLA and force a byelection.
The Fight HST crew plans campaigns against Terry Lake in Kamloop North and Don McRae in Comox starting in early January, with more efforts launched every month until the HST is gone or the Liberals bumped from power.
Chong’s recall has become the trial run for both sides.
Her first-day response made no mention of the HST. She said she had done a good job, the NDP was playing a big behind-the-scenes recall role (likely true) and the effort was an abuse of the recall legislation. Recall was supposed to be used against MLAs who acted unethically, Chong said.
That’s just untrue. The successful referendum on recall, which led to the legislation, asked if British Columbians should have the right to remove their MLA between elections. Voters would decide what constituted grounds for dismissal.
And the claim will be a tough sell, given the Liberals’ history. Gordon Campbell was calling for recall campaigns against New Democrat MLAs within months of losing the 1996 election. Kevin Falcon’s Total Recall targeted all 40 NDP MLAs in 1999; he said it had nothing to do with the individuals, but was attempt to oust the government. (The effort flopped, but created big headaches for the New Democrats.)
The justifiable claim that the NDP is playing a political role in the campaigns might deter some people from signing.
Campbell is a big problem for Chong. He has announced he’ll leave after a new leader is selected Feb. 26.
But that’s three months away, And he’s still insisting that he - and Chong - did everything right in bringing in the HST. The only failure was not explaining the decision more effectively after it was a done deal, he says.
In fact, Campbell is a big problem for the party. Lame duck leaders always are. When they are unpopular and don’t recognize that they’re lame, things get really messy.
Campbell says he’s still the premier and in charge of the budget and throne speech. Nothing will change until the new Liberal leader is selected.
For the Liberal party, that’s terrible. Campbell is leaving because the public thinks he’s doing a bad job and doesn’t trust him. Yet he’ll be the face of the party for another three months and defend the budget and throne speech.
Chong and the Liberal party would be helped if Campbell stepped down as premier now. MLAs could select someone - ideally not running for the leadership - to be premier until the leadership was decided. Campbell could cart away some baggage and avoid some unpleasant months.
And the interim premier could announce the HST referendum would be held in February, before a new leader was selected. An earlier departure by Campbell might help the party and calm things down a bit.
But the months ahead - and perhaps until the next election - are going to bring uncertainty that slows investment and progress in B.C.
Footnote: The New Democrats are adding to the uncertainty as some party members continue to take aim at the leadership of Carole James. The issues are likely to be addressed at an NDP provincial council meeting this weekend.