Friday, November 04, 2011

Poll delivers bad news to Clark and Liberals

Christy Clark went all tough on crime this week, proudly enrolling in Stephen Harper’s “lock-em-up” camp. Strange for a federal Liberal, who mostly think the crime measures — mandatory minimum sentences and the like — are expensive, ineffective political pandering.
A day later, a poll showed why.
The New Democrats have the kind of support that would see them elected an 2013, the Angus Reid poll found.
And a big factor is John Cummins and the B.C. Conservatives, a rather serious problem for the Liberals.
The poll is bad news for Clark. It found 40 per cent of voters say they would vote for the NDP in the next election. The Liberals are at 31 per cent, a serious gap.
The Greens are at eight per cent support, in their typical range.
But the Conservatives are at 18 per cent, unprecedented heights for a party that has been firmly, even proudly, on the political fringes for more than three decades.
If the Conservatives hold that support, or anything close to it, the centre-right vote will be split and the Liberals will lose a lot of seats.
Of course, people often say they support parties with limited chances of success between elections, before returning to the fold when it matters.
But several things might make this different, with Cummins the main one. He’s an experienced, skilled campaigner, as shown by his six successful campaigns to be an MP under Reform, Alliance and Conservative banners. He has attracted others with experience to the party and knows how to do the basic stuff that other fledgling political efforts, like the Greens, tend to mess up. Cummins has been quick off the mark and effective in issuing news releases critiquing the Clark government, for example.
And Cummins has a chance, with some credible candidates, to make a pitch to voters who aren’t happy with either of thetwo main parties, a significant group these days.
The poll looked at how votes were shifting and found some interesting changes.
The Liberals have lost the support of about one-third of the people who voted for them in 2009, according the other poll results. About two-thirds of the defectors have shifted their support to the Conservatives, but more than one in four former Liberal voters now support the NDP.
But the New Democrats have also lost the support of 16 per cent of their former supporters — and half of those people have jumped to the Conservatives.
The poll isn’t all bad news for the Liberals. The poll found 25 per cent of those surveyed think Clark would make the best premier, compared to 19 per cent who pick Adrian Dix. She was judged significantly better-suited to deal with the economy, which was the top issue identified.
However she and Dix were tied in their approval ratings in their current jobs.
And, significantly, 12 per cent of respondents said their opinion of Clark had improved in the past three months, while 39 per cent said it had worsened. Dix fared better, with 18 per cent saying they were more impressed with him based on the last three months, while 17 per cent said their opinion had worsened.
Clark faced a formidable challenge in convincing voters that her Liberal government would be different than the Gordon Campbell version. The worsening poll results suggest she’s not succeeding.
And now she has to try to turn back the Conservative surge, which will also be difficult. Clark could push the Liberals to the right, as she did with her tough on crime talk, but that risks alienating more moderate voters.
The Liberals can argue, as they did this week, that voting Conservative would result in an NDP government. That, however, sounds both arrogant and uninspiring. “Vote for us, in spite of what we’ve done” is a weak slogan.
The election is stlill 18 months away. But Clark and the Liberals have a lot of work ahead of them.
Footnote: The poll was conducted Oct. 31 and Nov. 31 and based on an online sample of 803 people. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

More evidence independent CLBC review needed

Chelsea McGarry is 18. The young Quesnel woman has Down syndrome, autism, early onset Alzheimer’s, diabetes and celiac disease.
It’s been quite a struggle. But Chelsea had been receiving enough supports and service to allow her mum, Shelley, to care for her at home.
Until now. Because when Chelsea turns 19 in December, those supports get chopped and her file transfers to Community Living B.C.
And that problem-plagued Crown corporation, struggling with underfunding, refused to approve a care plan.
Chelsea’s mother has been battling for support. Children’s Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has advocated for her, and so has her MLA, Bob Simpson.
But only when Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines reported on the nightmare did CLBC agree to new meetings to resolve the issues, and the outcome of those is far from clear.
It’s yet another example of how vulnerable are, how fearful they are of making waves in case they face reprisals, and how badly an independent review of the troubled agency is needed.
CLBC was set up in 2005 to provide support and services to adults with developmental disabilities — mental handicaps — and their families. Many have other emotional, mental and physical problems that complicate their lives.
But every year since then, the amount of money available per client has been cut. Services have been reduced and the approximately 550 teens who “age out” and shift to CLBC supports face massive struggles to maintain the quality of their lives.
The corporation has pushed people from staffed group homes, sometimes after years of residence, into homeshares, a a cheaper alternative. CLBC has argued that some clients do better in the new settings.
But Kines uncovered a review of one of the companies managing homeshare services in the Lower Mainland. The consultants report, done for CLBC, was shocking. The consultant could find no evidence basic background checks had been done on some of those providing homeshares to vulnerable adults. There was a lack of training and poor oversight. Homeshare providers weren’t given the information they needed on client’s behavioural and health problems, leading to potentially dangerous incidents and a series of “crisis situations.”
The company, which manages 44 homeshare contracts, was stretched too thinly to properly monitor care. Its manager noted the rush to close group homes — almost 10 per cent have been closed — created similar pressures across the province.
It’s far from the only example of problems.
CLBC refused for months to provide information on wait lists, before revealing that 2,089 people — about one in six clients — receiving some services were waiting for supports to meet identified needs. Another 751 people were getting no services and waiting for help and support. It’s still not know how long the waits last.
The government was forced to come up with an extra $6 million in September because inadequate funding had left clients facing urgent threats to their health and safety, an indication of a basic planning and budgeting failure.
And the government effectively acknowledged the problems, recently firing the CEO of Community Living BC and the minister responsible, Harry Bloy. (The corporation has reported to four different ministers in the last year.)
New Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux has promised internal reviews and a greater focus on responding to families’ concerns.
That’s not good enough. CLBC has already betrayed families’ trust by repeatedly denying that people were being forced from group homes before finally admitting that was simply untrue.
And the attempts to deal with individual cases when they capture media attention themselves raises more concerns.
What of the people with developmental disabilities without advocates — those whose parents are dead, or families estranged? There is no one to speak for them, and many can’t do it themselves.
The government has acknowledged its failures in this important are. And independent review, with input from families and advocates, and a public report are needed to chart a way out of this crisis.
Footnote: The Representative for Children and Youth only has authority to investigate problems and advocate for individuals until they turn 19. Turpel-Lafond has suggested that be raised — perhaps to 24 — in recognition that adulthood is instantly attained on the 19th birthday. That too would be a useful change.