The growing clamour over provincial policies to care for the developmentally disabled has spread to the backbench of the governing Liberals.
In an emotional presentation to the legislature on Monday, veteran Liberal MLA Randy Hawes expressed deep concern that services being provided are inadequate, and adults with severe developmental challenges – to the distress of their families – are being moved out of group homes where many have lived for years.
“In the more than 10 years that I’ve been in this legislature, there’s no issue that’s caused me more loss of sleep or more concern for those most valuable people,” said Mr. Hawes, not previously known as a publicly independent voice within the Liberal caucus.
He rejected past assertions by the government and its service agency, Community Living B.C., that no one is being moved out of a group home into private residential accommodation against their will. “We know that hasn’t been what has been happening.”
The Abbotsford-Mission MLA, who appeared close to tears at one point, was speaking during debate on a motion by NDP MLA Nicholas Simons. The motion, which called for a moratorium on further group home closures, was talked out before it could come to a vote.
Gordon Hogg, another Liberal backbencher, also expressed concern over the situation, which has prompted the demotion of former Social Development minister Harry Bloy and the firing late Friday of Community Living CEO Rick Mowles.
Mr. Hogg said some of the decisions made by CLBC have hit at society’s core values “and [they have hit at]them in a way which I’m not comfortable with.”
The MLA for Surrey-White Rock was referring to well-publicized recent examples which had distraught parents questioning removal of their developmentally disabled adult children from group accommodation, where they had been comfortable, to private homes.
“They give us all cause for concern – perhaps more than cause for concern,” Mr. Hogg told the legislature.
In his address, Mr. Hawes referred to the disabled daughter of a single mother. Once the daughter, who needs round-the-clock care, turned 19, there were no more services for her. “The mother was told: ‘If you have to give up your job, I guess you have to go on welfare.’ That’s not right.”
He called for a “top-to-bottom examination” of CLBC, to include parents, advocates and government experts, and better services for the disabled.
“We need to give [hope to]those families that today aren’t seeing hope … and we need to give it to them now.”
Newly appointed Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux rejected NDP accusations that the system is under-funded and in crisis.
“[The CLBC]is an organization going through a period of change, and definitely, there are bumps in the road,” Ms. Cadieux said in an interview. “But I am confident we will see them resolved.”
She said Mr. Hawes’s criticism is evidence of concerns felt by both sides of the House, though she contended that many are also happy with the current direction. “It’s really a very good system, but there are challenges, and we have to work through the challenges we face.”
However, Faith Bodnar, executive director of the long-time advocacy organization B.C. Community Living Action, said the situation is as desperate as anything she has ever seen. Disabled individuals are being re-evaluated and stripped of services, at the same time as others are moved out of their group homes.
“We are in crisis here,” Ms. Bodnar said, adding that for the first time in memory her organization is receiving calls from CLBC employees stressed by what is happening. “If they are calling us, I’m saying, ‘That’s serious.’ ”
She said the government needs to halt ongoing changes and involve all stakeholders in a re-evaluation of CLBC policies.
“Let’s press the pause button,” she said. “People are desperate. It seems the system of services and support is being dismantled before we really realize what we’re doing.”