There is a new trophy hunt under way in B.C. It's taking place in Victoria, where Opposition New Democrats are desperate to mount the resignation of besieged Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux on their caucus wall.
Ms. Cadieux has the most unenviable portfolio in government. It's where political careers go to die. The stories you deal with are tragic and heartbreaking and inevitably become fodder for an Opposition always on the lookout for opportunities to score cheap political points.
And so it was this week, with the minister finding herself on the defensive regarding the death of Alex Gervais, 18, who died after falling from the fourth-floor window of a hotel in which he was staying. Mr. Gervais was ostensibly in the care of an aboriginal child welfare agency that has had a troubled and controversial past. In the legislature, New Democrat after New Democrat got up to call for Ms. Cadieux to step down because the young man had died on her watch.
It was quite a spectacle, culminating in the overwrought performance by Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, quivering voice and all, who suggested that the boy might still be alive if the minister had not ignored policy suggestions made by the province's Representative for Children and Youth a few years earlier. That's about as low as you can go.
To hear Ms. Mungall's colleagues cheer and thump their desks in support of her line of questioning was nauseating. Equally unseemly was listening to Liberals loudly applaud Ms. Cadieux's measured ripostes to her critic's attacks. Such strident displays of partisanship have no place in a debate about a child's death. It cheapens the entire discussion, reducing it to a noisy, politically opportunistic exchange that does nothing to deal with the root causes of the problem.
The truth is, Ms. Cadieux should be applauded for serving for as long as she has – more than three years now – in the hardest ministry in government. For years, it was a revolving door, with cabinet appointees lasting about a year before begging to be moved someplace less politically fraught. What the ministry needed most, Ms. Cadieux is trying to provide, and that is stability.
Has she done a perfect job? Of course not. There is no such thing in that position. It would be impossible to please the province's child and youth advocate, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, whose dogged work on behalf of vulnerable youth makes the life of any minister responsible for this area a living nightmare. Ms. Turpel-Lafond is demanding and she can be so without having to deal with the political and economic realities that come with governing. Nonetheless, Ms. Cadieux has greatly increased the number of child-protection workers in the province while the number of children in care is at its lowest level in 19 years.
Ms. Cadieux is dealing with the most difficult and contentious aspect of public policy. The problems that lead to children being taken from their homes and placed in care are intractable and multidimensional; the fact that aboriginal children are vastly overrepresented in the foster-care system adds another layer of complexity.
For years, the aboriginal community lobbied the province for more control over child welfare; and more than a dozen years ago it was handed that authority. But the move has not been without major problems. Ms. Turpel-Lafond issued a scathing report in 2013 that questioned the viability of many of these aboriginal child-welfare agencies, such as the one that was supposed to be caring for Mr. Gervais.
She found that tens of millions of government dollars were being funnelled to these agencies with little to no accountability, and with scant evidence that any children were being served. Ms. Turpel-Lafond suggested that government was best suited to protect vulnerable children in aboriginal communities and recommended it "end the dream of having someone else do the job for them."
And she is likely right, since she has more knowledge about this situation than all of us. But can you imagine the outcry from First Nations leadership in B.C. if the government shut down these agencies and took control again? There would be protests across the province the likes of which we haven't seen before. And the New Democrats would be out there clamouring for the resignation of Ms. Cadieux for making such a callous and insensitive move.
That is why hypocrisy fills the debate around child welfare in this province. The NDP knows there are no simple solutions. It knows, too, that more children will die under tragic circumstances because government can't stop every terrible consequence from occurring.
This is an issue that desperately deserves to be elevated above petty politics into a realm reserved for bipartisan attention and solutions. But that would require setting aside egos on both sides of the political divide in B.C.