Stephanie Cadieux, B.C.'s Minister of Children and Family Development, offered a tepid statement of gratitude on Monday to the woman who has served for a decade as the independent watchdog for her ministry. After 10 years of unrelenting criticism from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, B.C.'s Representative for Children and Youth, Ms. Cadieux said Monday she is looking forward to working with her replacement.
While the B.C. Liberal government has been prompted by the representative's office to make dozens of changes to its child-protection system over the past ten years, the relationship between Ms. Turpel-Lafond and the province has rarely been warm or friendly.
If anything, in the final year of Ms. Turpel-Lafond's tenure, the relationship withered. Ms. Cadieux's office cited "busy and often conflicting schedules" to explain why the two could not meet in the past 12 months.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond delivered her final report on Monday to a legislative committee. In that report, she delivered a parting shot at the provincial government, saying it has failed to own up to its shortcomings on the care and protection of vulnerable children.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond said Ms. Cadieux's reluctance to accept criticism has been exceptional throughout the past year.
"I haven't had a chance to meet with the minister – she has refused my meeting requests since October of last year," Ms. Turpel-Lafond told reporters outside the committee room. "So it's been 12 months, six reports. … It's been their decision as government to move forward without engaging directly." She said her office has continued its work and advocacy for children and youth, but it is now up to the government to look at the blueprints for change that have been laid out in her reports.
Ms. Cadieux, who would not do media interviews last week about Ms. Turpel-Lafond's departure, issued a statement Monday thanking her for ten years of work. "We have always been united in our desire to make things better for vulnerable children and families, even though we may not have always agreed on how best to improve B.C.'s child welfare system," the statement said.
"The Ministry of Children and Family Development is in a much stronger place now than it was when the [representative's] office was created and Turpel-Lafond was appointed in 2006."
Ms. Cadieux has held the portfolio of Children and Family Development for four years, and her most recent mandate letter from Premier Christy Clark directed her to "continue your regular quarterly meetings with the Representative for Children and Youth."
The minister did not return calls on Monday.
Ms. Turpel-Lafond said the government has deliberately tried to sidestep her but she believes there is public demand for action.
In her final report, the representative called on the province to adopt a plan to address child poverty, and concluded that "children have not been the focus of government in B.C. for many years." The budget for child welfare "has often been starved in the years since my Office opened." She wrote there is an urgent need to support children who are aging out of foster care, and to improve indigenous child-welfare systems.
Ms. Cadieux, in her statement, said her government has acted on more than 70 per cent of the recommendations made by the representative over the past decade. "I hope Turpel-Lafond takes comfort in knowing the ministry has added 300 front-line staff and increased its budget by $72.2-million in the last year alone."
However, the legislative committee responsible for selecting Ms. Turpel-Lafond's replacement has not yet chosen a new representative, which means there cannot be a new appointment until the legislature reconvenes next February at the earliest. It is expected that an interim appointment will be named when Ms. Turpel-Lafond's term officially ends on Nov. 27.