Politics

David Eby evades for months, finally ousts B.C.’s children’s minister

Opinion: Timing has people wondering, why now, after months of leaving minister to twist in the wind

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VICTORIA — When Premier David Eby finally ousted Mitzi Dean from the Ministry of Children and Family Development this week, he insisted that the move had nothing to do with the many calls for her removal.

“No, it’s not,” the premier told reporters. “The changes around MCFD are really around my goal and minister Dean’s goal as well, to ensure that every single child is looked after when they come into care in B.C.”

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Dean’s oversight of children in care was tainted by the “house of horrors” case. Two Indigenous children were subjected to stomach-turning torture by their foster parents without ministry staff ever checking up on them. One of the youngsters died as a result.

Still, Eby insisted Monday that Dean had done “exceptional” and “important work” as minister.

Not often does a cabinet member’s “exceptional and important” work result in a demotion to a junior ministry of state (for child care) with less staff, less pay and fewer ministerial responsibilities.

But as Eby told it, “minister Dean and I have been talking about the challenges facing this ministry. We’ve reached together the reluctant decision to make a significant reset of the ministry, with a new minister and the new deputy minister, so that we can continue to move forward.”

One imagines that exercise in shared decision-making.

Eby: “Mitzi you’ve been doing an exceptional job in MCFD, so I think it is time for your next assignment.”

Dean: “Agreed, my work there is done. What’s next?”

Eby: “How does a junior ministry of state with next to no staff and a $17,000 pay cut sound?”

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This was actually Dean’s second “reset” at the hands of the premier.

Eby was in his first week on the job in November 2022 when he ended Dean’s heavy-handed drive to phase out individualized treatment plans for children with autism. Dean was not even present for that announcement. It must have given her a sobering preview of Eby’s definition of shared decision-making.

This time, the only question was why now?

The rumour mill suggested the government had somehow picked up on the findings of a pending review of the house of horrors case by the representative for children and youth, Jennifer Charlesworth.

“I’ve been in the field for 46 years and I can count on one hand the number of cases that meet this kind of threshold for being so egregious and so traumatizing,” Charlesworth vowed last summer. “I will do everything in my power to ensure that we learn what happened and what needs to be done so that this does not happen to any child, anywhere in this province, again.”

However, the Charlesworth report is not expected until June. More likely the premier decided to start the year by clearing the decks with a new deputy, David Galbraith, and a new minister, Grace Lore.

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The government announced last June that the “staff who were directly involved in this case are no longer employed by the ministry.”

But for months Eby resisted delivering up Dean as a trophy to her critics, despite denunciations like the one from Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“When I heard about this terrible case I was completely nauseous,” he declared. “The case went on for months without the ministry once checking up on the children. I call on minister Dean to acknowledge the grinding severity of this failure by resigning immediately.”

The premier was asked about the grand chief’s comments at a late June news conference where he was celebrating the election to the legislature of Joan Phillip, Stewart’s wife.

Eby sidestepped, telling reporters that “she (Dean) has my confidence.” Later, he issued other perfunctory statements of support.

But when the fall session of the legislature convened, Eby passed on opportunities to defend his beleaguered minister on the floor of the house.

B.C. United and Green members called on the premier to fire or replace Dean on a half dozen occasions. Eby was in the house four of those times. Never did he or any other New Democrats stand up to defend Dean. Instead she was left to defend herself.

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“This ministry needs to be torn down brick by brick and rebuilt, yet what we have is a minister who is little more than an apologist for the status quo,” challenged the Green house leader, Adam Olsen, at one point. “Why is the premier permitting this dereliction of duty under his watch? What is the magic number of so-called heartfelt apologies before the premier actually addresses the systematic failure of MCFD?”

In reply, the best Dean could muster was: “I absolutely hear his passion and his concern. I agree with it as well.”

Looking back on those exchanges in Hansard, they resemble nothing so much as a minister being left to twist, slowly, slowly in the wind.

“It’s not about me,” Dean protested during an interview with Kristen Robinson of Global TV.

But in the end, it surely was.

She had to go and let the record show that it took months of evasions before the premier finally did the deed.

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