Skip to main content

Children play on a hurdle at the Rashpal Dhillon Track & Field Oval at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in June 2014.Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia's government has ignored repeated calls to develop action plans on child poverty, domestic violence and aboriginal children, says a watchdog's report that rates the government's progress on major social issues as "dim and slow."

The report by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s representative for children and youth, reviews the progress of 148 recommendations she made to government in 22 reports over six years.

She concludes the government has ignored her calls for leadership to improve the lives of vulnerable children living in poverty and under the threat of violence.

"I think the government can do better on all these fronts," she said at a news conference Thursday following the release of her report, Not Fully Invested: A Follow-up Report on the Representative's Past Recommendations to Help Vulnerable Children in B.C.

"We're asking for a sensible policy and a strategy," Ms. Turpel-Lafond said. "If you don't work on it, it doesn't happen. You have to work on it, and work has been very dim and slow."

She said the government has acted on 72 per cent of her suggestions over a six-year period, but the recommendations needing full commitment across government have been overlooked. Of the nine recommendations made to government as a whole, seven have been largely disregarded, Ms. Turpel-Lafond said.

Those recommendations include: plans to address child poverty and domestic violence, including domestic violence courts; and supports for aboriginal children and their families.

Ms. Turpel-Lafond estimated the budget for the Ministry of Children and Family Development has been cut by almost $100-million from 2008 to 2013, hurting program development.

She said there are 93,000 children living in poverty in B.C., and for those children their lives are often affected by poor housing, lack of healthy food and violence – not ideal conditions to produce skilled workers.

"We're talking about giving people a fighting chance," she said. "When it comes to child poverty, it's enough to fill BC Place and have people line up all the way down the street to Stanley Park. We're not dealing with small groups. We're dealing with significant issues, known populations, that have needs."

Children's Minister Stephanie Cadieux said the government has taken steps to address child poverty, which includes working with communities on reduction initiatives.

"The rate in B.C. is at its lowest in 20 years," she said. "That said, there is always more to be done and we are working closely with municipal governments, local community agencies, service providers and businesses on measurable poverty reduction strategies."

Ms. Cadieux said the government has managed to cut child poverty in B.C. by 37 per cent.

But an aboriginal leader who attended Ms. Turpel-Lafond's news conference said much more needs to be done and First Nations are preparing to use the clout of a recent Supreme Court of Canada land rights decision to push governments and industry to do more to fight issues such as poverty.

Last summer, the high court ruled in favour of the Williams Lake area Tsilhqot'in Nation granting the aboriginals title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in the remote Nemiah Valley about three hours southwest of Williams Lake.

Grand Chief Doug Kelly, chairman of the First Nations Health Council, said the decision has forced governments and industry to consult with aboriginals on development issues, and First Nations want help fighting poverty among their people.

"If industry leaders want to create goodwill with First Nations, they can begin to invest in eradicating child poverty and they can put the pressure on governments to put the proper pressure on the Ministry for Children and Family Development and other agencies for important programs," he said.

Opposition New Democrat children's critic Doug Donaldson said the government's priorities for vulnerable children are lacking. He said when it comes to liquefied natural gas the Liberals moved quickly to form cross-government working groups, but Ms. Turpel-Lafond's repeated calls for similar approaches for child poverty are ignored.