Friday, February 04, 2011

Cat for Christy no laughing matter

This is odd.
First, a cat belonging to a Christy Clark campaign worker joins the Liberal party.
The worker, when contacted by Justine Hunter of the Globe, initially claimed the membership belonged to a great aunt who lived with her. The campaign later told the truth and then claimed the cat membership was a prank by persons unknown.
George Abbott and Kevin Falcon condemned the cat sign-up; Abbott expressed concern about voter fraud in the leadership contest.
And a website - - mocked the whole thing.
Then Sean Holman revealed that the web domain name was registered on Feb. 1, three days before the story broke.
The Liberals are voting for the next leader by phone and online. Members who joined by today - Friday - will get a PIN and be eligible to cast a ballot. Falcon claims he's signed up 17,500 new members; Mike de Jong 10,000.
There is a large potential for voter fraud.
The Liberals are supposedly adopting a process that gives each riding 100 votes, no matter how many members it has. The votes would be allocated based on a constituency vote. That would reduce the impact of signing up thousands of new members, feline or otherwise.
That decision has to be confirmed at a convention next weekend and requires two-thirds support to pass. All candidates have said they support the change.
If it doesn't pass, then the legitimacy of new members is going to be a big issue.

The Abbott campaign confirmed in a statement that Campaign Research, a campaign management company in Toronto working as a contractor for his leadership bid, prepared the cat website.
"I have learned this afternoon that this website was created by a vendor who works for my campaign when they learned through the media that a story regarding Ms. Clark's campaign sign-ups was under development," Abbott said in the statement.
He had it taken down.
But they didn't sign the cat up, he said.

That raises other questions

Dix plan for corporate tax cuts should spark needed debate

Liberal Kevin Falcon has set himself up as the business leadership candidate.
Now New Democrat hopeful Adrian Dix has claimed the opposite side.
Dix took one of the bolder positions of both campaigns so far by saying he would raise corporate taxes to fund needed services.
It's striking how little real discussion there has been of the dramatic business tax cuts over the last decade and the resulting service cuts and much higher taxes and fees paid by individuals and families.
It's been a big shift. You can't readily allocate all government revenues to individuals and business. Both pay the carbon tax, for example.
But even a rough cut at the numbers shows companies are paying a far smaller share of the government's bills than they did a decade ago.
In 2001, direct corporate taxes and royalties of various kinds provided about 22 per cent of government revenues. Today, after tax changes by the Campbell government, that's down to about 10 per cent.
Despite inflation and economic growth, corporations are paying about $1 billion less in readily attributable taxes than they were in 2001, a drop of about 20 per cent.
Individuals and families are paying about $8 billion more, an increase of about 60 per cent. (The change isn't just in income taxes. MSP premiums, for example have increased more than 80 per cent; the government is also taking in more indirectly, through B.C. Lotteries, for example.)
You can argue the details. But the shift is undeniable and large. Corporations and businesses are paying a greatly reduced share of the province's bills.
That's by design, and a perfectly legitimate policy. The theory is that lower taxes would encourage companies to invest here, which would mean jobs and growth.
Families would have to pay more to make up for the corporate tax cuts, but, in theory, benefit from a strong economy.
But we haven't had a real public discussion about the tax shift. In part, that's why the HST - which shifted $1.9 billion a year off corporations and onto individuals and families - made people mad.
Dix proposed to claw back about $270 million in corporate tax cuts, which would still leave them paying about $700 million less in direct taxes than a decade ago.
Politically, it sets him apart from the main candidates from both parties, though it won't win business friends and supporters.
Meanwhile, Falcon has presented himself as the candidate of choice for B.C. business.
Falcon has racked up, and promoted, endorsements from a flock of business people. They bought a full-page ad in the Vancouver Sun and his campaign team has sent out press releases celebrating his corporate support.
It's impressive, at least to some Liberal party supporters.
But Falcon was already seen as business-friendly and likely had the support of those supporters. And he risks being seen as short on support from other groups.
What he needs, in terms of winning the leadership, are similar indications from other sectors.
He was the health minister, for example. Where are the patient groups or doctors or seniors' organization offering the same kind of ringing endorsement he's getting from the business sector. Or the women's shelter or teen group in his riding praising his insight and efforts?
Both Dix and Falcon are staking clear positions that reflect the interests their respective party's core supporters, which might help win support in the leadership contest.
That success might not translate as well into an actual election campaign, where the emphasis is on winning over moderate or uncommitted voters.
But Dix has, at least, started a needed debate on tax policy and who should pay for the services government provides.
The tax shift under the Liberals has seen business pay much less and individuals and families pay much more, without a great deal of public discussion of the impacts on the economy and British Columbians.
Footnote: Christy Clark and Falcon sparred a bit over his reliance on business support, or "insiders" as she called them. The bigger issue should be how much they spend to back his campaign. Candidates are limited to $450,000 in spending, but third party spending doesn't count against the cap. Falcon's business backers have already bought ads in his support.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Is the Liberal caucus chair sniping at Kevin Falcon?

The government caucus sent out a press release attacking recall efforts today that was hardly a favour to the Kevin Falcon leadership campaign.
Falcon's start in politics came as the organizer of an unsuccessful "Total Recall" campaign against the NDP in 1999. The campaign stalled, Falcon said then, because it couldn't raise enough money to launch credible efforts.
The recall effort looks much like the current version. Falcon said it was a bid to defeat the government, he defended the role of Liberals in the effort (he had done paid for work for the Liberals and campaigned) and the pro-recall forces were angry at Elections B.C.
The release is below.


For immediate release
February 3, 2011


VICTORIA – Following the resounding defeat of the NDP-backed recall in Oak Bay-Gordon Head, it’s time for NDP president Moe Sihota and his party to abandon their wasteful and dishonest attempt to manipulate recall and re-fight the last election, says BC Liberal Caucus Chair Ron Cantelon.

Elections B.C. has said that each recall attempt costs B.C. taxpayers at least $500,000 per campaign. (Vancouver Sun, Sept. 24, 2010).

Two decades of failure on at-risk children, families

Note: Please read the specific examples in the posts below after reading this. Or, if pressed for time, just read them.

It’s now been 20 years of failure when it comes to the most vulnerable children in this province. Based on the scarcity of commitments from leadership candidates, another dismal decade could lie ahead.
The Representative for Children and Youth has released her latest report, on the deaths of 21 infants whose families had been involved with the children’s ministry in the year before the children died.
These babies didn’t really stand much of a chance. Many people in “the system” — the ministry, health authorities — knew the risks for them were high. But the response was fragmented. The people who could have helped were overworked and unsupported. We failed them.
None of these were easy cases. The children faced tough lives even with the best support in the world. The families were dirt poor. They lived in dismal housing: Mould-ridden hovels, motel rooms, overcrowded houses.
Most of the families had issues with addictions, mental illness and domestic violence. Almost three-quarters of the children were aboriginal.
You should read the report, Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems, at Especially the case examples, which set out the circumstances of some of the families, and was done — and not done - to keep the children safe.
The measures that could have helped aren’t all complicated or expensive. The representative found there are no provincewide rules or guidelines for child protection workers involved with a family expecting another child. (And where there are protocols, they weren’t followed.)
In three-quarters of the cases, the ministry had received reports that children already in the home might be at risk while the mothers were pregnant. Investigations were slow and in some cases inadequate. In only three of the cases was there evidence of planning for the infant on discharge from hospital.
Perhaps as a result, there was little support for the families after the babies were taken home. They were left living in terrible conditions, with no effective help in finding adequate housing, for example.
Public-health nurse visits could have helped protect the children and support the often ill-equipped mothers. But the province hasn’t created a standard of nursing support for at-risk infants.
And, of course, B.C. still has no provincial plan to address its ranking as the worst province in Canada for childhood poverty.
Just before the 2001 election, I wrote about the New Democratic government’s cruel mismanagement of the children’s ministry.
The column quoted the final report of Children’s Advocate Joyce Preston, an independent legislative watchdog foolishly eliminated by the Campbell government.
She described a decade of failure on the part of the NDP. “For the most part it has been a case of all talk and no action,” she said. Under the NDP, the ministry was underfunded, short-staffed and mismanaged, I wrote then.
Gordon Campbell promised much better. I believed him. But it was all empty talk.
The most obvious broken promise was the 2001 election campaign commitment to stop the “endless restructuring” that wasted resources and created disorganization.
Campbell had also stood in the legislature and urged an end to partisan fighting over vulnerable childen. All MLAs should figure out what the children and youth needed and find the money to support them, he said.
He repeated the promise in writing before the election. The children and families spending would be based on the need, not some arbitrary budget allowance, he pledged.
Campbell and the Liberals did the opposite. Budgets were slashed, without any analysis or plan. The Liberals launched — and spent tens of millions on — a plan for regional authorities, and then abandoned it. Almost 10 years after the Liberals were first elected, and the ministry is still perpetually “transforming,” though how and into what is unclear.
The Liberal government has defended its poor performance. It’s tough to keep social workers. There were staff shortages. We’re trying. Things will improve.
It was all exactly what the NDP government said a decade earlier.
Infants, children and youths who at risk, or in danger, deserve protection. Families need help. And for 20 years, the provincial government has failed them.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Judge for yourself if infants protected and families supported

I've been posting case examples from the Representative for Children and Youth report Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems.
Here are number five and six; the first four are in posts below.
You can read and judge if the system is working to protect children.

Case Example
This infant was born to a First Nations mother who had one older child living with her. Two older children had been removed by the ministry in the past and were living with relatives. There had been 12 child protection reports over a 10-year period. The reports involved drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence as well as exposing the children to dangerous situations and general lack of supervision and neglect. Investigations had found at one point that the family lived in very substandard housing requiring immediate attention due to the risks to the children.
The eleventh report regarding the care of the sibling was received when the mother was in the early stages of her pregnancy. It was not investigated. A second report was received subsequent to the infant’s birth, which also was not investigated. Both reports were signed by a supervisor and closed. A number of months later, after another report that was not documented as a child protection report was received, the children were removed.
By not responding to the initial report, the opportunity was lost to assess the family circumstances and plan for the birth of the infant.

Case Example
The mother of the infant had been diagnosed with FASD at a young age. Her capacity to parent was limited. Prior to the infant’s birth she had transferred the care of her first child to her former spouse as she was unable to handle the child’s behaviour. She used harmful substances while pregnant with her second child. Her prenatal substance use, limited capacity and lack of financial resources were factors that the staff in the hospital felt placed her at risk.
The infant was born prematurely and was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit due to high medical needs. Prior to discharging the infant, health professionals noted concerns about the home the infant would be living in, the mother’s capacity and her social situation. The infant was discharged at six weeks of age.
When the infant was two months old, the social worker contacted the public health nurse to request that she provide information to the infant’s mother regarding safe sleep as the mother had informed the social worker that the infant currently slept in a car seat and also in the mother’s bed. The public health nurse contacted the mother, who said that she did not have a crib for the infant and could not afford one. The mother said that the infant was currently sleeping in a playpen. The nurse discouraged the mother from using a playpen and encouraged her to purchase a crib. On the same day, the nurse contacted the social worker regarding financial assistance for a crib. The public health notes indicate that the nurse planned to follow up with the MCFD social worker in two weeks. However, there is no indication of any further follow-up regarding the infant’s sleeping arrangements.
Over a number of weeks the mother’s capacity to take care of the infant began to deteriorate, and beginning at three months old, the infant was provided temporary respite care with increasing frequency in three different homes. The ministry social worker requested and received approval for the purchase of a playpen for the infant to sleep in while in respite care in one of the three homes because the caregivers did not have an appropriate place for the infant to sleep.
The third home offering respite care was an MCFD-approved foster home. The foster home file information did not indicate that the foster parents had received any specialized training with respect to caring for infants or caring for infants with high medical needs. In this home the infant also slept in a playpen. On the night of the death the infant was put to sleep on its side in the playpen, with a blanket placed against its back. A couple of hours later the caregiver found the infant unresponsive.
A post-mortem examination following the infant’s death indicated that an untreated kidney infection caused the death, and an inter-current viral infection and aspiration pneumonia were contributory. A pediatric review of the infant’s medical and post-mortem information indicated that the kidney infection was treatable, had it been recognized earlier. However, the infant’s symptoms may have been misinterpreted as a cold or flu.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

You decide if children are protected

I've been posting case examples from the Representative for Children and Youth report Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems.
Here's number four; the first three are in posts below.
You can read and judge if the system is working to protect children.

Case Example
The mother of this infant was involved with MCFD child protection social workers during her pregnancy. She had two toddlers. The family lived on reserve in a home that had extensive mould. The pregnancy was assessed as high risk, and the mother was confined to bed rest. A service agency was contracted to provide assistance to the family to address housing- related issues. One of the stated goals of the service provider was for the family to find adequate housing. During the final weeks of her high-risk pregnancy and in the first few weeks following the infant’s birth, it appears that the infant’s mother was expected to locate adequate living conditions. In the months following the infant’s birth, it appears that the only help the mother received from the service provider was housing lists and contact phone numbers for low-income housing agencies. The infant was brought to the hospital three times between the ages of one month and five months for coughing, vomiting, fever and breathing difficulties. At approximately six weeks old, the infant was diagnosed with respiratory syncytial virus. At that same time a sibling was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with pneumonia. In the hospital the infant’s mother advised the treating physician of her concerns with regards to the mould in the family’s residence.
A few weeks after the infant was born, an MCFD social worker wrote a letter to B.C. Housing and a low-income housing provider requesting that the family be given priority on a waitlist for housing because all of the children were frequently ill with respiratory illnesses thought to be related to the mould in the house. A year later the family was still waitlisted for housing and had to move off reserve into a motel with the young children when the infant was one year old.
One day while the mother was at work, the children were being cared for by their father. The infant was placed to sleep on an adult bed in the room, propped up with a pillow and covered with a blanket. The infant began to vomit and defecate. The infant’s breathing became noisy and irregular, and the infant became unresponsive. Emergency health services were called and took the infant to the hospital, where the infant was pronounced dead.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Another child's short life

I've been posting case examples from the Representative for Children and Youth report Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems.
Here's number three; the first two are in posts below.

Case Example Three
One of the infants resided with an adolescent mother and a grandmother in a motel. Over a two-month period, 10 individual service providers had some involvement with the mother and infant, including child protection social workers, hospital social workers, public health nurses, hospital workers and a family support worker.
A public health nurse had observed the infant’s living conditions and documented that the family was to be “observed” for emotional status, postpartum depression and family functioning; however, the nurse also recorded “no apparent problem” in the notes of the visit. A second nurse who visited also documented that the family should be observed for provision of a safe environment and support systems.
During at least one of the visits, the nurse noted that two adults were smoking inside the motel room with the infant present. It was also noted that the mother smoked and used marijuana. The nurse advised the mother to wait two hours after doing so before breastfeeding the infant. However, in a follow-up conversation with the child protection worker, the nurse expressed no concerns related to the infant’s care. The infant’s living conditions were not noted as a concern for the service providers.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another child whose life we wrote off

"The Ministry of Children and Family Development missed opportunities to learn from its mistakes by failing to review a number of infant deaths, B.C.'s independent child advocate says," reports Lindsay Kines in the Times Colonist today.
"Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who examined the deaths of 21 infants for a recent report, noted that the ministry conducted its own internal investigations in just 14 of the cases."
All the deaths should have been reviewed based on the ministry's standards, the representative found. In the 14 deaths that were reviewed, "a number took too long complete, ignored key issues or failed to recommend changes that would fix identified problems."
The representative also said regional directors were reviewing cases in which they were involved - an obvious conflict of interest. Minister Mary Polak agreed and said some changes would be made. But the ministry has been "transforming" itself for years with no clear improvements. Where is the accountability for managers who failed to ensure an effective independent review process?
The article is here.
The representatives report, Fragile Lives, Fragmented Systems, is here.

But the individual case studies from the report tell much of the story.
Here's the second one. (The first one is in the post below.)

Case Example Two
This First Nations child was born into a home with other young children. The family lived in poverty and often relied on relatives, transition housing and motels for accommodation. MCFD became aware that the mother was expecting early in her pregnancy.
The mother had been admitted to hospital after being assaulted by her spouse during her pregnancy. Prior to the infant’s birth, 14 child protection reports had been made to the ministry, primarily about alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Four of these reports were made while the mother was pregnant with this infant; they included concerns about inadequate housing, emotional abuse of the infant’s siblings and substance abuse. One of the reports was investigated and not substantiated. The other three were not investigated. The MCFD file was closed before the infant was born.
According to the MCFD file information, the newborn was assessed at birth by a program in the local hospital that worked in conjunction with the public health unit. The program reportedly assessed newborns for medical as well as social/emotional risk factors. The newborn was assessed by the program as low risk and was discharged from hospital the following day. It does not appear the hospital was aware that the family had no reasonable housing and a history of substance abuse and family violence. It appears this MCFD information was not shared with the hospital following the infant’s birth.
The infant was seen three times by public health nurses from birth to three months of age. At the second visit, the mother reported that the infant had noisy breathing while asleep, which a doctor thought was possibly the result of a floppy epiglottis.
Approximately two months later the mother took the infant to see a doctor because the noisy breathing persisted and a cough had developed. The doctor thought these symptoms were possibly due to an infection and prescribed amoxicillin. At the third visit with the public health nurse, the mother informed the nurse that the infant’s noisy breathing persisted, and she also informed the nurse about the previous visit to the doctor. No follow-up regarding the infant’s breathing was noted on the record of the visit.
The infant died four days after the last visit with the public health nurse. On the evening of the death the infant had been left in the care of adolescent babysitters. There was no crib in the home. The babysitters placed the infant to sleep in a car seat that was on top of a soft mattress. Sometime later the car seat turned over, and the baby was asphyxiated.

The key point is that the child's bleak future was foreseeable and the death could have been avoided. The baby never really had a chance and no one took the small steps that could have made a difference for the children in this messed-up family.