Two years ago, Marina Miller went to see her provincial elected official, looking for help to cut through a mess of red tape. The MLA himself was busy – he had recently become the Premier of B.C., and had other demands on his time. His constituency assistant picked up her file.
Today, Ms. Miller, who is fighting the provincial government over its refusal to provide assistance as she raises her five younger siblings, has captured Premier John Horgan’s attention. But it is Mr. Horgan’s constituency assistant, Hans Frederiksen, who has provided relentless support to Ms. Miller and her family in her pursuit of justice.
Our elected officials are best known for their actions in front of a microphone, but the unsung work at the constituency level is a big part of the job. Constituency staff rarely step into the spotlight but they play a critical role – especially when their MLAs have an outsized portfolio that prevents them from spending a lot of time in their riding.
The traffic at Mr. Horgan’s office has increased in his time as an MLA. Opposition members have more time to devote to constituency matters. But in government, and particularly in the top job, there are more people on the doorstep with problems or complaints, but less time to offer.
Constituents walking in the door with a file folder of documents related to a workers’ compensation issue or, in Ms. Miller’s case, the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), can absorb a lot of time.
“Hans could have blown me off like everybody else had, and I would still be invisible,” Ms. Miller said. Unlike so many bureaucrats who could have addressed her case, he was persistent in following through.
It was 10 years ago that Ms. Miller took guardianship of her five siblings, to keep them safe and out of foster care. MCFD provides financial assistance to foster parents and extended family members who take on the burden of care when the birth parents cannot. But Ms. Miller, who was 25 years old when she took on the role of sole parent to a pack of children between the ages of 3 and 9, was denied provincial assistance on a technicality.
Mr. Frederiksen helped her write letters and made calls, but the institution – MCFD – was deeply entrenched in its position. When her case was brought to his attention by the media this fall, Mr. Horgan publicly acknowledged her difficult situation and promised to follow up. Suddenly MCFD officials began to re-examine the options.
Throughout this process, Ms. Miller had spent hours talking to Mr. Frederiksen, but had never met her MLA. That changed a few weeks ago, when she brought Mr. Frederiksen a gift – a homemade, unicorn-themed, Christmas wreath for his granddaughter.
Mr. Frederiksen emerged from a meeting in the backroom and introduced her to Mr. Horgan. Covered in sparkles shed from the wreath, Ms. Miller stepped inside and finally got to shake hands with the one person whose interest in her case should make a difference.
Mr. Horgan, in an interview, said these are the cases that need an MLA’s attention: “Those people that are literally falling through the cracks, and you want to catch them and lift them up.”
Today, Ms. Miller is still waiting for a resolution. Even the Premier’s interest and support have not led to a resolution with MCFD.
The Premier has been careful not to publicly criticize the ministry for its handling of Ms. Miller’s file, but he is happy to report that it seems to be looking at her case with fresh eyes.
“These challenges take time and I give full marks to my guy Hans out there who was just a Superman,” Mr. Horgan said. “He works the phones and he just wears people down … . We’re getting a lot accomplished.”
The Premier acknowledges some frustration at the intransigence of the system – yes, it’s one he is ultimately responsible for. Even with his office behind her, Ms. Miller still faces roadblocks.
“There are still those individual cases that sometimes you just can’t break through. And when you can, that’s pretty rewarding, and I hope that’s what is going to happen with Marina.”