Palmer: More calls to dump children’s minister, but premier not ready

Opinion: Speculation is the premier will replace minister in charge of troubled department just before election

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VICTORIA — The B.C. legislature erupted this week with renewed calls for the ouster of the children and family development minister, Mitzi Dean, brought on by the latest evidence of her ministry’s failure to monitor the safety of children in foster care.

The spark was provided by an audit that found repeated violations of the ministry’s own standards of conduct regarding the oversight of children in foster care.

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For instance, there was “zero” compliance with the requirement that a social worker make a private visit with each child in foster care every 90 days.

The finding was especially disturbing because the audit was conducted as a followup to a case where two Indigenous children were subjected to horrible, sick-making abuse and one of them died.

The audit, conducted in the same East Fraser Valley region where the assaults took place, found the same pattern of neglect that was blamed, in part, for the ministry’s failure to discover the abuse of the two children until it was too late to save one of them.

The audit only came to light because of an access to information request by the Tyee online news service. A report on the contents by Tyee staffer Katie Hyslop was posted Wednesday, prompting questions in the legislature.

“Surely this must be the final straw for a minister who has repeatedly failed to protect the children in her care, with fatal consequences,” challenged B.C. United MLA Karin Kirkpatrick. “Will the premier do the right thing and fire the minister?”

Dean, responding on her own behalf, put on a show of caring.

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“Every day, I reflect upon how the whole system failed those children. They failed at every level, including my ministry,” she told the house.

“The audit that the member is talking about was one that we initiated because we were so concerned about the practice in that (regional) office.”

The audit found that the failure to check up on children in foster care was not an isolated case. There was similar neglect in the dozen or so cases that the auditors reviewed.

Yet, Dean insisted that she had the situation under control: “We have good policies and procedures in place.”

Mitzi Dean is on the case?

The prospect was far from reassuring to Green MLA Adam Olsen. On Thursday, he took up the call for the premier to fire Dean.

“This ministry needs to be torn down brick by brick and rebuilt,” Olsen declared. “Yet what we have is a minister who is little more than an apologist for the status quo.

“Will the premier replace the minister and the senior staff with people who have the capacity and the willingness to do the systemic change that’s needed?”

Dean again took up her own defence with another pose of sympathy: “I absolutely hear his passion and concern and I agree with it as well.”

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Not every day does a cabinet minister respond to a call for her firing by saying she found something in it that she could agree with.

But with that out of the way, Dean cited what the ministry was doing to better protect Indigenous children in care. In the house of horrors case, the abused children as well as their abusers were Indigenous.

‘I am absolutely determined to make sure that we continue to make those improvements to keep all of our children safe,” said Dean, by way of assurance to Olsen, who is Indigenous.

“To my B.C. NDP colleagues who are discomforted by this question, the nerve that I’m touching here is, actually, hypocrisy,” said Olsen.

He reminded the New Democrats how when they were in Opposition, they’d demanded a much higher standard of accountability from the ministry of children and family development.

He recalled a day, Oct. 7, 2015, when the ministry’s failings were the focus of a sustained attack during question period.

The minister was B.C. Liberal Stephanie Cadieux. The Opposition leader was John Horgan.

“Horgan was unequivocal,” said Olsen. “The minister, he said, was responsible. He called for new leadership: Bring in new eyes and a new vision for protecting children of B.C.

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“Our current premier was in the background of that (Hansard) video, nodding in agreement,” added Olsen, hammering home his point. “Will he demand a resignation or fire the minister and the senior ministerial staff and restore some honour back to this place?”

It was as effective an attack on a minister as has been seen in the house this year.

But Dean, after a hollow thanks to Olsen for the question, repeated that she has things in hand.

Since news of that horrific case broke earlier this year, there have been repeated calls for her ouster from Indigenous leaders, critics, and the public.

But Dean is under no pressure to step down from the only source that could make it happen, Premier David Eby.

The premier is determined not to award any trophies to her critics.

There’s speculation, too, that he’s merely keeping the hopeless Dean at the post to take the heat, with a view to replacing her closer to the election.

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